After researching more than 100 models we bought the 9 best and most compelling printers of 2020 and tested them side-by-side for more than a month. Throughout the process we printed thousands of pages, examined those pages under a digital microscope, connected each model to numerous different computers, mobile devices, and WiFi networks, and evaluated ink costs. Whether you're running a small office that prints a lot of both text or graphics, or just need a cheap and reliable machine to print the odd form or ticket here and there, our test results can help you find the right model.
The Best Home and Office Printers of 2020
For those that find themselves going through multiple reams of paper a month, the Brother HL-L8360CDW offers enough firepower to keep your printing jobs moving. With an internal capacity of 300 sheets (expandable to 1300 with the purchase of additional trays) and a respectable speed of 16 pages per minute, this laser can handle your biggest printing tasks. The text quality is excellent, and the graphics quality is more than good enough to make your charts and tales look presentable. To top it all off the large, color, touchscreen makes navigating settings a breeze, and lets you easily connect to WiFi networks.
The biggest knocks against the HL-L8360CDW are its size and price. This behemoth weighs nearly 50 pounds and is large enough to require its own table or stand. It is also quite pricey. If you're looking for a printer for a small office (or paper hungry home office) these drawbacks are well worth the high capacity and great print quality, but those looking for a small home printer will want to look elsewhere.
Read review: Brother HL-L8360CDW
HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw
If your small office is in desperate need of a do-it-all workhorse, look no further than the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw. This reasonably sized color laser printer can also fax, scan, copy, and even has an automatic document feeder for digitizing long documents. IT backs up this versatility with top-notch text quality and great graphics, handling everything from tax forms to quarterly reports with aplomb. We also love the large, touchscreen controls, which make navigating all of this machine's various functions a breeze. We measured its speed at 14 pages per minute, which certainly isn't blazing, but is more than enough for most applications.
The biggest hurdle the M281fdw presents is its price. It is certainly quite an investment (though it can sometimes be found for significantly cheaper online). Also, some may be disappointed that the automatic document feeder can only scan one side at a time, so longer double-sided documents will have to be fed through twice. But, if you can swallow these downsides, the M281fdw can satisfy almost all the paper-paper based needs of a small office. Plus, if you already have a scanner, you can save some money with the single function M254dw.
Read review: HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw
Best Laser for a Tight Budget
If you've managed to keep you at-home printing needs to a minimum, but still want a printer for those odd times when you need to print out a form at a moment's notice, the Brother HL-L2350DW is a great way to go. For just relatively low price you get good text quality and an impressive 20 sheets/minute speed. Also, the laser technology holds up to long periods of dormancy better than inkjets, meaning you can leave this printing sitting for months and then get a good print on the first go around.
The one big annoyance of the HL-L2350DW is its tiny, one line display and spartan controls. This can make things like typing in a WiFi password a hassle. However, those sort of one-time annoyances don't significantly detract from the HL-L2350DW's usefulness as an inexpensive home printer.
Read review: Brother HL-L2350DW
While we've come across many inexpensive inkjets that would be great values for particular situations, none have offered the kind of all-around performance that would win one of our awards. If you're looking for something that can produce lots of graphics with impressively low operating costs, the Brother MFC-J995DW is an excellent choice, but it does struggle a bit to render crisp text. If you're looking for better text quality in a graphics-oriented inkjet, the HP OfficeJet 3830 or the Epson XP-640 Expression would serve you well, but much higher ink costs make both a bad value in the long run if you print more than a few pages a week.
Best for Photo Printing
The problem with many photo printers is that they are either incapable of or very bad at rendering text. The Canon TS9120 is an exception to the rule, being capable of both printing photos you'd be proud to put in a frame, and producing text that is bold, clear, and easily legible. Overall we think the text quality is in-line with that of other high-performing inkjets, and the photo quality is slightly better than what you'd get from most online and convenience store printing services (and, depending on the composition of your photos, can be less expensive as well). Top that off with a built-in scanner, and you have one of the most versatile consumer printers around. Plus, it lists for a fairly reasonable price, and often sells for considerably less than advertised online.
The one real weak point of the TS9120 is the non-photo color printing costs (think graphs, charts, and images printed on standard paper). For these applications we found the TS9120's costs to be astronomical at $0.20 a page, more than double the average and 30% higher than the nest most expensive model. Luckily the black and white printing costs are only slightly above average, and photo printing costs are reasonable, if not cheaper than most alternatives. So if you print a lot of color graphs and figures, this isn't the printer for you, but if you want something that can handle both text and putting your favorite memories in frames, this is a great and relatively economical option.
