Best Home Printer 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 enough to make your charts and tales look presentable. To top it all off, the large, color touchscreen lets you easily connect to WiFi networks and makes navigating settings a breeze.
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 small home printer, you may want to look elsewhere. However, for a printer for a small office (or paper hungry home office), these drawbacks are well worth the high capacity and excellent print quality.
Read review: Brother HL-L8360CDW
HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M283fdw
If your small office is in desperate need of a do-it-all workhorse, look no further than the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M283fdw. This reasonably sized color laser printer can also fax, scan, copy, and even has an automatic document feeder to digitalize 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. While certainly not blazing, we measured its speed at 14 pages per minute, which is more than enough for most applications.
Its price is the biggest hurdle the M283fdw presents. It is undoubtedly 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 M283fdw 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 M283fdw
Best Laser for a Tight Budget
The Brother HL-L2350DW is a great way to go if you've managed to keep your 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. You get good text quality and an impressive 20 sheets/minute speed for a relatively low price. Also, the laser technology holds up better than inkjets to long periods of dormancy, meaning you can leave this printer sitting for months and still 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 such as typing in a WiFi password a hassle. However, those sorts 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 Epson XP-640 Expression will serve you well, but much higher ink costs make it 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 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 next 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. This isn't the printer for you if you print a lot of color graphs and figures. 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 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 carefully 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. 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 entirely driven by printer and stapler related frustrations. Many people don't buy a printer because they want to. Instead, they buy one because their repeated 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 rarely 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 different levels of value, depending on how much you print. If you print less than 100 pages per year, you needn't look further than the list price to assess value. However, if you print frequently, ink costs become a much more significant 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.
Printing clear, legible text is the top priority for the vast majority of people. 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 the perfect text, we printed multiple fonts in various 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 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 lighting to see if any of those imperfections translated into real-world reading difficulty. Have you ever wondered whether 14-point Helvetica looks better printed with an inkjet or a laser? Well, get ready for some clarification because we can settle that once and for all.
With scores ranging from 3 to 9 out of 10, we saw widely varying text quality in our printing test. Four separate models received the top score of 9: the Brother HL-L8360CDW, the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M283fdw, 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 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 excellent 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.
Earning scores of 6 out of 10, 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. The Epson XP-640 Expression produces bold text but has some problems with very jagged and blurry edges.
With a score of 5, the Brother MFC-L2750DW was able to stay out of the text quality basement. 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. This mid-scoring model was able to manufacture decent quality text. While not quite as good as the top-scoring models, the text quality shortcomings of this model probably would not be noticed by most people.
After our text quality tests were said and done, the Brother MFC-J995DW picked up a rather weak 4 out of 10. 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 notable imperfections.
Most people want a printer because they don't want to pay the high prices at office stores and libraries or leave the house every time they need to print something. It can be very tempting to get a very cheap model but, depending on how much you print, the higher ink costs of more inexpensive models may cause you to spend more in the long run. Therefore, we calculated per-page, per-ream, and lifetime printing costs for our printers. For the lifetime cost, we considered an 80/20 ratio of black and white to color pages (for non-color models, it was all black and white). We also assumed an average of 2500 printed pages per year and an operational life of 3 years. This latter calculation gives a good idea of which expensive models make up for their initial costs in more economical printing and which cheap models end up costing more in the long run by wasting ink.
In general, inkjets print text more economically than laser models if you print fairly regularly. However, the ink nozzles of inkjets can dry out and become clogged if you tend to leave your printer sitting idle for long periods. These clogs require extra ink to be pushed into the nozzles to clear them, resulting in a lot of wasted ink. If you tend to print sporadically with multiple weeks elapsing between printing sessions, the toner technology of laser printers is more amenable and likely more economical in the long term.
Taking many of the top slots, Brother dominated our operating cost testing, with the first being the MFC-J995DW. It can print monochrome text for just a penny per page, and color pages for only $0.04, leading to a field-leading calculated lifetime cost of $275.
Printing black and white text at a rate of just $0.03 per page, the Brother HL-L2350DW is nearly as good as its sibling. It doesn't print color, so its lifetime estimated cost came out to $314.
