Commercial Color Laser Printers

Buying guide: Color laser printers

Color laser printers offer great speed and reliability for demanding business, home-office, and small-office users. While they're great for individuals who want their documents in living color, laser printers really shine in network settings that allow multiple users to take advantage of their high speed and duplexing capabilities.

How do you weigh those advantages and at the same time balance features and price? Here are some tips on shopping for a color laser printer if you’re in the market for one this holiday season. And we’ve got some recommendations for models that passed muster in our tests.

Printer buying advice

What you are printing: The decision of whether to invest in a color laser printer depends largely on what you intend to print. If you want to print text or graphics on plain paper, you need to print a lot, and you need to print quickly, a color laser is the way to go. If you want a color printer for printing photographs, buy an inkjet printer. There are many good ones on the market, with excellent image quality. Color lasers can print photos of course, but the image quality is distinctly inferior in most cases to inkjet output. Most of the machines we've tested can print perfectly pleasing pie charts, logos, color bars, and simple graphics, but they struggle photographic images.

Consider the cost: Most good-quality color laser printers run in the range of $300 and up and are generally larger and heavier than most typical inkjet printers. They're also a bigger investment than standard inkjet or monochrome laser printers and require more room to operate. Many come with longer warranties than typical inkjet printers. However, our recent analysis indicates that the price of a color laser printer is inversely related to its speed: the lower the printer price, the longer you will wait for prints.

Lexmark C544DN

Maintenance issues: Color printers are more complicated to maintain because they have four toner colors and four drums (one for each color) to replace, as opposed to a monochrome laser's single drum. The spare replacements take up more space in your office's storeroom or home storage closet, too.

Two sides are better than one: Printers that offer duplexing can print on both sides of the page—a useful feature for users who want to maximize speed and efficiency. Printing on both sides of a page ultimately saves you money on paper. On a related note, color laser printers generally cost less per page to print than their inkjet counterparts; they’re also more environmentally friendly that way too.

What to look for: When considering a color laser printer, there are two key factors to focus on—speed and text quality. Our lab tests include both time trials and jury ratings in addition to our hands-on evaluations. Make sure to judge from all angles when deciding which model to buy. Color laser printers print about 15 to 25 pages of text per minute. As for our jury tests of printing quality—which also include ratings on the quality of image and graphics output—a quality color laser printer scores a rating of “very good” or better in our text-quality test.

Ponder PostScript: PostScript capability or emulation is an important ability to consider. PostScript is a print description language that enables color laser printers to handle high-quality graphics alongside text. No longer an absolute necessity, PostScript printing is still important as it takes the load off your computer’s CPU and allows the use of certain types of fonts.

Try before you buy: If at all possible, take the time to visit an office supply store to test out the print quality of any color laser printer you are considering. Observe how the printer handles both text and graphics and what the final output looks like.

Dell 5130cdn

Our favorite color laser printers

Lexmark’s C544dn is a compact color laser printer that supports emulated PostScript 3 as well as PCL 6 (Printer Command Lanaguage 6). Aimed at small to mid-sized businesses, this $499 printer can connect via 10/100 Ethernet or USB 2.0. It features paper-saving automatic duplexing for printing two-sided documents and a PictBridge-enabled USB port on the front for printing images from a flash drive or supported digital camera. Read the full review.

Canon Canon imageCLASS D1150 Laser Multifunction Copier (3478B005AA)
CE (Canon)
  • 30 Pages per Minute Laser Output and Quick First Print Copytime of only 8 Seconds
  • Duplex Versatility/Two Sided Copying/Printing/Faxing and Color Scanning
  • Scan in Color up to 9600 dpi Quality with 600 dpi Optical Resolution
  • 33.6 Kbps Super G3 Fax and USB 2.0 Hi Speed
  • Up to 50 sheet DADF /Duplex Automatic Document Feeder
  • 30 pages per minute laser output (copy and printing)
  • 2-sided print, copy, scanning, and faxing
  • Quick First Print copytime of only 8 seconds
  • 50 sheet auto document feeder and 500 sheet paper cassette
  • Built-in Network printing and PC Faxing
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Buying guide: Color laser printers
Buying guide: Color laser printers


Where can HP color laser printers be purchased.

HP Laser printers can be purchased at office supply stores such as Office Depot, Office Max, and Tiger Direct stores. You can also find them at the HP website.

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