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The best color laser printers for 2020

This article was last updated by Digital Trends editor Luke Larsen on September 3, 2020.

Based on our extensive experience, the HP Color LaserJet Pro M255dw is the best color laser printer you can buy. We consider it our top choice because it features fast print speeds, uses high-capacity toner, and it works with just about every wireless printing standard available. The LaserJet Pro M255dw even has an NFC card reader for customers who’d like a bit more security. 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.

But if you find that our top pick just isn’t the right fit for your specific needs, there are other color laser printers worth checking out. 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 we’ve placed on this list.

The best color laser printers at a glance:

The best color laser printer: HP Color LaserJet Pro M255dw

Why you should buy this: It’s the best color laser printer you can buy.

Who’s it for: Small business owners, those with a home office.

Why we picked the HP Color LaserJet Pro M255dw:

Just because you want a powerful, feature-rich color printer at home, that doesn’t mean it needs to be bulky. The HP Color LaserJet Pro M255dw has a simple, modern design, including a helpful 2.7-inch color touchscreen for controls. Compared to larger, more business-ready printers, the LaserJet Pro M255dw weighs just 33 pounds and can easily be tucked into a corner of your home office.

At 22 pages per minute, it’s not quite as fast as some larger printers, nor does it handle all-in-one features like scanning and copying. But with support for both Mac and Windows, as well as a bypass slot for printing odd-shaped materials, the HP Color LaserJet Pro M255dw is extremely versatile.

The best budget color laser printer: Brother HL-L3270CDW

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

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

Why we picked the Brother HL-L3270CDW:

Laser color printers aren’t cheap. Short of buying an older printer, this affordable Brother makes for a great addition to a home office or small business. It has a lot of the same features that come in spendier models, such as a 2.7-inch touchscreen for controls, wireless NFC connection, and a 250-capacity tray.

The Brother HL-L3270CDW does that without being overly large or cumbersome, like many any other printers. At 40 pounds, it’s fairly compact, making it a good option for small offices and desks.

The best business color laser printer: 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: 

If you need to take your Brother printer to the next level, the HL-L8360CDW is a fantastic upgrade. At 48 pounds, though, the Brother HL-L8360CDW is no lightweight. It’s for business offices only, boasting impressive print speeds (33 pages per minute) and high-capacity toner cartridges that can last for 4,500 prints.

For larger organizations with security concerns, the Brother 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.

The best color laser photo printer: Canon Color imageClass MF644Cdw

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 MF644Cdw 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 MF644Cdw is hard to beat.

While the 22 ppm print speed of the Canon Color imageClass MF644Cdw doesn’t match the HP M281fdw, it does offer automated duplex printing, copying, and scanning from its 50-sheet document feeder. 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.

Research and buying tips

Color laser printers vs. inkjet printers

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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