A good laser printer will be able to quickly handle all the printing needs in your home or office — and provide significant savings over the long haul.
When desktop laser printers first appeared on the consumer market over 40 years ago, they promised (and delivered) lower overall costs compared to ink-based printers. Their upfront costs were — and still are — higher than comparable ink printers, but the printing efficiency of laser printers made up for the difference over time.
While inkjet printers have gradually begun to close this cost gap thanks to marginally cheaper ink prices, there are still legitimate reasons for choosing a laser printer over an inkjet model.
Laser printer vs. inkjet printer
One key difference between laser and inkjet printers is printing speed. While the fastest desktop inkjet models can print around 30 pages per minute, laser printers are easily capable of up to 50 pages per minute.
Another difference between inkjet and laser printers is their print yield. Compared to an inkjet printer, which can print up to 400 pages with each high-yield color cartridge, a laser model can easily produce up to 6,000 pages.
Inkjet models can develop ink clogs, which reduce an ink cartridge’s efficiency and prevent you from getting the most prints per cartridge possible. Laser printers, on the other hand, use toner in their cartridges, which is a powder-like material that gets applied to paper via electromagnetic charge. This lets it remain dry through the printing process and prevents clogs.
The differences between ink and toner also affect print quality. Because ink is a liquid material, it can sometimes “bleed,” which results in smudges and imperfections in the printed document. This is especially noticeable in documents with small lettering, such as legal papers with fine print. Bear in mind that ink bleed is not always a bad thing, as it is necessary when making photo prints, particularly in places where colors blend together.
As mentioned, laser printers generally cost more upfront than inkjet printers. It’s hard to say exactly how much extra you’d pay for a laser printer, but decent models start at around $100, whereas some basic inkjet printers go on sale for less than $50. That should tell you something.
A set of toner cartridges used by laser printers can cost well over $100, versus perhaps $50 to $70 for a comparable set of ink cartridges for ink-based printers. Yet a laser printer usually costs less in the long run if you use your home printer often, because toner cartridges need to be replaced far less often than ink.
Laser printer buying guide
Laser printers (and inkjets) are essential office equipment, and as such, are often in high demand — especially when more people are working or going to school from home. This means that they are very susceptible to market fluctuations, and their cost can vary wildly from month to month. The price of a printer may be $100 more expensive or cheaper, depending on demand, the timing of your purchase, and where you’re shopping.
When browsing for a laser printer, keep the following points in mind to make the most of your investment:
• Print speed. A printer that can churn out at least 20 pages per minute is very fast for general home use, but offices and heavy-duty users should consider models that can produce upwards of 30 pages per minute.
• Page capacity. The page capacity refers to the number of sheets that can be held inside the printer at any given time. If you need to print out a lot of pages throughout the day, a higher page capacity helps cut down on refill times.
• B&W or color. Black and white printers are great if you only need to print text documents. Why pay extra for a color printer when you’ll never use the colors, after all?
Most people want printers to be able to print photos and other images in color, however. Color laser printers can handle graphics and simple images well, but they usually fall short compared to inkjet printers in terms of photo and color image quality.
• Productivity features. Productivity features are important for office printers. An automatic document feeder (ADF) can greatly reduce the time spent scanning or photocopying documents, while duplex printing/scanning/copying works on both sides of a page at once. Other features such as Wi-Fi direct are useful for direct printing from mobile devices without a network connection.
Best laser printers
1. Best overall: HP M479fdw Color LaserJet Pro
HP’s M479fdw color laser printer is a highly versatile model that can handle the needs of any household, and even small to medium-sized offices. Its 28-page-per-minute print speed and double-sided printing and scanning capability allow it to handle large print jobs quickly and with minor interruptions.
For heavy office use involving sensitive documents, the M479fdw includes multiple security features such as file encryption, password-protected printing and more. It also includes an option for custom printing workflows, for offices with multiple complex print jobs. This allows you to automate recurring print orders to further speed up the printing process.
The M479dw performs much better than competing laser models when it comes to color prints, making it great for multiple color graphics such as charts, graphs or even brochures with simple graphics. Unfortunately, it’s still unable to produce crisp, clean photo prints.