Read review: Canon TS9120
Why You Should Trust Us
Since 2016 authors Max Mutter and Steven Tata have personally purchased and tested more than 100 small and home office products, ranging from printers and scanners to paper shredders and Chromebooks. They have thus spent countless hours obsessing over how these types of devices can best serve small offices, home offices, and personal users. They bring that wealth of knowledge and borderline over-the-top attention to detail to this review.
To find the best printer for every situation we printed more than 1000 pages of text, graphs, and photos, and closely examined all of the results with the help of a digital microscope. We also carefully measured printing speed and ink usage so that we could calculate lifetime ink costs. Perhaps most importantly, we connected these printers to every device imaginable in every way imaginable, including computers, phones, tablets, via USB, over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and through cloud services, to see how often we ran into infamous printer connectivity issues.
Analysis and Test Results
Ahhh the infamous printer. Let's be honest, no one really likes them. In general, they tend to be disproportionately anger-inducing. In fact, one of the most relevant films of our time has a plot that is almost completely driven by printer and stapler related frustrations. Nobody buys a printer because they want to, they buy one because their frequent trips to the local Staples or library have become too frequent to be considered efficient, and they need a print at home option. This purchase is not driven by excitement or desire, but by the cold, callous logic of a cost-benefit analysis.
You've probably come to this review thinking, "this is the age of unlimited information and boundless technological advancement, surely with enough research, I can find a model that is a pleasure to use, and that will free me from this purgatory of paper jams and error messages!" Unfortunately, we won't be able to help you find that ideal model. Not because we don't want to, trust us, we want to find that unicorn just as much as you do, but because it doesn't exist. What we can do is lead you to the model that will cause the least amount of irritation, and require the lowest dosage of high blood pressure medication, for your intended use. We can do this because we've already purchased 10 of the most popular models, spent weeks fighting all of the metaphorical dragons they could throw at us, and have figured out which ones were the easiest to slay.
Different printers present much different levels of value depending on how much you print. If you print infrequently (less than 100 pages per year) you needn't look further than the list price to assess value. If you print frequently, however, ink costs become a much bigger factor in determining value. In that case, you should take a look at our ink cost calculations.
While we didn't specifically score the scanning/copying/faxing capabilities of the all-in-one models we tested, we did use all of these functions. In general we feel that the scanners on all-in-ones are more than adequate for most office work, but if you want to scan high quality photos or regularly scan 100+ page documents, you're going to want a dedicated scanner.
For the vast majority of people, printing clear, legible text is going to be the top priority. If you're like some of us, you may even tend to print things that most people would write out by hand, simply because the quality of your handwriting hasn't progressed since the 3rd grade. In the quest for perfect text we printed multiple different fonts in multiple different sizes with each of our testing models. We then examined and took photos of those test sheets using a digital microscope, specifically looking for any patchy areas within the characters and any imperfections along the edges of the character. We also took a more holistic approach, reading all of those test pages with the naked eye in both bright and dim light to see if any of those imperfections we found translated into real-world reading difficulty. Have you ever laid awake at night wondering whether 14 point Helvetica looks better printed with an inkjet or a laser? Well, get ready for some restful slumber, because we can settle that once and for all.
We saw widely varying text quality in our printing test, with scores ranging from 3 to 9 out of 10. Four separate models received the top score of 9: the Editors' Choice Award-winning Brother HL-L8360CDW, the EC winning HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw, and its single function sibling, the HP Laserjet Pro M254dw. All of these models produced near perfect borders on characters, creating very crisp text. The only reason we didn't award a rare perfect 10 to any of them was that, when viewed under the microscope, they all left some areas looking slightly dull, especially when printing italics at a small font. This really is a minor issue. You can count on any one of these models to produce outstanding text. You may have noticed that all of these models are lasers. We found that lasers, in general, produce better quality text than inkjets.
Very few models could come close to the three leaders in our text quality test. The Brother HL-L2350DW came the closest with a score of 7 out of 10. It produces great looking text but was knocked out of the top tier because it occasionally left small blotches that made the edges of characters look less crisp. The Canon TS9120 also earned a 7. Its text is dark and bold with fairly good clarity, but it did tend to bleed some ink around the edges or characters, particularly when printing in very small fonts.