The HP Laserjet Pro M254dw and the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M283fdw both earned a 5 out of 10 in this metric. These models print monochrome at a reasonably economical $0.03/page or $14.46/ream, but print color at the expensive rate of $0.11/page or $56.09/ream. The M283fdw's higher initial cost gives it a high estimated lifetime cost of $768, compared to the M254dw's $64.
Solely because of its color printing costs, the Canon TS9120 earned a meager score in this metric. 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 significant effect on ink costs. Still, on average, we found ourselves paying slightly less when printing photos with the Canon TS9120 than printing them at CVS. It's worth noting that most models that print good text generally can't print high-quality photos as well. So this model is in a bit of a different class here. Nevertheless, combining all this with a very low list price, the TS9120's estimated lifetime cost comes out to a slightly above average $650. However, this calculation doesn't take into account potential savings from printing photos at home.
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 high precision to render readable text and crisp images. That technology is not cheap, so to keep prices down, very little is invested in research and development in things outside of actually printing, such as wifi connectivity bugs. To determine which models were the least rage-inducing, we connected each one to numerous 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 sent to the queue wirelessly multiple times. We must face the sad reality that wireless printing still requires occasional fiddling with Wi-Fi settings and printing drivers 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 said, we had three models that received the top score of 9. Two HP models earned this top score, mainly because of our experiences with HP's customer service. We were never kept on hold for long and always talked to helpful and knowledgeable representatives. The HP LaserJet Pro MFP M283fdw earned this top score due to its large, well-designed touchscreen controls and easy setup. Because it shares the same controls, its single function sibling, the HP LaserJet Pro M254dw, earned a top score for the same reason.
Earning a coveted 9 out of 10 score in our user friendliness testing, the Brother HL-L8360CDW is a relative pleasure to use. It has a large touchscreen interface and ran into only a few issues when switching between WiFi networks. Our only minor complaint is that the digital keyboard is quite small, making typing in WiFi passwords feel tedious.
Also earning an 8 out of 10 in our ease of use tests is the Brother MFC-J995DW. We like the touchscreen interface that makes adjusting settings fairly straightforward. We also found it to be easy to get set up and running. However, in the course of our testing, it had slightly more wifi connectivity issues than some of its competitors.
Rounding out the 8 out of 10 group, the Canon TS9120 offers some of the best cloud features of all the models we tested. These features include the ability to quickly and easily print documents from Google Drive or scan a document to your Google Drive right from the printer. We also appreciate the SD card slot that makes it easy to print photos quickly without using a computer as an intermediary.
Next up in our ease of use testing was the Brother MFC-L2750DW, which scored a 5. The Brother MFC-L2750DW ran through its initial setup smoothly, 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 table 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 eye-catching graphics that can make their essays or reports pop. Some may even want 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.
The Canon TS9120 was the leader in this metric due to its impressive photo printing quality. After comparing photos printed on the TS9120 to the same photos printed at CVS, we feel the TS9120 can produce a better overall color profile, 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.
TheBrother MFC-J995DW produced very vivid and sharp graphs and images, earning it a 7 out of 10 in this metric. It can also print reasonably good photos but lacks some of the top performers' color accuracy.
The HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M283fdw 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 usually wasn't a huge deal, but for graphs with lots of subtle color shades, it could be confusing.
The Canon PIXMA fell to the average 5 out of 10 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 figures 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 the models' speed overall, whether they be color or not, or could handle double-sided printing.
The Brother MFC-L2750DW 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.
Following our top picks, 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 M283fdw also scored a 7 and printed 14 pages per minute. We gave the M283fdw a slight bump because it printed duplex just a bit faster, just like its sibling.
The Canon TS9120 only managed to print 12 simplex monochrome text pages per minute in our testing, making it one of the slowest models. The Brother MFC-J995DW was even slower, churning out just 9 pages per minute. While these speeds start to feel taxing if you print lots of 30+ page documents, they are probably more than adequate.
Now we're getting to some models that make printing a lengthy document feel like a real chore. The Epson XP-640 crawled along at just 8 single-sided pages of text per minute. These speeds are fine if the documents you print tend to be only a few pages. Still, 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 time, we feel we've at least weeded out the worst offenders. We hope that this review and in-depth testing have helped you find the perfect printer with all the functionality you need, and that fits into your budget.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata