Looking for a frustration-free printing experience at home? Unfortunately, we haven't found that elusive, truly hassle free printer, but we have gone through the weeds and found a selection of printers that we think can reduce your printing related snafus to a minimum. After printing everything from long text documents to photos, examining those prints under a microscope, and connecting these printers to all manner of wired and wireless devices, we have an in depth understanding of where each model excels and falls short. Whether you're looking for a powerful behemoth that can handle spitting out thousands of pages a month, a simple and cheap printer for those rare times when you need to print a form or plane ticket ASAP, or anything in between, our top picks have you covered.
The Best Home and Office Printers of 2018
In our latest round of testing we put the Brother HL-L8360CDW through the paces. This large and in charge printer is great for home and small offices that need to print 1000+ pages a month, but is probably overkill for most people. See our full thoughts below.
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. Listing for $400 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. Listing for $430 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 less than $100 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
Best Inkjet Printer for a Tight Budget
Epson Expression Premium XP-640
For occasional printers that want to the ability to scan, copy, and print in color at home, the Epson Expression Premium XP-640 is a great deal. This all-in-one provides a hefty dose of functionality whilst keeping its price tag below $100. We found its print quality to be quite good both in monochrome and color, and has a large enough screen that you can easily navigate through all of its menus.
The biggest rub with the XP-640 is the high price of ink. If you print frequently the expensive ink can quickly outpace the price of the printer itself. This isn't a big deal for occasional printers, but if you print more than a ream of paper a year (an average of 1-2 pages per day) the HP OfficeJet Pro 8720 would be a better value in the long run.
Read review: Epson Expression Premium XP-640
Best Option for Basic Printing
HP LaserJet Pro M402n
There's something to be said for doing things the old-fashioned way. The HP LaserJet Pro M402n keeps things simple by not offering any sort of wireless connection, instead opting for a wired USB or ethernet connection. While this is limiting in some capacity, it also streamlines the user experience and lessens the chance you'll be dealing with connectivity issues (a problem that plagues almost all printers). The M402n is also blazing fast at 25 pages per minute, produces high quality text, and is very economical when it comes to toner usage.
The main downsides of the M402n are the fact that it doesn't print graphics very well, and it only prints in duplex. However, you can upgrade to the duplex M402dn version for about $20 more. If you tend to print lots of text heavy documents and want something simple and economical, this is one of the best options we've found.
Read review: HP LaserJet Pro M402n
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 (like in the chart above). In this case models like the Epson Expression Premium XP-640 present a great value.If you print frequently, however, ink costs become a much bigger factor in determining value. As you can see in the estimated lifetime cost chart above, some of the models with lower list prices (like the Epson Expression Premium XP-640) get very expensive if you print a lot. In this case models like the Brother HL-L2340DW offer a great value. Models like the Brother HL-L8360CDW and the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw are mid range when you look at long term costs, yet both offer the highest quality prints, making them great values if you're looking for the best looking text and graphics.
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.
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. Five separate models received the top score of 9: the Brother MFC-9130CW, HP LaserJet Pro M402n, 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. 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 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 we never kept on hold for long, and always talked to helpful and knowledgable 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 was the one non-HP model that earned a 9 out of 10 in this metric. This is mostly due to its large touchscreen controls, which make initial setup and navigating settings very easy. We also ran into very few hiccups, even when connecting and dissconecting multiple WiFi networks. Our only small complaint is that typing in WiFi passwords on teh screen can be a bit tedious.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 teh worst offenders. We hope that our testing results have helped you find the perfect printer, whther you're running a small office or just looking for an inexpensive print-at-home option.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.