Quality also comes with a hefty price tag. Not only does this printer cost around $600 (without toner), but its high-yield toner cartridges cost $50 more than competing models. Although considering that they can yield up to 6,000 pages per color cartridge, it can be considered an acceptable expense in the long run. If you want to increase this printer’s capability further, an optional loading tray (around $120) can be purchased to raise its paper capacity from 250 to 550, for longer breaks between refills.
2. Editor’s pick: Lexmark MC3326adwe Color Multifunction Laser Printer
Offices that need a professional-quality printer but are running on a tight budget will benefit greatly from Lexmark’s MC3326adwe. At 26 pages per minute, it prints almost as fast as the HP M478fdw, but it usually costs $100 less. It can also scan up to 21 images per minute, though only a single side at a time.
The MC3326adwe offers superb printing quality, producing crisp clean text at even minuscule font sizes (as low as 6 pt font). Perhaps due to its compact size, this Lexmark model doesn’t produce quite as many pages per toner cartridge, with high-yield black cartridges printing up to 3,000 pages and color cartridges up to 2,500. While these are still respectable numbers, they’re nearly half of what similar (but more expensive) printers can do.
3. Best for low prices: HP LaserJet Pro M15w Wireless Laser Printer
Laser printers are more expensive than inkjet printers upfront, but they bring significant savings over time. Unlike inkjet printers, laser printers don’t form ink clogs after long periods without use, which means less maintenance overall.
HP’s M15w laser printer is an affordable choice for text documents and simple graphics that don’t need color. The M15w can print up to 19 pages per minute and up to 1,000 pages per standard cartridge.
High-yield cartridges can print up to 2,900 pages and are fairly affordable at around $90. Despite its simple design, the M15w supports many connectivity features such as Amazon Alexa voice control, Wi-Fi Direct and smartphone app control for added convenience.
Like many HP printer models, it was made to work exclusively with HP brand toner cartridges. Third-party products might not work at all with the printer, while others may not print without glitches. In other words: It’s best to stick with HP brand cartridges if you own one of the company’s printers.
4. Best multi-function black-and-white printer: Xerox B215 Monochrome Multifunction Printer
The B215 is a multipurpose black-and-white printer that delivers the quality that’s come to be expected of Xerox. Its print speed is fairly fast at 31 pages per minute, and it features scanning, copying and faxing capabilities. This Xerox model also has an automatic document feeder that can hold up to 40 pages, while its standard paper tray fits up to 250.
This model has double-sided printing, though not double-sided scanning. It comes with many standard security features such as file encryption, single-use PIN for incoming print jobs and faxes, among others. It features a 3.5” touch screen for intuitive operation, though that might be too small for some hands.
What makes the B215 especially notable is its price tag. Similar black-and-white laser printers can easily cost over $300, but the B215 can be found for just under $200. The fact that it is a relatively compact model, barely 16” tall and wide, likely helps with keeping costs low.
5. Best for fast printing: Brother MFC-L5900DW Monochrome Laser Printer
Brother’s MFC-L5900DW black-and-white multifunction printer is made to handle a large volume of print jobs. Printing up to 42 pages per minute, with a toner capacity of up to 8,000 pages per high-yield cartridge, this model is great for going through stacks of text documents day in and day out. It also handles other office tasks such as printing, scanning and faxing very well, if somewhat slower than its printing.
The MFC-L5900DW is a full-featured office printer, with all the standard security features expected of these models. It includes a USB port for out-of-network printing and can upload any scans directly to cloud storage services such as Dropbox, iCloud and more. Despite its many features, it lacks double-sided scanning, which can be inconvenient for certain print jobs.
Toner cartridges are reasonably priced, with standard yield cartridges costing around $70 and the high-yield versions costing up to $130, depending on the deals available when you purchase.
More from Money:
© Copyright 2020 Ad Practitioners, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This article originally appeared on Money.com and may contain affiliate links for which Money receives compensation. Opinions expressed in this article are the author's alone, not those of a third-party entity, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed. Offers may be subject to change without notice. For more information, read Money’s full disclaimer.