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Brother MFC-J4540DW review: Fast, affordable and cheap to run

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
212
inc VAT

All the features you could possibly need from an office multifunction inkjet printer, at a reasonable price

Pros 
Affordable
Fast
Easy to use
Cons 
Uses cartridges
Rivals pip its top mono speed
Disappointing colour copies
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If you don’t want your next office-focused multifunction inkjet printer to skimp on features, then you’d be well advised to consider the Brother MFC-J4540DW. In fact, it would be easier to list the features it hasn’t got, resplendent as it is with a full suite of printing, copying, scanning and faxing capabilities.

It’s built to print and scan with a minimum of fuss, with three paper inputs and an automatic document feeder for the scanner – and it comes supplied with enough ink to print 3,000 mono pages and 1,500 colour, which should be more than enough to keep even a busy home office going for quite some time.

Brother MFC-J4540DW review: What do you get for the money?

Considering it’s so well equipped, the Brother MFC-J4540DW is eminently affordable, available on Amazon for around £212 at the time of writing. It’s clearly squaring itself up against HP’s similarly priced and similarly specified office inkjet line-up, particularly the HP OfficeJet Pro 9022e.

With two reasonably sized paper trays and an automatic sheet feeder on board, it’s relatively compact at 435 x 335 x 250mm (WDH) although it is quite hefty at 10.4kg. There’s a feeder tray for the scanner that sits on top and it has a 20-sheet capacity.

The two main paper trays sit at the base of the printer. Tray 1 is a general-purpose space you can fill with up to 150 sheets of A4 or smaller, speciality paper. Tray 2, which sits below it, can take up to 250 sheets but can only be used with plain paper.

At the rear, there’s a panel that opens out to reveal a third small tray for feeding in single sheets. This is handy if you occasionally use other thicker paper types, or don’t want to empty one of the main trays for a small print job using a different size media.

Printed sheets pop out into a cavity between the control panel and the paper trays. This can catch up to 100 sheets at a time but it can get in the way of reloading paper into the top tray if you need to perform such a task while printing.

Above the output tray is the control panel. This is a colour touchscreen measuring 2.3in across the diagonal and it’s accompanied by three physical control buttons (back, home and cancel) and a power button. To the left of the screen there’s an NFC pad you can use to print straight from a compatible smartphone.

The standard package that we’ve reviewed here comes with enough ink to produce 3,000 mono prints and 1,500 colour pages. You can also buy this printer bundled with XL cartridges (the Brother MFC-J4540DWXL), which promises enough ink to print 6,000 mono and 5,000 colour pages, and is available for £272 at the time of writing.

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Brother MFC-J4540DW review: Is it easy to use?

The Brother MFC-J4540DW is very easy to set up. The four cartridges slot easily into place behind a door on the front of the printer and head alignment is performed with very little user intervention: the printer outputs an alignment print that you place on the scanner – the printer scans it and adjusts itself automatically.

Wi-Fi network connection is performed using a website, and it can be completed using any device. The website also provides the necessary links to all the drivers, scanning software and apps you might need (Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS are all supported).

You can also connect the printer physically to a network via Ethernet, or to a PC via USB. Both ports are located inside the printer, and are accessible by lifting the scanner section. Cables then need to be trailed through a moulded channel and out of a hole at the back.

There are a few more options available on the touchscreen than you’ll find on the Brother DCP-J1140DW, which is mainly due to the fax and direct USB printing features. Beyond those options, you can also control the Copy and Scan function directly from the screen, print from web services such as OneDrive and Google Drive, and access a selection of other tools through the Apps menu. These include scanning to mobile or email, through to accessing printable templates such as weekly planners or self-printed graph paper.

If you prefer, you can print, copy and scan using the mobile app or you can use a connected computer. All these alternatives are straightforward and easy to use, with consistently designed, simple interfaces that make it easy to flit from one to the other.

Brother MFC-J4540DW review: How fast is it and how much does it cost to run?

When it comes to refilling the printer, there are both standard and high-capacity (XL) cartridges available for each of the four colours (black, cyan, magenta and yellow). For a cartridge printer, it already comes with a reasonable number of prints in the box, even if you opt for the standard version. However, when refilling, it’s worth splashing out on the XL cartridges.

Shopping around for the best prices on Brother’s XL cartridges showed them to be decent value for money. They don’t drop the price per print down to the level of ink tank printers like the Epson EcoTank ET-2850, but with mono prints costing 0.7p per page and colour 2.7p per page, it’s not bad for a cartridge printer. These prices undercut its main rival, the HP OfficeJet Pro 9022e, which runs out at 2.9p per page for mono and 3.1p per page for colour printing.

Office printers should be speedy when it comes to producing pages and the MFC-J4540DW doesn’t disappoint. Mono text documents were produced at 18.5ppm (pages per minute) – a bit behind the 20.5ppm the HP OfficeJet 9022e achieved but not far off the pace. More importantly, it leaves most other inkjet printers behind, particularly those aimed at home users, including the Brother DCP-J1140DW.

Colour printing is reasonably quick, too, reaching speeds of 7ppm in our tests, again not far behind the 9022e’s 8.1ppm. Where it really shone was in automatic duplex mode, reaching 4.7ppm, compared to 4.6ppm from the 9022e. Since this printer defaults to double-sided printing, this is a key metric. Photo printing at its highest resolution is a shade faster than the Brother DCP-J1140DW but it falls well behind most consumer inkjets in this department.

Also important to an office device is its copying speed and here the MFC-J4540DW excells, producing single page mono copies in 12 seconds, second only to the HP OfficeJet 9022e by a single second. Colour copies were produced in a record 14 seconds – the 9022e can only muster a colour copy in 17 seconds.

The same applies to copies made from the document feeder, with a ten-page mono copy produced in 1min 19secs. The 9022e took over two minutes to perform the same task.

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Brother MFC-J4540DW review: What’s print quality like?

Colour printing on the Brother MFC-J4540DW is impressive. I wouldn’t particularly recommend it if your focus is on photo output but it can certainly print out a very reasonable colour photo on standard glossy photo paper, with prints that put the HP OfficeJet 9022e to shame.

This carries across, to a certain extent, to colour business documents. Its colour printing is brighter and more vibrant than the HP’s but, if top quality colour printing is key, you’re still better off with a printer that’s equipped with brighter inks. On the other hand, colour copy quality was disappointing, with significant differences between the original and what was printed.

Standard text printing is decent enough at reading distance but I got the magnifying glass out to see exactly what was happening. This close up there is a roughness to the formation of text at standard settings on copier paper that isn’t quite so pronounced than on the HP OfficeJet 9022e.

Brother MFC-J4540DW review: Should you buy it?

The Brother MFC-J4540DW is a truly versatile office printer. If you need all its functions, including the ability to send and receive faxes, then it’s a no-brainer. The print quality is good, it’s easy to use and it’s very well endowed with features and options.

It has been aggressively priced to offer an alternative to the likes of the HP OfficeJet Pro 9022e, so let’s take a quick look at the differences. The main point of difference is speed and quality – the 9022e is generally faster and its mono printing is sharper, but it doesn’t come close to the Brother when it comes down to printing in colour, either in terms of speed or quality.

The Brother MFC-J4540DW is significantly cheaper to run, too, with mono prices dropping as low as 0.7p per page. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a printer that’s really cheap to run, it’s worth considering an ink tank printer from the likes of Canon or Epson. These tend to cost more up-front, though, so are best for heavy users.

If all the MFC-J4540DW’s office tools are overkill, or you want a printer with high quality printing, particularly focussed on photos, I’d point you towards the Canon Pixma TS8350. It’s drifted in and out of stock in recent months but is worth waiting for. It’s more expensive to run if you print a lot but for outright quality it remains our favourite all-rounder.

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