Best Cheap Laser Printers
Already omnipresent in large offices, laser printers are rapidly invading homes, home offices, and small businesses thanks to new technology and lower prices. Consumers have warmly welcomed cheap monochrome (black and white) laser printers and the sub-$150 range is bursting with product. We checked out budget-priced monochrome laser printers, including multifunction models, and identified several that would serve you well.
Cheap Laser Printers Buying Guide
The two best cheap laser printers are single-function models that easily meet performance expectations: the Brother HL-5450DN (starting at $135) is a fast-printing, feature-rich machine and the Dell B1160w (starting at $67) is a very low-priced laser printer that includes wireless support. Our next favorite cheap laser printer is the no-frills Canon ImageClass MF3010 (starting at $89), which hits the mark for affordable multifunctionality (print, copy, and scan).
|Laser Printers Performance Reviews|
|Laser Printers Resolution and Print Quality|
|Laser Printers Memory, Laser Printers Wi-Fi|
Aside from the best cheap laser printers on our list, we found a handful of other entry-level models worth mentioning. Dell's B1260dn (starting at $150) is slightly slower than other printers we researched but boasts a large paper tray that's a boon for users who print often and/or long documents. Canon's ImageClass LBP6000 (starting at $77), designed for personal use rather than for sharing, is quite cheap and does its job well. Samsung's SCX-3405FW (starting at $160 new; $90 refurbished) is a multifunction laser printer that's just beyond our price ceiling but is small and sports lots of features.
"Mono" laser printers have two performance characteristics that users care about: output quality and print speed. Laser printers have a sterling reputation for printing sharp, dark text, but budget models' success at printing graphics or black and white images doesn't quite compare. Print speed, measured in pages per minute (ppm), is impressive, even in the entry-level segment, especially when stacked against the inkjet competition. We occasionally ran into some griping by reviewers about toner costs, but most users readily acknowledge that cartridges for cheap monochrome laser printers last longer and are far less costly than cartridges for color models.
The features on budget lasers are fairly standard but vary in their specifics, so sweat the details when shopping. The first order of business concerns connectivity; that is, how you plan to connect printer to computer. Some of the best cheap laser printers support Wi-Fi; some models have an Ethernet port and may also offer wireless support; and others have only a USB 2.0 connection. If the printer will be shared, choose a laser with Wi-Fi and/or Ethernet connectivity. Other related connectivity options debuting in this price segment are printing from the cloud and/or from mobile devices, two functionalities that up the convenience factor.
Next, check specs for printer memory; more is better than less, especially when you need to print several documents in a row or jobs that hog memory. This specification varies from model to model; some cheap laser printers contain as little as 2MB of RAM and others sport 64MB or more. The resolution on cheap laser printers is fairly standard, typically maxing out at 600 x 600 dpi (dots per inch) or 1200 x 1200 dpi; multifunction models may have scanners with resolutions that are considerably higher. Laser output of text doesn't require particularly high resolution, but graphics and images reproduced in black and white appear much sharper at higher resolutions.
The paper handling capacity of a budget laser printer also merits consideration. Most in the Cheapism price range have an input capacity of 150 sheets, but some can take up to 250 sheets. As for media types, the models we looked at are pretty flexible -- all accommodate commonly-used paper sizes and some combination of labels, envelopes, transparencies, and paper types (bond, letter, legal, cardstock, etc.).
One potential drawback -- some models currently available do not support Windows 8. Regardless, this crop of laser printers doesn't take up lots of space, which means you can set one almost anywhere.
Laser Printers Performance Reviews
The two characteristics that laser printers reviews most often address are print speed and print quality. Consumers expect a strong one-two punch here, and the laser printers we researched give them just that.
Laser Printers Speed.According to the laser printers reviews posted by consumers at sites like Amazon, Newegg, and Staples, the best low-cost printers are fast enough for home and small office use. Print speed, measured in ppm (pages per minute), is the holy grail of the laser printers category, especially at the lower end of the market. Indeed, laser printers enjoy a well-earned reputation for printing large amounts of text quickly and for spitting out black and white graphics and images at a good, albeit slower, clip. Although some of the models we singled out are speedier than others, the differences among them are minimal. If you print only a handful of pages a day you won't notice whether the rate of production lags the best by a page or two a minute. But if you frequently print lots of jobs or many long documents, you'll probably want a larger, faster, pricier printer.
Manufacturers' specifications for print speed are usually based on draft-quality text printing on standard, letter-size paper; documents heavy on graphics/photos take longer. Multifunction printers often list the number of copies per minute (cpm) that the copier function can spit out, and this spec is very similar to the printer's per minute output. Experts use different testing methods when preparing their laser printers reviews, so results for any given model vary from one reviewer to another. Their tests, however, often include text, graphics, and images, so the results tend to be slower than the official specs.
With a rated top speed of 40ppm clocked by the manufacturer, the Brother HL-5450DN (starting at $135) almost passes for a speed demon. PC Mag put the printer through a complex "business applications" test (text, graphics, images) and found that it managed 10.8ppm, a result this laser printers review considers quite reasonable given the budget price. CNET logged the speed at 21.13ppm for text-only printout, and attributes the good performance to the machine's 400MHz CPU.
CNET also put the Dell B1160w (starting at $67) -- another of our top picks -- through its paces and measured black text output at 17ppm (versus the manufacturer's claim of 21ppm) while a laser printers review by Computer Shopper says this model can crank out 20ppm. The Dell B1260dn (starting at $150), on the other hand, turned in a performance of 8.3ppm in PC Mag's test suite of business applications, a rate the expert report says is about average for the lower-price end of the market; Dell rates text-only speed at 29 ppm.
A single-function laser printer from Canon, the ImageClass LBP6000 (starting at $77), churned out an acceptably speedy 10.6 pages a minute in business applications testing by PC Mag compared with a manufacturer's specification of 19ppm for text only. The single-function color model we researched, the Samsung CLP-415NW (starting at $216), claims 19ppm for color and/or black and white text. PC Mag tested this model as well, again using a suite of business applications, and gauged the speed to be 6ppm, which the lasers printer review deems reasonable for the mix of color and black and white.
The multifunction models we researched also deliver output in good time, according to expert laser printers reviews. Canon's ImageClass MF3010 (starting at $89), which earns a spot on our list, hits 10.3ppm in the business applications test run by PC Mag, which surpasses rates these experts measured for some pricier multifunction mono lasers. Canon stakes a claim of up to 19ppm for this printer, while CNET counted a notable 14.9ppm for black text. Specifications for the Samsung SCX-3405FW (starting at $162) state print speed of up to 21ppm, although the business applications test run during PC Mag's laser printers review pegged the pace at 7.7ppm, an acceptable but far from knock-out performance.
Laser Printers Resolution and Print Quality
Laser Printers Print Quality.Laser printers are at their best, and deservedly known for, turning out laser-sharp text. Reviews of budget models by experts and users generally confirm that reputation. They do, however, hesitate when it comes to laser printers' quality of graphics and photo prints, a response that isn't surprising given the limitations of black and white image reproduction, particularly with entry-level machines.
But because consumers and home/small office users rely on mono laser printers primarily for text printout, the print quality of graphics and images is of secondary importance. It's rarely mentioned in consumers' laser printer reviews but does crop up in expert reviews, which are also written for business users. Another point worth noting: Text printout deemed of "average" quality in experts' reports is still viewed as sharp, clear, and dark; that is, easy on the eyes, regardless of font size or type, and more than acceptable for all but the most demanding business presentations.
Our top laser printers picks are good examples of this phenomenon. An expert at CNET says text output with the Brother HL-5450DN is dark, clear, and crisp but considers print quality of graphics and images less satisfactory, with botched transitions from one shade of gray to the next and fuzziness in the shadow areas in small photos. CNET likewise commends text print quality on the Dell B1160w and downgrades the print quality of graphics and images; PC Mag, on the other hand, asserts that the B1160w spits out good-looking graphics, especially compared to other monochrome lasers. The multifunction Canon ImageClass MF3010 also draws mixed appraisals of text versus graphics/photo print quality. CNET proclaims the text to be excellent -- crisp and accurate -- but regards graphics and image printout as so-so, with noticeable loss of detail in shaded areas.
Experts' opinion of laser printer print quality produced by the Samsung CLP-415NW, the one color model we researched, is just the opposite. PC Mag named this model an Editor's Choice, partly due to excellent graphics and photo printout, which it places near the top of the quality range for color printers. Photo prints look so good, the review states, that it's hard to tell they're not the actual photos. Text output, meanwhile, is totally fine but short of desktop-publishing standards.
Laser Printers Resolution.Specifications for a laser printer always note resolution, measured in dpi (dots per inch). Laser printers resolution simply refers to how sharp text, graphics, or photos appear on a printed page -- the higher the resolution, the sharper the printout. For most laser printer tasks a resolution of 600 x 600 dpi is plenty, but for detailed graphics and images, more dots per inch is preferable. Multifunction devices that include a scanner, like the Canon ImageClass MF3010, may provide a separate resolution for scanned documents. If you see a scanner resolution that's "enhanced" or "interpolated," it means the laser printer processes the scan to artificially improve the resolution, often by making the pixels in the image larger.