Two inkjets were able to render text in our testing that looked good, but couldn't quite match the quality of the top laser models, earning them scores of 6 out of 10. The Epson XP-640 Expression produces bold text, but has some problems with very jagged and blurry edges. The HP OfficeJet 3830 also creates very bold characters, but has a tendency to impart a slight waviness to the text. This blemish isn't readily noticeable in larger fonts, but can easily be seen when printing point 8 font and below.
The Brother MFC-L2750DW and the Canon PIXMA MX922 were able to stay out of the text quality basement with a score of 5. The Brother MFC-L2750DW didn't have any glaring issues, but there were enough white blots within characters to make the edges look somewhat blurry and smaller fonts look faded. The Canon PIXMA MX922 produced rich, dark text, but the edges of characters were significantly more blurry than the top scoring models. Also, it tended to create small blotches when printing in italics. These mid scoring models were all able to manufacture decent quality text. While not quite as good as the top scoring models, the text quality shortcomings of these models probably would not be noticed by most people.
The Brother MFC-J995DW picked up a rather poor 4 out of 10 after our text quality tests were said and done. Like most inkjets it produces bold and blotchy, though it embodies the latter quality more than most. It has particular issues when printing in italics or in small fonts, where blotches become more prominent and noticeable. No matter the situation the text never becomes illegible, it just displays many prominent imperfections.
If you only print a few pages here and there you're not going to be able to beat the $0.10 per black and white page or $0.25 per color page rate offered at most print centers. However, if you print more frequently, or live far from a print center, investing in your own device can be more economical in the long run. Printing costs include the upfront investment in purchasing the actual device and the cost of replacement ink or toner cartridges. Often times cheaper models that seem like a great deal end up gobbling expensive ink and having higher costs in the long run. We evaluated cost in two ways. First, we calculated how much it would cost to print a ream of paper in monochrome (and color, where applicable) for each model. We used this cost per ream figure because we feel most people probably have a good idea of how often they have to order a new ream of paper, so it is easy to use this figure to estimate your own costs over time. We also conducted a lifetime cost calculation. For this calculation, we assumed an average operational life of three years, an average printing workload of 2500 pages per year, and an 80/20 split of monochrome/color pages for the models that could print in color. We made these assumptions based on research into average printer usage statistics and the patterns of our own usage.
In ideal circumstances, this is generally true. However, if you tend to leave your printer dormant for long periods between printing sessions, the nozzles of inkjets can dry up and become clogged. This requires extra ink to be pushed through the nozzle to clear the clog, resulting in higher ink costs. Therefore, if you print mostly text in sporadic bursts, the toner technology of a laser is likely to serve you better, and cost less in the long run.
Brother dominated our operating cost testing, taking many of the top slots, the first being the MFC-J995DW. It can print monochrome text for just a penny per page, and color pages for just $0.04, leading to a field-leading calculated lifetime cost of $275.
The Brother HL-L2350DW is nearly as good as its sibling, printing black and white text at a rate of just $0.03 per page. It doesn't print color, so ti's lifetime estimated cost came out to $314.
Both the HP Laserjet Pro M254dw and the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw earned a 5 out of 10 in this metric. These models both print monochrome at a fairly economical $0.03/page or $14.46/ream, but print color at the expensive rate of $0.11/page or $56.09/ream. The M281fdw's higher initial cost gives it a high estimated lifetime cost of $768, compared to the M254dw's $64.
Earning a 4 out of 10, the Canon PIXMA MX922 is a model we would caution against buying unless you only print occasionally. with somewhat high monochrome and color printing costs of $0.05 and $0.10 per page, respectively, and an upfront cost of $180, we estimate its lifetime cost at a fairly high $643.
The Canon TS9120 earned a very low score in this metric, strictly because of its color printing costs. At $101.92 per ream or $0.20 per sheet, this model's rate is double the average. However, the black and white printing costs are a more reasonable $28.33 a ream or $0.06 a page. Calculating photo printing costs are a bit more difficult because the actual photo composition has a big effect on ink costs, but on average we found ourselves paying slightly less when printing photos with the Canon TS9120 than printing them at CVS (most models that can print good text can't also print high-quality photos, so this model is in a bit of a different class here). Combining all this with a very low list price, the TS9120's estimated lifetime cost comes out to a slightly above average $650, though this calculation doesn't take into account potential savings from printing photos at home.
The HP OfficeJet 3830's tantalizingly low price of $100 is somewhat cancelled out by high ink costs, especially for those that print with any regularity. It posted the highest black and white costs of any model we tested, at $0.09 per page ($46.88/ream). Color costs are also relatively high at $0.12/page ($60.61/ream), pushing its estimated lifetime cost all the way up to $820.
