Tired of running to the office supply store when you need to print, scan, or fax? We bought and tested 12 of the best printers side-by-side to find the best tone for every family, home office, and small business. We printed thousands of pages to evaluate print quality, speed and general ease of use. Those testing results won't find you a printer that is completely frustration free, because unfortunately such a printer does not exist (trust us, we've looked). However, those testing results can help you find a machine that will most closely fit your needs, no matter if you're looking for a high capacity, do it all-in-one, or a simple and inexpensive rig for printing the occasional form.
The Best Home and Office Printers of 2018
Analysis and Award Winners
In recent Weeks HP replaced two of our favorite printers, the Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw and the LaserJet Pro M252dw with two new models, the Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw and the Color LaserJet Pro M254dw, respectively. For both of these models, the only difference we found between them and their predecessors was a very modest improvement in printing speed. These new models are great and have usurped the awards their forbearers once held, but if you have one of the older models we see no reason to upgrade. In fact, if you can find one of the older models on sale somewhere, we suggest you snatch it up.
Best Overall Printer
HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw
With enough firepower to serve a small office, the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw is far and away the best overall printer we tested. It combines crystal clear text and high-quality graphics with decent speed and all the accouterments you could want from a multi-function printer. Most importantly, it has a large touchscreen control panel that makes navigating its various functions easy and provides a useful platform if you need to troubleshoot. For those that need a workhorse do-it-all printer with superb print quality, look no further.
Read review: HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw
Best Laser Printer for a Tight Budget
Many of us have managed to achieve an almost paperless existence, with printing needs limited to the occasional boarding pass or required paperwork. If you're tired of running to the library everytime you happen to need a printer, the Brother HL-L2350DW can save you some hassle. It costs less than $100, and its laser attributes allow it to jump into action even after being sedentary for months. Additionally, its simple design seemed to keep connectivity issues to a minimum in our testing. If you're looking for a simple laser that can print color we would suggest the HP Color LaserJet Pro M254dw, though it does cost quite a bit more.
Read review: Brother HL-L2350DW
Best Inkjet Printer for a Tight Budget
Epson Expression Premium XP-640
If you're on a tight budget and want a printer that can scan, copy, and print in color then the Epson Expression Premium XP-640 will not disappoint. It typically retails for under $100 and offers features that are typically only available in more expensive all-in-one models. It performed well in testing and offers good print quality for both monochrome text and color photos. The most substantial downside of the XP-640 is its high ink costs, which can quickly become greater than that of the printer itself if you print in high volumes. For those who print more than one ream of paper a year but seek similar functionality in an inkjet, we recommend the more economical HP OfficeJet Pro 8720.
Read review: Epson Expression Premium XP-640
Best Option for Basic Printing
HP LaserJet Pro M402n
Relying on a wireless connection for printing can be frustrating and troubleshooting is typically more of a pain than finding a different printer to use. The HP LaserJet Pro M402n was the simplest printer that we tested and only connects through a USB cable. Though all of the models in our review can be connected via USB, the M402n has one of the lowest estimated lifetime costs and highest print speeds. Despite there being better options for graphics and duplex printing, it is a great choice if you plan to print tons of long text documents.
Read review: HP LaserJet Pro M402n
Top Pick for a Single Function Printer
HP Color LaserJet Pro M254dw
If you want the excellent printing performance of our Editors' Choice Award winning HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw but don't need to scan, copy, or fax, we recommend the HP Color LaserJet Pro M254dw. It is a nearly identical machine that doesn't have any multifunction capabilities yet still offers the same printing performance and user-friendly touchscreen interface. With a list price that is $130 cheaper than the M281fdw, the M254dw is a great choice for those who seek top-notch printing performance without any additional capabilities.
Read review: HP Laserjet Pro M254dw
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.
Our overall scores are based on scores from five testing metrics. We ran a number of different tests to determine the scores for each testing metric. The sections below discuss each model's performance in those individual tests. We did not score all-in-one devices on the performance of their scanning/copying/faxing functions. Across the board, we found these built-in scanners and document feeders to perform adequately, but not quite as well as a dedicated device. For more on the ins and outs of all-in-ones check out our buying advice article.