Many budget laser printers have a maximum resolution of 1200 x 1200 dpi. Among the models discussed in this guide, that list includes the Brother HL-5450DN and Dell B1160w (our two top picks), and the Dell B1260dn. The multifunction Samsung SCX-3405FW boasts a maximum laser printer resolution of 1200 x 1200, while the scan resolution maxes out at 600 x 600 but jumps to 4800 x 4800 with enhanced resolution. Both Canon models we researched, the ImageClass LBP6000 and multifunction ImageClass MF3020, have a maximum 600 x 600 dpi resolution but the MF3020 reaches up to 9600 dpi (interpolated) on scans of color documents. Samsung's color laser printer, the CLP-415NW, stands above the monochrome models with a laser printer resolution of 9600 x 600 dpi for black and color printout.
Laser Printers Memory, Laser Printers Wi-Fi
Entry-level laser printers tend to have similar specifications for certain features, such as paper capacity, but show more variation in laser printers memory and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Laser Printers Memory.The amount of memory packed inside a laser printer matters most when printing a large number of jobs or memory-intensive jobs (think big InDesign or Photoshop files). In other words, the more memory, the more or more complex documents the printer can store in the queue.
Among the models we researched, the Canon ImageClass LBP6000 contains the least amount of laser printer memory -- just 2MB. This printer is designed for only one user, though, so the limited memory capacity isn't a problem unless you print lots of documents on a regular basis, in which case you should buy a different machine.
If several people make heavy use of the same printer, as is often the case in small offices and increasingly at home, 32MB or even 64MB is preferable. And that's the amount of laser printer memory you'll find on many budget models. Among those discussed in this guide, the 64MB column holds the Brother HL-5450DN, Dell B1260dn, and Canon ImageClass MF3010; the Dell B1160w sits on the 32MB side. The two Samsung printers we researched (both priced beyond the Cheapism zone), the multifunction SCX-3405FW and color CLP-415NW, boast laser printer memory of 128MB and 256MB, respectively.
Laser Printers Wi-Fi Connectivity.In the past, entry-level laser printers included only a USB port for connecting to a computer, but that's starting to change. More and more budget models now offer networking capability with Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity. If only person will be using the printer, a USB-only connection is sufficient, but not optimal (no printing when you're sitting in another room). If the laser printer will be shared and/or you want remote access, choose one with Wi-Fi connectivity; if you don't have a wireless network but need to share, a printer with an Ethernet interface is called for.
All the models we researched feature a USB 2.0 port, which is the sole connectivity option on the Canon ImageClass LBP6000 and ImageClass MF3010. Laser printers with USB-only typically cost less than those with network capabilities. The Brother HL-5450DN, Dell B1260dn, and Samsung SCX- 3405FWand CLP-415NW all sport an Ethernet port for a wired network connection. The Dell B1160w and two Samsung laser printers additionally support laser printer Wi-Fi connectivity (i.e., wireless 802.11b/g/n connections).
Although the Brother HL-5450DN doesn't support wireless networking, it does have another nifty feature -- cloud printing. That is, when the printer is turned on and connected to a network, you can access (through a desktop, laptop, or mobile device) and then print documents stored in the cloud. The Samsung CLP-415NW also supports cloud printing. A related option is printing from mobile devices, such as an Android phone or iPad fitted out with the relevant app, which lets you send a document -- an email, say -- to your home printer. Among the models we researched, the Brother HL-5450DN, Dell B1160w and B1260dn, and Samsung CLP-415NW support printing from mobile devices.
Laser Printers Paper Capacity.The feed trays on budget printers typically hold a maximum 150 to 250 sheets of paper. The Brother HL-5450DN and Dell B1260dn boast the largest paper capacities among the printers we researched, each with a 250-sheet input tray and a 150-sheet output tray; the HL-5450DN also has a 50-sheet multipurpose tray for irregular-size paper. The Dell B1160w and Canon ImageClass LBP6000 come with a 150-sheet input tray and 100-sheet output tray, as do the two multifunction models discussed here, the Samsung SCX-3405FW and Canon ImageClass MF3010. Samsung's color laser machine, the CLP-415NW, sports a 250-sheet input tray and 100-sheet output tray.
Sometimes print jobs call for paper other than the standard 8.5 x 11 variety, and here laser printer capacity depends on the model. The Brother HL-5450DN, for example, prints to plain paper, envelopes, labels, bond paper, and A4/A5/A6/B5/B6 paper types. Canon's multifunction ImageClass MF3010 lists letter, legal, A4, A5, B5, heavy paper, labels, and envelopes among paper types it takes, while the Canon ImageClass LBP6000 adds transparencies to that list. Both of the Dell laser printers we researched, the B1160w and B1260dn, accommodate an impressive array of media types, including transparencies, labels, envelopes, cardstock, cotton, archive paper, and, of course, letter and legal-sized paper.
A laser printer that can automatically print on both sides of the paper is an efficiency booster -- in terms of saving time, dollars, and trees. This is a rare feature in the entry-level arena and among those we researched is available only on the Brother HL-5450DN and Dell B1260dn. Needless to say, posts at sites such as B&H and Amazon indicate that users really appreciate this resource-saving functionality.
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