What is the best printer for most people? Let’s face it: Most people don’t need a printer. At this point, putting ink to paper is pretty pointless and, barring a few specific cases, you’re going to dust off your printer once a month at best. That said, if you want maximum resolution and to ensure your ink tanks won’t dry out, a laser printer is the way to go. Inkjet and other cheaper technologies just don’t stack up to the speed and quality of a good laser printer, and prices have fallen so low that it makes no sense to pick up a sub-$100 inkjet printer when these printers are far faster and better and won’t see their cartridges drying out and needing a refill every six months.
The goal, then, is to find the best laser printer that would meet most of a person’s printing needs while balancing price and quality. Finding the best one is difficult, primarily because these printers are all quite fine and offer prints that handily beat most inkjet printers for document reproduction.
The printers I tested were:
These are printers regularly picked by publications like CNET, Wirecutter, and PC Mag, and they all, at minimum, do fantastic and fast black-and-white printing. But how do they actually compare? Which is the one you should buy?
The testing process was simple: I connected each one to my wifi network and ran through two print test pages—color and black-and-white—and a mixed 10-page document. I timed the prints as soon as the print drum began spinning and stopped the timer when the last page came out. I tested duplex and single-page prints as well and then ran about 30 pages through each one to ensure there were no glaring issues.
Print quality was approximately the same on all of these models. They’re good! The one standout was the HP M255dw, which displayed excellent color reproduction in my test images as well as great B&W performance. But quality matters just a little less in a laser printer than speed: You want your printer to do a good job, but also to spit out your document quickly.
Here, the two color printers, the Canon Imageclass LBP622Cdw and the HP M255dw, showed the major downside of their ilk. They’re slow compared to printers that only have to handle black toner. They were the slowest printers in every test, with the HP taking 14 seconds to print a single black-and-white test print. Of the two, the Canon was, on average, faster.
If speed is your passion, then the real performer was the Canon LBP226dw, which printed a single black-and-white test page in a mere two seconds and 10 double-sided pages in just 30 seconds.
In terms of absolute print quality, however, the HP M255dw offered the best color and B&W reproduction. The test prints were noticeably superior and even though the speed sometimes lagged, quality is job one when it comes to a laser printer. Yet because the HP was the slowest overall, this one is going to the Canon LBP226dw, which has good enough quality and lightning-fast print speeds.
Winner: Canon LBP226dw
Regardless of quality and speed, if a printer is too expensive it’s going to go to waste gathering dust on your desk or in a cabinet. The printers we tested were all under $300 but range in price from as low as $120. If we looked at price alone, the two Brother printers, the HL-L2395DW and HL-L2350DW, would take the lead at $170 and $120 respectively.
We also factored in price per page, the average cost of printing a page, which is fairly easy to determine. In this case, we took the smallest replacement toner cartridge and divided it by the number of pages it promises to print.
Printing in black-and-white costs between 3 and 4 cents per page, while the two color printers both cost exactly 6 cents per page when printing in color. And, okay, yeah, that didn’t simplify anything! The Brother printers both cost just 3 cents per page when printing and are neck-and-neck with the Canon imageCLASS LBP226dw for printing the cheapest black-and-white pages.
So let’s factor in the actual price of a toner cartridge—and again, let’s look at the cheapest per printer. That super-cheap Canon loses its appeal, as you’ll have to drop $117 for a cartridge. That will give you a whopping 3,100 printed pages, but that’s still a major commitment. The HP and the color Canon call for $63 and $68 respectively for black-and-white cartridges, while the color cartridges are both around $70.
And here is where the two Brother printers really shine. While you’ll only get 1,200 pages per cartridge in the cheapest Brother toner cartridge, they still only have an upfront cost of $43.
With the Brother HL-L2350DW starting at just $120 and a $43 toner cartridge netting you a mere 3 cents per pages, its the absolute winner if you’re looking to spare your wallet.
Winner: Brother HL-L2350DW
A printer’s physical design is fairly subjective but given the large footprint, it’s important to get a model that is small enough for a desk but has room enough for plenty of paper and toner.
When it came to overall size, the Brother HL-L2350DW was small and compact, although it did have an almost comically small LCD window on the top. This isn’t terrible except when setting the printer up without a computer or phone. Typing in the wifi access point password was a frustrating experience, but not impossible, and it was definitely the smallest and lightest of the bunch. Still, even minor imperfections count against you in a competition this close.
The larger multi-function Brother HL-2395DW also features a scanning plate for copies, and at $170 it’s an excellent little printer. It also had the best interface with a great color touchscreen on the front panel, but the Canon Color imageCLASS LBP622Cdw featured one of the best CMYK level indicators I’ve seen on a printer. It had four LCD displays over four colored boxes that showed how much toner was in each cartridge, allowing you to see the cartridges empty in real time. The LCD itself is black-and-white, but it’s big enough to read without glasses.
Still, the most pleasing design overall came in the HP M255dw and, although though it was much larger than the other printers we tested, it was ready to go out of the box with a full set of cartridges pre-installed and an extremely readable color LCD touchscreen that made it super easy to set up. One peeve? HP, out of all the models, had the most popups offering to sell you toner and paper. All of the printers had some form of auto-ordering system built in and obviously, it’s an excellent deal to have your printer phone home for supplies. That said, HP was the most adamant.
Because the HP and the Canon LBP622Cdw were both strong contenders, I was torn. The HP, however, was surprisingly well-appointed—it even came with a USB cable in the box—so it looks like Mssrs. Hewlett and Packard win this time.
Winner: HP M255dw
While inkjet printers can still be found for cheaper than a good laserjet, they’re just not a smart buy unless you’re printing weekly or daily. Laserjet printers won’t win any awards when it comes to printing out your favorite photos, but you should spend the money to get a professional to do those anyway—especially because pro ink will fade a lot slower than what’s found in a standard inkjet. And when it comes to a laser printer that will give you a good balance of affordability, quality, and speed, we have to tip our hat to the $120 Brother HL-L2350DW. It was one of the fastest printers we tested, the cheapest both for upfront and maintenance costs, and small and pretty nice-looking to boot. While we absolutely adore the HP M255dw, especially for its excellent print quality, gorgeous display, and ability to do color, it just was too slow and costly to be the best choice for most people. If you absolutely need color, definitely give it a shot, but for those of us just looking to print out tax returns and the odd ticket or shipping label, the Brother HL-L2350DW is our top choice.
Correction 10/7/2020, 9:16 a.m. ET: A previous version of this post misstated the name of the cheaper Brother printer. It is the Brother HL-L2350DW.