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Are you looking for a home or office printer? If so, you may be wondering whether to choose a laser or inkjet model. The product experts at BestReviews would like to help you with that decision.
We researched the market’s top printers to help you find the answers you need. We consulted experts and owners and explored different brands and features to ensure you’re getting the most up-to-date information possible.
You can count on our reviews to be completely fair and unbiased, as we never accept “free” manufacturer samples.
When it come to the best laser printers, we recommend the five machines above. Each offers superb value and strengths that would suit a particular group of home or office users.
If you’d like to learn more about laser printers and what we look for in a top-quality printer, please continue reading this shopping guide.
A laser printer operates in a manner similar to that of most office photocopiers. In fact, although we now enjoy all-in-one machines that copy, scan, and fax, the first laser printers were modified copiers.
We call them laser printers, but “static electricity printers” might be more accurate, albeit less exciting. Here's what happens:
Positively charged toner is drawn toward the drum, which is negatively charged. This is “static electricity.”
A high-voltage wire (called a corona wire) charges a cylindrical drum. At this point, the charge is positive (+) and even across the drum surface.
A small computer inside the printer reads the page from your own computer and guides the laser as it transfers the image to the drum. The high-intensity laser beam doesn't hit the drum directly; it's actually reflected off a moving mirror. (Reason: it's easier to make the mirror move than it is the laser).
In a nutshell, the laser is simply used to draw the image. The actual transfer of toner from cartridge to drum — and from drum to paper — relies on static electricity.
This negative (-) charge attracts fine, positively charged toner particles to the drum. The effect is known as static electricity. Once the toner is on the drum, though, it becomes negatively (-) charged.
A second corona wire gives a strong positive (+) charge to a sheet of paper as it is fed through. The drum rotates to transfer the image onto it.
Laser printers are prized for their sharp text and other fine details.
The combination of an extremely narrow laser beam and tiny toner particles ensures this. Inkjet printers cannot produce this same degree of detail; the size of the nozzle prohibits it.
If you're creating text or graphics for homework, a project, or a business presentation, a laser printer will render a more precise final product than an inkjet printer.
An inkjet printer cannot create the thin lines and crisp edges that a laser printer can.
Although they may take a few seconds to warm up, laser printers usually work much faster than their inkjet counterparts.
Laser printers function best in situations where you need a high volume of print-outs. If you’re printing school, college, or club reports or other documents and you need a large number of copies, a laser printer is an apt choice. That’s because, although laser toner cartridges might appear to cost more than inkjets, they can produce anywhere from 5 to 15 more copies.
Similarly, in small offices and other commercial environments, a laser printer would probably be the best economical choice.
For high-quality photo reproduction, some blurring is actually a benefit. For this reason, the best photo printers are inkjets, not laser printers.
When you own a printer, you’re looking at two different expenses: the initial cost of the machine and the down-the-road cost of replacement toner.
Though cheap laser printers still cost more than their inkjet counterparts, the gap is much smaller than it used to be. The difference between a low-cost, good-quality inkjet printer and a similar laser printer can be as little as $20. However, you’ll see a wider disparity than that between the extremes on our shortlist.
A top-end wireless color printer from the likes of HP might cost $300+. Even if the product only accepts official HP toner, we doubt you’d be disappointed with such a fantastic all-rounder.
A budget monochrome laser printer might cost you less than $100. Chances are high that such a product would be “entry-level,” but if you’re a consumer who wants a simple black-and-white workhorse and nothing more, the budget price is a great selling point.
Should you get a monochrome (black and white) or color printer? Only you know what you need, of course, but we offer the following guidelines:
For basic home printing tasks, the ideal solution could be a low-cost monochrome laser printer. For occasional color work, it wouldn’t hurt to also keep a low-cost inkjet printer on hand.
If you want a multifunctional office printer that can also fax, be sure to check the specs. Some top-ranked laser printers feature this function, but others do not.
Every top laser printer today offers wireless printing and mobile device compatibility either remotely via cloud services or by using Near Field Communications (NFC). It's convenient for you, and the technology allows you to share your printer with friends and colleagues if you choose.
Here are a few other features to consider when shopping for a laser printer:
Color machines are slower, but good ones manage at least 15 pages per minute (ppm). One of the fastest monochrome laser printers we’ve reviewed championed a rate of 27 ppm.
Laser printers — especially all-in-one models — can be quite large. Before investing in a new printer, check that its dimensions will fit your workspace.
A resolution of 600 x 1200 is an excellent spec for both color and monochrome printers. A 600 x 2400 resolution provides the highest quality black-and-white/text and line work.
If you opt for an all-in-one machine, check whether the scanned image figures are optical or interpolated. It's a question of quality. For example, an optical scan of 600 DPI can be interpolated up to 1200 DPI using software. If the scan is optical at 1200 DPI, it's a superior resolution to start with.
If one of the reasons you want a laser printer is for greater throughput, you don't want to have to keep re-filling the paper tray every few minutes. The more paper you can load, the better. Manufacturers quote this spec in the product details.
Some of the best laser printers on the market boast a load capacity ranging between 150 and 250 sheets.
If you print on a variety of paper, cardstock, and envelopes, check the printer’s flexibility before opening your wallet. Some products require you to feed non-standard sizes by hand. Some won't accept cards or envelopes at all.
Never place inkjet paper or heat-sensitive materials in a laser printer.
Anyone can print a stack of papers and then turn them over to print the other side.
But a printer with automatic duplexing turns the paper over for you, leaving you free to do something else.
Most laser printers offer “draft” or “low-resolution” modes to reduce toner usage. Others have software that puts the printer in sleep mode when not in use, thereby saving electricity.
Laser printer manufacturers use terms like “duty cycle” and “team size” to give you an idea of how hard their machine can work. If a machine has a recommended duty cycle of 1,500 per month and you typically crank out 150,000 per month, don't expect it to last long. If it's got a team rating of four or five, it should be good for a shared office environment.
Q. Help! I still can’t decide between an inkjet and a laser printer.
A. As mentioned above, the best printer for you depends on your individual needs. But we looked into this question anyway, and after extensive research, the BestReviews engineers came to the same conclusions you'll hear from other experts:
If you print a low volume of documents and quite a few photos, go inkjet.
If you print a high volume of documents, text, and reports, opt for a laser printer.
Q. Which laser printer is best?
A. We set the bar pretty high, so it's tough for any product to make the BestReviews top five. Each of our best laser printers meets or exceeds the standards set and will deliver excellent performance for a particular group of users.
If you're looking for a laser printer right now, you have a tremendous amount of choice. Using our comprehensive review, you should be able to narrow your focus on precisely the right machine for your needs. The great news is that even top models won't put an excessive strain on your budget.
Q. Remanufactured laser toner cartridges can be much cheaper than those from the printer maker. Are they a good way to save money?
A. While some remanufactured cartridges might be OK, it's difficult to know which ones are and which ones aren’t. Often, there's a good deal less toner in the "cheap" versions, so you're not saving as much as you might think. There's also the question of quality. If the ink leaks, it's a nightmare to clean. If it causes something else to become damaged, your warranty will be invalid.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.