The Best Printers

Simon Handby
23 Jun 2022
Best printer

The perfect printer is a silent workhorse that will plough through demanding print jobs with speed and accuracy. Here are our top picks

The problem with definitively choosing the best printer on the market is that there are so many things to consider. Is it best to go with an inkjet or laser printer? Cartridges or refillable tanks? Do you need a multifunction printer (MFP) that also scans and copies, or are you after something that just prints? How much do you need to spend?

Yet a printer remains essential, whether for business or the home. That’s why we’ve pulled together a new roundup covering the best printers from the leading brands, so you’ll know which model will be the best fit for your specific needs.

These recommendations come from hours of rigorous hands-on testing, so we know what we’re talking about. Look below and you’ll find guidance on everything from the different types of printer to the major functions and features, to help you work out what you need and what you’re not prepared to pay the extra for.

The best printers to buy

1. Canon Pixma TS205

The Pixma TS205 is one of the cheapest printers you can buy, and when you look at what it’s missing – no Wi-Fi, no scanner, no cloud or smartphone-friendly features – it’s really not hard to see why. All you get is a compact inkjet printer that connects via USB, printing black text pages at a slow-ish 7.5ppm, and pages with colour graphics at a painful 1.6ppm. To make things worse, it’s noisy while doing so.

However, that doesn’t mean the TS205 doesn’t have its plus points. It works perfectly well for basic, low-volume home printing and ink costs are lower than for some more expensive printers. Most importantly, print quality is surprisingly good, with bold, punchy graphics, crisp black text and even decent-looking photos – despite a slightly warm colour bias. It’s both capable and cheap as chips.

Key specs – Technology: Thermal inkjet; Maximum print resolution: 4,800 x 1,200dpi; Scan specifications: N/A; Recommended monthly duty cycle: N/S; Dimensions (HWD): 131 x 426 x 255mm; Weight: 2.5kg; Maximum paper size: A4/legal

2. Epson EcoTank ET-2850

If you’re looking for an ink-tank printer, you’re probably on the hunt for low running costs, minimal fuss and plenty of useful features. The Epson EcoTank ET-2850 ticks all these boxes, with running costs as low as inkjet printing gets.

It sits in around the middle of Epson’s ink tank printer range, and so sheds a few specialist extras, such as the ability to send faxes and an automatic sheet feeder for the copier function. However, this keeps the overall price down to a reasonable level. Epson has focused the printer on the core features, and you still get automatic duplex printing for the money.

It’s the running costs that are the headline event, though. Epson provides enough ink in the box to print 14,000 mono and 5,200 colour pages and, once you’re through that, it doesn’t cost much to print more. Replacement ink comes in refill bottles and mono pages work out at a cost of 0.2p each and colour prints cost 0.4p.

Key specs – Technology: Piezo inkjet; Maximum print resolution: 5,760 x 1,440dpi; Scan specifications: 1,200 x 2,400dpi; Recommended monthly duty cycle: N/S; Dimensions (HWD): 187 x 375‎ x 347mm; Weight: 5.4kg; Maximum paper size: A4/legal

3. Brother MFC-J4540DW

The Brother MFC-J4540DW is an office printer with all the trimmings, yet is available for a very reasonable price. It’s a true all-in-one, with the usual trio of printer, scanner and copier functions, but includes fax capabilities for good measure.

It connects to your network using Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and can be stacked up with 350 sheets of paper across two paper trays. The printer produces two-sided prints automatically to save on paper and the top-mounted automated sheet feeder makes short work of copying jobs.

It’s an inkjet printer that uses cartridges for convenience but its running costs are comparatively low. Once you’ve consumed the 3,000 pages worth of mono prints and 1,500 pages of colour that come in the box, replacement cartridges work out at 0.7p per mono page and 2.7p per colour page. Typically, this is only bettered by tank-based printers, which tend to cost significantly more to buy.

