The best color laser printers for 2019

Make the most of your toner with our five favorite color laser printers

In our view, the Brother HL-L8360CDW is the best color laser printer overall. And it’s our top choice because it offers fast print speeds, high-capacity toner cartridges, and it works with just about every wireless printing standard available. It even features an NFC card reader for customers with security concerns. We’ve tested and reviewed dozens of printers, and based on our earned expertise, we feel that there isn’t a better value for your money than the HL-L8360CDW.

But if you find that the HL-L8360CDW just isn’t the right fit for you needs, there are other color laser printers worth considering. If you’d like an all-in-one that can handle scanning, copying, and faxing documents, or you simply just need a more affordable model, be sure to take a look at the other printers featured on this list.

The best color laser printer at a glance

The best color laser printer: Brother HL-L8360CDW

best color laser printers inkjet brother hl l8360cdw

Why you should buy this: High-capacity toner, very fast print speeds, and a wealth of wireless connectivity options.

Who it’s for: Offices with large print volumes, or anyone who needs speedy, colorful prints.

Why we picked the Brother HL-L8360CDW: 

Measuring 17.4 x 19.1 x 12.3 inches (width, depth, height) and weighing over 48 pounds, the Brother HL-L8360CDW is no lightweight. But with print speeds up to 33 pages per minute (ppm) and high-capacity toner cartridges that can last for 4,500 prints, it churns through massive print jobs with ease. The maximum monthly duty cycle is an impressive 60,000 pages, with the recommended amount being 4,000. The main paper tray holds up to 250 sheets of either letter or legal size paper, while a 50-sheet auxiliary tray can be used for alternative media types like letterhead. If you need more paper capacity, additional trays can be added, at a cost, for up to 1,300 pages in total. If you want to make that paper last as long as possible, double-sided printing is also supported thanks to automatic duplexing.

For larger organizations with security concerns, the HL-L8360CDW features a built-in NFC card reader that can scan employee badges to authorize access, among other security features. The printer is controlled from the 2.7-inch touchscreen and can be linked to your company’s Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive accounts. For home or small office use, you can print wirelessly with ease via both Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print 2.0. Additional wireless standards include Wi-Fi direct, Cortado Workspace, Mopria, and Brother’s own iPrint&Scan app.

When purchased from Amazon, the HL-L8360CDW also comes with Dash Replenishment and can be set up to automatically reorder toner when it runs low.

The best budget color laser printer: Brother HL-L3210CW

best color laser printers inkjet brother hl l3210cw

Why you should buy this: Fast, full-color laser prints at an affordable price.

Who it’s for: Home and small office customers with moderate print volume needs.

Why we picked the Brother HL-L3210CW: 

You could call it the little brother to the HL-L8360CDW (excuse the pun), but the Brother HL-L3210CW is no slouch. Any full-color laser printer that costs less than $200 already feels like a bargain, and this one offers some solid performance numbers that make it a steal. Print speeds are up to 19 ppm, the paper tray holds 250 sheets of either letter or legal size paper, and a manual feed slot allows for other paper sizes and media types, such as envelopes. Designed for lower-volume offices, the maximum monthly duty cycle is half that of the HL-L8360CDW, at 30,000 pages, while the recommended is 1,500.

For wireless printing, Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print support come standard, as do Brother iPrint&Scan and Wi-Fi direct. Unlike the more powerful L8360CDW, the L3210CW does not offer double-sided printing and makes do with lower-capacity, 1,400-print toner cartridges. That does come with an advantage in size and weight, however; the L3210CW weighs 10 pounds less than the L8360CW at 37.8 pounds, and is nearly 4 inches shorter, measuring 16.1 x 18.1 x 9.9 inches.

The best home office printer: HP Color LaserJet Pro M281fdw

best color laser printers hp laserjet pro m281fdw

Why you should buy this: Print, copy, scan, and fax documents quickly.

Who it’s for: Busy entrepreneurs who need a capable, all-in-one printing and scanning solution.

Why we picked the HP Color LaserJet Pro M281fdw

This color laser all-in-one doesn’t just print at up to 22 ppm, it can also copy and scan documents — in full color — at that same speed (monochrome documents can be scanned even faster, at 26 ppm). The main paper tray holds up to 250 sheets with support for various paper sizes ranging from 3 x 5-inch all the way up to 8.5 x 14-inch legal size, while the 50-page automatic document feeder helps you power through long copy or scan jobs. With a recommended monthly duty cycle of 150 to 2,500 pages, the HP Color LaserJet Pro M281fdw is perfect for the print needs of the busy home office. Found online for under $450, it’s price tag isn’t as hefty as many on the market.

Even with all that power and versatility, the M281fdw manages to maintain an average size and weight for high-end color laser printers. It measures 16.5 × 16.6 × 13.2 inches and weighs 41 pounds, just a bit heavier than the Brother HL-L3210CW above, which does not have all the multi-function capabilities. It includes a 2.7-inch color touchscreen for navigating the menu system and even has a dedicated USB port for printing straight from a USB device. Wireless printing is possible from mobile devices using Apple AirPrint, HP ePrint, Mopria, or Wi-Fi direct. Google Cloud Print, however, is not supported.

The best color laser photo printer: Canon Color imageClass MF634Cdw

best color laser printers inkjet canon imageclass mf634cdw

Why you should buy this: Great color print quality in a multi-function printer.

Who it’s for: Anyone who needs to print or copy photos and graphics quickly.

Why we picked the Canon Color imageClass MF634Cdw

Laser printers are not photo printers, per se, but models like the Canon Color imageClass MF634Cdw go a long way to blurring the lines between them, which makes sense coming from a company like Canon, known for its cameras. While we wouldn’t recommend it for photographers, for the office that needs to make or reproduce documents that contain graphics and photos, the MF634Cdw is hard to beat — especially when it can be found for about $300.

While its 19 ppm print speed doesn’t match the HP M281fdw, it does offer automated duplex printing, copying, and scanning from its 50-sheet document feeder. Monochrome scans are as quick as 28 ppm, while color scans drop to 14 ppm. With a maximum monthly duty cycle of 30,000 prints and a recommended cycle of 200-2,500, it can also hold up to the standard printing demands of small to medium-sized offices.

In addition to USB, print jobs can be sent wirelessly via Apple AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, Mopria, Wi-Fi direct, and Canon’s Print Business app.

The best color laser printer for Mac: HP Color Laserjet Pro M254dw

best color laser printers inkjet hp laserjet pro m254dw

Why you should buy this: A printer as easy to set up as your Mac.

Who it’s for: Anyone who needs a basic, no-nonsense color laser printer.

Why we picked the HP Color Laserjet Pro M254dw

Any printer on this list will work with your Mac, but the HP Color Laserjet Pro M254dw is perhaps the most Mac-like in its user experience. Praised by customers for its ease of use, it will have you up and printing within minutes of taking it out of the box. With Apple AirPrint support built in, you can print wirelessly from your Mac, iPhone, or iPad without having to install drivers. The printer also supports HP ePrint, Mopria, and Wi-Fi direct — but, like the HP M281fdw, it does not support Google Cloud Print.

While ease of use may be the primary selling point, the M281fdw doesn’t disappoint when it comes to performance, with print speeds up to 22 ppm in both black and color. The printer’s recommended monthly duty cycle of up to 2,500 prints makes it suitable for medium-high volume environments, while its 10.2-second first print time (for monochrome, 11.8 seconds for color) also makes it effective in lower volume settings, where you may need to make a print once in a while and don’t want to have to wait around for the printer to warm up.

With a slim (for the class) profile and weight of just 32 pounds, this color laser printer will also do a decent job of blending into the background, making it a good choice for the home office or customer-facing locations where appearances matter.

Research and buying tips

Color laser printers vs. inkjet printers: What’s best?

Laser printers are better for text documents as they produce crisp lines even at very small font sizes. Over time, they are also cheaper to run as you can get more prints per dollar spent on toner than you can with inkjet ink. Laser printers also offer faster printing speeds and can save some serious time on large print jobs.

However, laser printers and the toner they use carry higher upfront costs; if you don’t print very often, you can buy a cheap inkjet printer — some are as low as $30 or so — and it may take a long time before its higher operational costs catch up to the higher initial cost of a laser printer. For smaller print jobs, the faster pages-per-minute rate of a laser printer also won’t be much of an advantage.

Color laser printers may also be a little slower compared to equal monochrome versions because of how the colored toner process works. To create color, most color laser printers use a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow and black. They make one pass for each toner color (methods here can vary, but many use multiple rollers), which naturally takes longer.

While color laser printers have gotten much better at handling photographs, if you’re looking to make detailed, color-accurate photographic prints to hang on your wall, display in a gallery, or sell to customers, a high-end inkjet photo printer is still the way to go (or simply outsource the work to a photo lab). Beyond print quality, inkjet photo printers can also handle a wider variety of paper types and sizes compared to laser printers. A color laser printer will handle inline photos and graphics in documents just fine.

Do color laser printers come with Wi-Fi or AirPrint support?

Yes. As with inkjet printers, wireless connectivity has become very common on color laser printers. However, not every model will support every brand of wireless printing tech. The Brother HL-3170CDW above supports both Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print, for example, while the Dell C1760NW does not, though it still offers mobile printing through its own proprietary app.

How can I print from my iPad, iPhone, or Android device?

This will depend on the wireless features of your printer. Many printers today support Apple AirPrint, which makes it easy to print from an iPad or iPhone to a printer on your Wi-Fi network. Not all apps support AirPrint, but many do — including non-Apple apps.

On Android, Google Cloud Print will allow you to print any document stored in your Google Drive, or directly from Google apps like Docs and Sheets. As with AirPrint, a printer that supports Cloud Print is required.

If your printer does not support Cloud Print or AirPrint but does feature Wi-Fi, your printer manufacturer may offer its own iOS and Android app for printing from your mobile device.

How often will I have to buy toner?

This depends on how much you print. Toner cartridges often have yields of 2,000 pages or more (check the specifications of your printer for your model’s specific yield). For light home use, that means many people could easily go a year or more without replacing toner. For office use, the replacement interval will be shorter, but toner could still last a few months.

How can I save money on toner?

The first step is to print efficiently; that is, double-check your page layout settings and make sure everything is correct before you hit that print button.

When it is time to reorder, you can save money by buying third-party toner cartridges. A single genuine toner cartridge for the Brother HL-L8360CDW costs about $78, while an entire set of black and color toners (four cartridges in all) from E-Z Ink costs about $66. Buying third-party toner likely isn’t recommended by your printer’s manufacturer, but so long as you make sure it’s compatible with your printer, it should work just fine. However, some printers, like the HP model above, look for toner that uses a special chip identifying it as original equipment. HP warns that while some other cartridges may work today, they may not in the future.

Can I buy a color laser printer with a built-in fax?

Yes. Many all-in-one laser printers, like the HP LaserJet Pro M281fdw above, can scan, copy, and fax documents. Note that not all all-in-ones — also called multi-function printers — have fax modems, so be sure to check the specs before you buy.

How we test

To find the best color laser printers, we factor in criteria such as speed, price, maintenance costs, and any unique features that help them one-up the competition.

Our selections are based on our long- and short-term testing; experience with earlier models; familiarity with the companies’ technologies; consultation with industry experts, fellow journalists, and users; online forums; lab results; and other third-party reviews. We look across the board — not just our own experiences — to find consensus on what we think are the best-performing printers you can currently buy. We also look at list pricing to determine if a product is worth the cost. We will even recommend printers that aren’t new, provided the features are still best-in-class.

The printer market evolves constantly, with manufacturers either introducing better models with new features or basic upgrades. So you can expect our picks to change, as well. But don’t worry — the models you see here will be with you for some time, and if we anticipate better models on the horizon, we will state that upfront to help you decide whether you should buy now or wait.

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