In most cases, text will make up the vast majority of printed documents, whether they be long reports, official forms, or airline tickets. If you're anything like some of our testers you may print out things that most people would simply write out by hand, solely because the quality of your handwriting hasn't progressed since the 3rd grade. Consequently, being able to reliably create crisp, legible text is the most important attribute to look for in a printer. In our testing we used each model to print many documents of varying lengths in a multitude of font styles and sizes. We then looked for how clean the edges of letters were, how high of a resolution the text was rendered, and whether characters looked dark and full or light and faded. Not only did we look for these things, we looked for them under a microscope (for more on our testing procedure, see our how we test article). Have you ever been kept awake at night wondering whether bold, italicized, size 15 Calibri font would look better when printed on an inkjet or a laser? Well, get ready for the best sleep of your life, because we can lay that one to rest for you.
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 Brother MFC-9130CW, HP LaserJet Pro M402n, the Editors' Choice Award-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. 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. Next up was the Epson Expression Premium XP-640, which scored a 6. The Epson Expression performed similarly with bold characters that had jagged, blurry edges.
The Brother MFC-L2750DW, the Canon PIXMA MX922 and the Canon PIXMA MX492 were all 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. The PIXMA MX492 produced very similar quality text to its sibling.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.
At the back of the text quality pack are three models that all share the low score of 3. Both the HP Envy 4520 and the HP Officejet Pro 8720 showed issues with small text and italics in our testing, with characters coming out very pixelated and wavy. Even larger fonts looked somewhat pixelated with jagged edges. The Canon ImageCLASS LBP151dw produced fairly crisp edges on characters, but the text came out looking incredibly light. It looked as though the LBP15dw was low on ink, even though it had a brand new cartridge. All of these low scoring models still produce legible text, but with enough noticeable deficiencies that one would assume it came from a cheap printer.
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.
When looking at our results you will probably notice that lasers print black and white at a slightly more expensive rate than inkjets. This is true in ideal circumstances: printing in a regular and consistent manner. However, the jets used in inkjets can often clog, requiring some sacrificial ink to be blasted through to clean everything out. This problem can be worse, and waste more ink to fix if the printer lies dormant for long periods. Therefore, if you tend to print sporadically, lasers can not only be more reliable but can often actually be more economical, than inkjets.
In our testing Brother proved to be one of the more economical manufacturers. The MFC-L2750DW and the HL-L2350DW received the highest score of 7 in our cost metric. The MFC-L2750DW had one of the lowest monochrome printing costs, clocking in at $0.03 per page or $12.92 a ream. It was also at the low end of our lifetime cost calculation at $494. The HL-L2350DW offered cheap monochrome printing at $0.03/page or $12.92/ream, and had the lowest calculated lifetime cost of $314.
Brother also manufacturers one of the first runners-up to the leaders, the MFC-9130CW, which scored a 6 in our cost tests. It prints monochrome at the cheap rate of $0.02/page or $10.80/ream, but prints color at the somewhat expensive rate of $0.10/page or $51.43/ream. Its calculated lifetime cost was slightly higher as well, at $634. The HP Officejet Pro 8720 also scored a 6. Its monochrome printing costs were fairly low at $0.03 per page of $15/ream, and it was the most frugal color model printing at just $0.07/page or $34.92/ream. Its calculated lifetime cost was mid-range at $583. Another HP, the LaserJet Pro M402n, also scored a 6. It pumps out monochrome pages at the reasonable rate of $0.03/page or $15.48/ream, and has a low calculated lifetime cost of $532. The Canon imageCLASS LBP151dw also scored a 6 in our cost testing. It printed monochrome at the reasonable rate of $0.03/page or $14.58/ream, and had the low calculated lifetime cost of $389.
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.
Next up were the Canon PIXMA models, both of which scored a 3. The MX922 had a fairly high monochrome cost of $0.05/page or $26.67/ream. Color printing was also relatively expensive at $0.10/page or $47.83/ream, and the calculated lifetime cost was high at $643. The MX492 printed color at the same rate was a bit more expensive for black and white at $0.08 a page or $41.67 a ream. This bumped its estimated lifetime cost to $725. The Epson Expression Premium XP-640 also scored a 3. Black and white printing on this machine costs a slightly above average $0.05/page or $26/ream, and color is very expensive at $0.12/page or $61.67/ream. Estimated lifetime costs work out to an above average $635.
Bringing up the rear was the HP Envy 4520. It lures consumers with a low initial price, but has very high ink costs. Monochrome printing came out to the most expensive rate of $0.08/page or $39.47/ream. Color printing was also expensive at $0.11/page or $54.55/ream, and the calculated lifetime cost was a quite high $737.
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.
Before we jump into the ease of use scores we would just like to share the most salient observation that came out of our ease of use testing: wireless connectivity is unreliable. Every model we reviewed mysteriously disconnected from every wireless network we used at some point during testing. If you are using a wireless connection, no matter which model you buy, it is almost inevitable that the connection will randomly disappear at some point. You'll try all the obvious avenues to fix the problem, all to no avail, and then the connection will mysteriously reappear. It will be very frustrating. In short, we suggest always having an easily accessible USB cable connection ready to go in reserve, in case you don't have the time for troubleshooting.
Scores in our ease of use test ranged from 4 to 9 out of 10. As mentioned above, 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 two models that received the top score of 9, and both of them were HP. This is partially due to our good experiences with HP customer service. We called multiple times, were never on hold for more than 5 minutes, and the service representatives we spoke to were generally knowledgeable and helpful. 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.
Two other HP models shared the first runner-up spot with scores of 8 out of 10. The HP Envy 4520 and HP Officejet Pro 8720 both had similar designs and thus very similar ease of use attributes. Both of these models also have intuitive touchscreen displays that made it easy to toggle through various settings and functions. However, out of the box setup took just a bit longer than it did for the top scoring models.
After the top scorers, there was another pack of three models, all sharing a score of 7. The Brother MFC-9130CW was easy to set up out of the box. This model missed out on the top score mostly because of our experience with Brother's customer service. We called the customer service line four times, were on hold for at least 15 minutes each time, and not once got off the phone feeling like our issue had been completely resolved. Obviously, four phone calls don't cover all of Brother's customer service representatives. But if we failed to get useful assistance in four separate calls, there is a decent chance our readers would have a similar experience. The Canon PIXMA MX492 was fairly smooth sailing once it was set up, but a tiny interface and cryptic user manual kept us scratching our heads for 35 minutes until we were up and running.
The Canon PIXMA MX922 also scored a 7. Its initial setup was seamless and even after multiple calls, we were impressed with Canon's customer service. The only annoyance that kept it out of the top score is its print tray. It's really not so much of a tray, but just a single plastic arm that is less than two inches wide. This proved to be inadequate as every time we printed a document of more than ten pages we ended up with papers on the floor. The Epson Expression XP-640 was the only model to score a 6 in our ease of use testing. It has a large display that can be navigated with a set of arrow buttons. This is more cumbersome than a touchscreen but works fairly well. This model lost significant points because its setup process took us a full 35 minutes and required printing numerous test pages and then entering settings into the printer based on how those test pages looked.
Next up in our ease of use testing results were the Brother MFC-L2750DW and the HP LaserJet Pro M402n, both of 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. Despite receiving an average score the HP LaserJet Pro M402n was actually our testers' go to model when they needed to print something for reasons other than testing. This is because it's simple, no-frills design reliably worked every time. However, it is the only model we tested that does not offer wireless connectivity. While we do suggest always having a USB connection handy for those times when things go awry, not offering any sort of wireless connectivity decreases the usefulness for those that do want to print untethered. It also has a very simple LCD interface with just three buttons. This isn't a huge problem as it is a very simple model, but could become an issue if you needed to troubleshoot.
At the bottom of our ease of use tables were the Canon ImageCLASS LBP151dw and the Brother HL-L2350DW. Our testers found that setting up USB printing on the Canon ImageCLASS LBP151dw was a breeze, but setting up wireless printing was another matter. It required plugging into the printer with a USB cable, which seemed counterintuitive, and the included instructions were quite vague. We feel most people would end up calling customer service to set up this feature. Additionally, the ImageClass' interface is made up of only buttons and no screen, making troubleshooting difficult. In general the Brother HL-L2350DW was just slightly better. 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.
A common use of the models we tested would be printing documents with basic business graphics, such as pie charts and bar graphs. We printed multiple documents containing such graphics and evaluated their resolution and clarity. While we didn't test any models that specialize in photo printing, some users may want to include the occasional photo in their reports or letters, so we also printed some photos and assessed their quality.
The HP Envy 4520 and HP Officejet Pro 8720 performed better than all the other models in rendering photos and graphics, both picking up the top score of 7. Lines and shapes in graphs looked bold and high resolution on both models, even when viewed under our microscope. They also rendered true colors and high resolution when printing photos. These photos were of a noticeably lower quality than actual photo prints, but they are acceptable for printing the occasional article that includes photos. The HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw occupied the next spot with a score of 6. It mostly lost points in the photo category, with dark areas looking muddled and oversaturated and noticeable pixels when viewed under the microscope. It produced excellent business graphics. Charts had strong, bold colors and looked clean and crisp.
Both the Canon PIXMA models and the Brother MFC-9130CW scored a 5 on our graphics and photos test. Both PIXMA models rendered reddish skin tones in photographs and showed slight but noticeable pixelation in both photos and simple graphics. The Brother MFC-9130CW showed similar pixelation in simple graphics and created horizontal streaks in photos, which were noticeable when examined closely. Rounding out the middle pack was the MFC-L2750DW, which scored a 4. It had very noticeable pixelation when printing photos, and displayed graininess when printing simple graphics. While none of these lower scorers produced illegible graphs, the quality was low enough that most people would take notice.
If you're only printing a few pages, then printing speed doesn't really matter. If you're printing a 100-page document, then the difference between 6 pages a minute and 25 pages a minute is going to be very noticeable. Most manufacturers advertise a page per minute figure in their spec sheet. These numbers are usually based on ideal tests where a document that exactly jives with the printer's internal programming is used. This means the printer doesn't have to 'think' at all, it can just print. In our testing we used text and graphics (such as passages from Moby Dick) to calculate a more functional, real-life printing speed. So don't go mad chasing the mythical white whale of manufacturer print speed statistics, our numbers are a much better estimation of the performance you will actually experience from each model. All of our printing speed tests were simplex (one-sided) because some of the models we tested can only print simplex. Duplex (double-sided) generally takes a little bit longer per page, because each sheet needs to be pulled back into the machine and run through a second time. Usually, this sacrifice in speed is well worth the savings in paper.
The simple HP LaserJet Pro M402n proved to be a streamlined racehorse in our printing speed test. It spit out 25 text pages per minute, meaning you could print out a book while you're brewing your morning coffee (disclaimer: we're talking about making a proper cup of coffee, not cheating with pre-packaged plastic cups). This earned it the top score of 9. Closely following was the Canon ImageCLASS LBP151dw, which scored an 8. It pumped out 22 pages a minute in our speed trials. This is still a blistering pace, but would fall behind the HP M402n on the straight away. Picking up the bronze medal was 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. It 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.
Two different models earned a 5 out of 10 in our speed testing. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8720 and the Brother MFC-9130CW both printed 11 pages per minute in our testing. This is solidly outside of the novel-before-breakfast territory, but will still be plenty fast for the majority of documents.
The two slowest models in our test were the HP Envy 4520, the Epson Expression XP-640, and both Canon PIXMA models. The Envy scored a 4 and was able to produce 8 pages a minute. The Epson XP-640 also scored a 4 and also printed 8 pages per minute, and the PIXMA MX492 came in just behind at 7 sheets per minute. The PIXMA MX922 brought up the rear with a score of 3 and a speed of 6 pages a minute. These speeds aren't going to annoy you if you tend to only print a few pages at a time. However, if you're going to be printing War and Peace, brace yourself, because it's going to take some time. Even just the War and Peace cliff notes would keep you waiting for a while.
Every printer comes with at least a small dose of frustration, but by letting us do the dirty work you can make sure you get the smallest dose possible. We hope our testing results made clear which model you'd most like to have in your home.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.