Ease of Use
Printers are notoriously unpleasant. A quick Google image search for 'paper jam meme' will reveal that almost every pop culture icon has been used to express the frustration inherent in trying to get these machines to put ink onto paper. You might be wondering why in this age of technological advancement we can't seem to produce a printer that is as easy to use and intuitive as a smartphone. The answer, for the most part, is cost. Printing technology involves a myriad of moving parts that must operate with great precision in order to render readable text and crisp images. That technology is not cheap, so in order to keep prices down very little is invested in research and development in things outside of actually printing, such as wifi connectivity bugs. In order to determine which models were the least rage inducing we connected each one to numerous different computers and mobile devices using multiple wifi networks and/or cables, and printed every type of document we could imagine. We also made a few calls to each manufacturer's tech support line to evaluate the quality of help you'll receive if, and possibly more accurately when, you run into a problem.
You're probably eagerly reading this section looking for a model that locks into its Wi-Fi connection like a golden retriever chasing a tennis ball. Unfortunately, we haven't found such a printer. Even the very best of the bunch mysteriously dropped Wi-Fi or just stopped paying attention to print jobs that were sent to the queue wirelessly multiple times during our testing. The sad reality we must face is that wireless printing still requires occasional fiddling with Wi-Fi settings and printing drivers in order to make it work.
Scores in our ease of use test ranged from 4 to 9 out of 10. All of the wifi enabled models we tested had connectivity issues, so we didn't take this into account in our scoring. Think of these scores as relative rather than absolute, as we wouldn't call any of these models particularly pleasant to use, even the top scorers. That being said, we had three models that received the top score of 9. Two HP models earned this top score, largely because of our experiences with HP's customer service. We never kept on hold for long, and always talked to helpful and knowledgeable representatives. The Editors' Choice Award-winning HP LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw earned this top score due to its large, well-designed touchscreen controls and easy setup process. Its single function sibling, the HP LaserJet Pro M254dw, shares the same controls and earned a top score for the same reason.
The Brother HL-L8360CDW is a relative pleasure to use, earning a coveted 9 out of 10 scores in our user friendliness testing. It has a large touchscreen interface, and we ran into relatively few issues when switching it between WiFi networks. Our only minor complaint is that typing in WiFi passwords can feel a bit tedious as the digital keyboard is quite small.
Also in the 8 out of 10 runner-up spot is the Brother MFC-J995DW. It offers a well designed and intuitive touchscreen interface, along with quick and easy setup. However, it had just slightly more frequent Wi-Fi connectivity issues than the top scorers.
The Canon TS9120 also earned an 8 out of 10 in this metric, largely thanks to some of its cloud features. While we did run into some hiccups trying to connect to this model wirelessly, once we did everything worked quite smoothly. We especially like the ability to print directly from and scan directly to your Google Drive account. We also like that there is an included SD card slot, so you can print photos without having to upload them to a computer first.
The Canon PIXMA MX922 earned a good but not great 7 out of 1o in our ease of use testing. Setup was quite easy, and we found Cannon's customer service phone line to be a reliable resource. However, this model lacks a print tray, opting instead for a small, extendable plastic arm that is meant to catch printed pages. This is fine for short documents, but whenever we printed a 10 page document multiple pages ended up floating down to the floor.
Also picking up a 7 out of 10 in this metric, the HP OfficeJet 3830 provides a slick touchscreen interface. However, the menu system present within that interface feels a bit convoluted and confusing.
Next up in our ease of use testing results was the Brother MFC-L2750DW which scored a 5. The Brother MFC-L2750DW ran through its initial setup easily, but we had some trouble connecting to wifi networks. It worked seamlessly once we reset the wifi network a couple of times, but this suggestion was not made in the manual or by customer service. It has a touchscreen interface to control its many functions, but we felt it was a bit clunkier and less intuitive than those on the HP multifunction models.
At the bottom of our ease of use tables was the Brother HL-L2350DW. USB printing worked immediately, wifi setup was straightforward but took a while due to the HL-L2350DW's clunky interface. One tester equated typing wifi passwords with the handful of buttons and tiny LCD screen to trying to write a novel with an Etch A Sketch.
Many people want a printer that can handle text and produce some eye-catching graphics that can make their essays or reports really pop. Some may even want to be able to toss in a picture or two to spruce up the family holiday letter. We printed multiple graphs, charts and images with all of our printers in both black and white and color (where applicable) and gave them the once over with the same digital microscope we used to examine text quality. There are some models now hitting the market that can print both text and high-quality photos on proper photo paper. For those models we compared their photos to those printed at stores like CVS and Walgreens.
Due to its impressive photo printing quality, the Canon TS9120 was the leader in this metric. After comparing photos printed on the TS9120 to the same photos printed at CVS, we feel the TS9120 is able to produce a better overall color profile, better detail in particularly light and dark areas, and better contrast. When it comes to color graphics printed on standard stock paper, the TS9120 is right on par with other inkjets, producing bold and bright graphs. However, printing images on standard paper often bring a bit of graininess.
The HP OfficeJet 3830 is the only non-photo printer in our tests that could match the TS9120's score. It renders impressively bold and crisp graphics and photos with impressively accurate colors. However, it does lack the TS9120's ability to print on photo paper.
Scoring a 7 out of 10 in this metric, theBrother MFC-J995DW, produced very vivid and sharps graphs and images. It also can print fairly good photos, but lacks some of the color accuracy of the top performers.
The HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw fell just outside the top groups in this metric with a score of 6 out of 10. Its graphs and charts are superb, but its photos look oversaturated with some noticeable pixelation.
The Brother HL-L8360CDW earned a score of 6 out of 10 in this metric. It generally was able to produce crisp looking graphics and photos in our testing, but the colors tended to come out somewhat dark. This generally wasn't a huge deal, but for graphs with lots of subtle color shades it could make things a little confusing.
The Canon PIXMA fell to the average 5 out of 10 range in our graphic quality tests. Photos look reasonably good, but it tends to produce overly reddish skin tones. Simple graphics similarly look fine, but there is enough pixelation to notice on close inspection.
While we still wouldn't consider the graphics produced by it to be terrible, the MFC-L2750DW is the last printer we'd choose to use if we needed to print a bunch of charts and graphs. It keeps everything legible and understandable, but even simple graphs and figure display noticeable pixelation. Photos look even worse, taking on a borderline block quality.
For most people that print a few pages here or there, or that generally print short documents like plane tickets and forms, printing speed probably isn't going to be a limiting factor. However, if you print lots of 100+page documents, the difference between 6 pages a minute and 25 can be a world of difference. We did various speed tests, including duplex and photo printing, but the most meaningful one was printing a standard, single-sided, 10-page text document. This allowed us to compare speed over all models, whether they be color or not, or could handle double-sided printing.
The Brother MFC-L2750DW, which scored a 7 and was able to churn out 18 pages a minute. We're still in print-a-novel-before-the-coffee-is-ready territory, but it might have to be a shorter novel. Maybe the Alchemist, or something like that.
After the three medal winners we had the Brother HL-L2350DW and the Brother HL-L8360CDW. Both produced 16 pages a minute and scored a 6. The HP Color LaserJet Pro M254dw was just behind with a speed of 15 pages a minute. However, it printed duplex a bit faster than other models in this range, so we bumped its score up to 7. We're starting to leave the novel before the coffee is ready range here. Maybe these machines could handle Of Mice and Men, but let's be honest, as great as it is it's more of a very long short story than a novel. The HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw also scored a 7 and printed 14 pages per minute. We gave the M281fdw a slight bump because it printed duplex just a bit faster, just like it's sibling.
Falling into the fairly average 5 out of 10 category, the Canon TS9120 printed 12 simplex text pages per minute in our testing. The Brother MFC-J995DW earned the same score but was a bit slower, producing just 9 pages per minute. This is solidly outside of the novel-before-breakfast territory, but will still be plenty fast for the majority of documents.
Now we're getting to some models that make printing a long document feel like a real chore. The HP OfficeJet 3830, for example, produced just 8 single-sided pages of text per minute in our tests. The Epson XP-640 crawled along at the same rate, and the Canon PIXMA MX922 was even slower, printing just 6 pages in a minute. These speeds are fine if the documents you print tend to be only a few pages, but if you're printing 10+ pages it starts to feel like a task you need to carve out time for on your calendar (this may be a bit of an exaggeration, but waiting for those pages to inch their way out of the printer can be taxing nonetheless).
While we still haven't found that perfect printer that guarantees hassle-free connection and use every single time, we feel we've at least weeded out the worst offenders. We hope that this review and our in-depth testing have helped you find the perfect printer that has all the functionality you need and that fits into your budget.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata