The best color laser printers of 2018

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

For small business and home office use, laser printers are the way to go. Generally speaking, they’re quick, reliable, and tend to be much more affordable than even the best inkjet printers on a per-page basis.

While black-and-white laser printers are good enough for the most basic of jobs, sometimes you need a little splash of color. Enter color laser jet printers.

From basic print-only models to all-in-ones that can print, fax, copy, and scan, there’s no shortage of options to choose from. To help make your decision easier, we’ve rounded up the best color laser jet printers in their respective specialties.

At a glance

Product Category
Brother HL-3170CDW Best color laser printer overall
Dell C1760NW Best budget color laser printer
HP LaserJet Pro M281FDW Best home office printer

Brother HL-3170CDW

The best

best color laser printers brother hl 3170cdw 2

Why should you buy this: Aside from copying and scanning, this laser color printer has everything you need to print time and time again, be it reports, contracts, flyers, or brochures.

Who’s it for: Anyone who needs a fast, robust, and reliable color laser printer without breaking the bank.

How much will it cost: $215

Why we picked the Brother HL-3170CDW:

Dollar for dollar, you won’t find a better color laser printer than Brother’s HL-3170CDW. It lacks the scanning and copying functionality of much more expensive all-in-one printers, but aside from that, it manages to pack in almost any other feature you can imagine.

The Brother HL-3140CW can print full-color documents at up to 600 × 2,400 dpi with a maximum output of 23 pages per minute (ppm). It also features duplex printing, meaning it can print on both sides of a single sheet of paper. On that note, it can store up to 250 sheets of standard letter or legal paper. So unless you’re printing off dozens of multiple-page reports, you shouldn’t have to fill it with paper too often.

Another key feature is wireless printing. The Brother HL-3140CW uses 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi to connect with your computer, tablet, or smartphone. It works with Apple, Android, Kindle Fire, and Windows Phone 8 devices with AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, Brother’s own iPrint&Scan app, and Wi-Fi Direct. Simply put, you shouldn’t have a problem printing from any and every device you own. In the event you don’t want or need wireless connectivity, you can also use the integrated ethernet and USB 2.0 port.

When purchased through Amazon, the Brother HL-3140CW supports Amazon Dash Replenishment. This means the printer can detect when it’s low on toner and order the exact toner you need to your door. It’s not a necessity and needs to be set up separately, but if you’re all about convenience, it’s a nice feature to have.

On the off chance you want to save a little dough and don’t mind the lack of duplex printing and a slightly less impressive print speed (19 ppm vs 23 ppm), you can get the Brother HL-3140CDW for about $40 less.

Dell C1760NW

The best budget color laser printer

dell x1760nw

Why should you buy this: It’s a stripped down color laser printer that gets the job done.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a bare bones color laser printer at a reasonable price point

How much will it cost: $140

Why we picked the Dell C1760NW:

So you want a color laser printer but don’t need all of the bells and whistles other options have? Don’t fret, the Dell C1760NW is right up your alley. At $140, this boxy printer manages to pack in all the basic features you need without breaking the bank.

The Dell C1760NW prints full color and monochrome documents at a resolution of 600 dpi and a rate of 12 ppm and 15 ppm, respectively. It holds upwards of 150 sheets of letter paper with an added 10-sheet bypass tray for when you need to print a document without bending it.

It lacks the duplex printing feature of other options on the market, but it still has built-in Wi-Fi for wireless printing, which should help cut down on the cables winding around your office.  In addition to Wi-Fi Direct connection via desktop devices, you can print from Android and iOS using Dell’s Mobile Print App — not nearly as convenient as AirPrint and Google Cloud Print, but it’s wireless printing nonetheless.

The Dell C1760NW ships with four low-capacity toner cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) that reviewers say manage to print around 100 full-color pages. So if you’re planning on doing a lot of printing off the bat, you might want to pick up another set when you buy the printer. Thankfully, the CMYK toner cartridges can be replaced individually, so you’re not wasting any toner when you run out of a single color.

HP LaserJet Pro M281FDW

 The best home office printer

best color laser printers hp laserjet pro m281fdw

Why should you buy this: It’s a solid all-in-one color laser that can print, scan, copy, and fax any documents you throw its way.

Who’s it for: Entrepreneurs or small business owners that want enterprise-level functionality on a home office budget.

How much will it cost: $310

Why we picked the HP LaserJet Pro M281FDW:

If our two previous choices don’t offer enough features or a fast enough print speed, we have just the printer for you. HP’s LaserJet Pro M281FDW is the all-in-one beast you’ve been looking for.

Designed with small businesses or large home offices in mind, the HP LaserJet Pro M281FDW is an enterprise-grade laser color printer on a consumer budget.

It should come as no surprise this thing is a little beefy. It measures in at 16.5 × 16.6 × 13.2 inches and weighs a modest 41 pounds.

This all-in-one solution can print, scan, copy, and fax in full color, with the added benefit of a 50-sheet automated document feeder for when you need to scan or copy a lot of papers at once. When printing, the HP LaserJet Pro M281FDW spits out pages at a rate of up to 22 ppm for both black and white and color.

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 Wi-Fi direct through the printer’s 2.4 and 5.0 GHz connections. Of course, you can also attach the printer to your computer via USB 2.0 for a wired connection.

To take a simple summarization from Amazon reviewer Mike Rak, this printer is “right in the Goldilocks zone of price vs performance.” We couldn’t agree more. At just $310, the HP LaserJet Pro M281FDW offers a lot of bang for your buck.

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. With their moving parts, we also look at durability.

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, product availability, and future-proofing qualities. 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.

Bonus helpful advice

Something to keep in mind with color laser printers is that, while they’re more than capable of printing full color photographs, don’t expect them to replace your inkjet photo printer. The resolution of laser printers is much lower than even entry-level photo printers and the ink isn’t high-quality or meant to last as long as proper photo ink. The color printing capabilities of laser color printers should be limited to cases where you need a small, simple photo for a brochure or a colored chart or graph for a report you plan to print.

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