Key specs – Technology: Inkjet; Maximum print resolution: 1,200 x 4,800dpi; Scan specifications: 1,200 x 2,400dpi; Recommended monthly duty cycle: 30,000 pages; Dimensions (HWD): 250 x 435 x 335mm; Weight: 10.4kg; Maximum paper size: A4/legal

4. HP OfficeJet Pro 9022e

If you work your printer hard and produce a lot of printed documents, you might also spend a lot of time waiting for them to appear. The HP OfficeJet Pro 9022e inkjet aims to make this wait a thing of the past, producing mono text documents at a blistering 20.5ppm.

It’s so fast it’s faster than some laser printers and while mixed colour and mono documents are produced at a more sedate 8.5pp it’s still significantly faster than most inkjets.

The printer is easy to connect to Wi-Fi or Ethernet for sharing around the home or office, and uses the HP Smart app, so you can print and scan from any device with ease. It has two 250-sheet paper trays, so you can stock it up with plenty of paper.

A nice bonus is that the printer also comes with a free six-month subscription to HP’s Instant Ink service, which sends replacement ink cartridges to you in the post, so they’re ready and waiting when the printer runs dry. Printing costs after this are competitive, particularly if you print a lot.

Key specs – Technology: Thermal inkjet; Maximum print resolution: 4,800 x 1,200dpi; Scan specifications: 1,200 x 1,200dpi; Recommended monthly duty cycle: 30,000 pages; Dimensions (HWD): 318 x 437 x 396mm; Weight: 11.66kg; Maximum paper size: A4/legal

How to choose the best printer for you

What’s the difference between laser and inkjet printers?

Inkjets create prints by placing thousands of tiny dots over every inch of the page. Printers with higher resolutions – measured in dots per inch (dpi) – can place more dots on the page.

As their print heads usually need to move about to cover the page, inkjet printers tend to be slower than lasers. Also, because the ink takes a second or two to dry, they might be slower still when duplex (double-sided) printing.

Laser printers work by negatively charging a light-sensitive surface called an optical photoconductor (OPC) drum. A laser then “draws” an image of the page to be printed onto the surface of the drum, discharging the areas it hits.

Negatively charged toner is then released onto the surface of the drum. This is attracted to the discharged areas drawn by the laser and repelled by the negatively charged background. A positively charged sheet of paper is passed over the drum, and the toner is transferred. This process occurs on all four drums – for cyan, magenta, yellow and black – to make up the final colour image. Finally, the paper is heated by a fuser, which melts the toner to the page.

A laser printer used to be the only option for fast, high-quality document printing, but in the last few years, office-focused inkjets have started running them close for speed and quality. Despite popular belief, inkjets are often cheaper to run than their laser equivalents, too. But inkjets can suffer from blocked nozzles if you don’t use them often and flushing them out wastes ink: if you tend to go weeks without printing, you’re still better off with a laser printer.

If you plan to do lots of printing, opt for a device with a high duty cycle figure. This represents a one-time maximum number of prints a device can produce if you really push it, rather than the number of pages it can print regularly, so always pick a printer with a duty cycle that exceeds your requirements. Some manufacturers also quote a recommended duty cycle figure, which is useful to know if you’ll be putting your printer to heavy use and don’t want to wear it out quickly.

Does high print resolution mean better quality?

In general, the higher the resolution, the sharper the print, but other factors influence the final result. With inkjet printers, a smaller droplet size helps avoid grain – tiny dots of colour that might otherwise be visible in lighter areas of a graphic or photo. Some photo inkjets use extra colours to reduce grain further or to improve neutral shades or the colour range (gamut) in photos. Inkjets are quite sensitive to paper quality – you’ll get better documents if you avoid lightweight papers and dramatically better photos on coated photo paper.

With laser printers, it’s more typically true that high resolution (1,200dpi or more) looks better. You’re most likely to notice it as improved graphics and smoother outlines to text – the latter can look jagged at the 600dpi resolution typical of entry-level models, but only if you have very sharp eyes. Note that a laser’s quoted resolution may be the product of interpolation, rather than the print engine’s native or “true” resolution. An interpolated resolution of, say, 1,200dpi is likely to look better than a 600dpi print, but not as good as a true 1,200dpi print.

In practice, you can’t always predict print quality from a printer’s specifications. Our reviews tell you how good a printer’s output is across a range of tests, and highlight the kind of strengths and weaknesses you can only spot from hands-on comparisons.

Do I need an MFP?

MFPs have several advantages over a separate printer and scanner. They’re great if you’re short of space, and you can use them to make photocopies without your PC. You can usually scan and copy directly from the MFP’s control panel, although these interfaces vary in how easy they are to use. Our reviews tell you what a printer’s built-in control panel is like to use for basic tasks. If we don’t mention it, it’s fine.

The scanners in office-orientated MFPs can be disappointing – they’re usually fine for archiving paperwork at low resolution, but they won’t necessarily be ideal for creating a permanent digital copy of your favourite slides or photos. The scanners in home-focused devices usually do a little better, but there are good and bad examples of each. We explain the strengths and weaknesses of scanners, and their software, in our reviews.

If you’re likely to scan, fax or copy multi-page documents, look for an automatic document feeder (ADF), which will help you do it automatically. If you’re doing a lot of office work, a duplexing ADF will help if you work with double-sided originals. The best MFP scanners will do a great job of capturing old photos, but if you want to scan slides or negatives, you’ll need a dedicated scanner.

How do print speeds vary?

Print speeds vary greatly between models. Very generally, inkjets are quicker to start printing, whereas lasers are faster once they get going. We test how many pages per minute (ppm) a device reaches when printing a 25-page text document, as well as a complicated 24-page colour document that contains a mix of text and graphics. We also measure how long each printer takes to produce a page from sleep. On shorter jobs, a fast warm-up is more important than the quoted speed.

How do I connect my printer?

Almost all printers and MFPs can work over a USB connection to a single PC, but these days most can also connect to your wireless network. Office printers may have a wired Ethernet port. Whatever the method, a network connection lets you share a printer among multiple PCs or other devices in your home or office. Almost all network-capable printers now support direct printing from iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android devices, or indirect printing via cloud services such as Google Cloud Print. Some printers additionally use NFC technology to help you connect a smart device – it’s most useful for visitors to an office environment who may not have access to the core network.

Some printers and MFPs have additional ports, such as a front USB slot for printing from or scanning to an inserted USB stick. Home devices with a creative bias may have a memory card slot for direct photo prints – it’s a handy feature, but you’ll get more control printing from a PC.

Print and scanning software makes a big difference to what a printer or MFP is like to use. We test each device on a PC and at least one mobile platform (Android, iOS), and we’ll mention any connectivity or usability issues.

What about ink and toner cartridges?

Inkjet printers typically need frequent ink cartridges, and they may need an occasional waste ink box replacement – or possibly a new print head. Laser printers can be similarly straightforward, but the most complex models can use up to ten or more consumables.

The simplest lasers use one (mono) or four (colour) toner cartridges with an integrated OPC drum. These make the printer easy to maintain, but they can result in high print costs. The absence of other user-serviceable parts can also limit your printer’s lifespan. Other laser printers have separate OPC drums, waste toner bottles and even fuser units, which can produce a lot of hidden costs even if the toner cartridges are cheap.

The prices and lifespans of these parts vary widely, but if you do enough printing they’ll all have to be replaced. We always include every relevant consumable when working out print costs. To calculate the cost per page, we find the best price for each printer’s best-value toner or ink cartridge and divide it by the rated number of pages. If it’s unlikely that you’ll need to replace, say, a fuser unit rated at 100,000 pages, we’ll mention this in the review.

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