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Best laser printer in 2021

ZDNet logo ZDNet 4/6/2021 David Gewirtz
a man standing in a room © ZDNet

The laser printer market is only about 5% of the size of the inkjet printer market, but lasers are growing more than twice as fast as inkjets.

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This makes sense. The traditional home computer market has been absorbed heavily by mobile devices, while office computing is still going strong. Inkjet printers are ideal as photo printers and for relatively low-volume printing, while laser printers are masters at big print runs. While the toner cartridges for lasers cost quite a lot, the actual cost-per-print for laser printing is generally much less than that of inkjet-printed pages.

All that leads to a vibrant, growing market for laser printers with a wide range of solutions for home offices, small offices, workgroups, departments, and the enterprise. In this guide, we look at 11 of the best laser printers and help you understand why you might choose one over another.

Here's our recommended list of office printers. We're going to start with a set of less expensive (under $700) small office printers. Then we'll up the game and move into departmental-level larger scale printers.

Small office printers

One thing you learn very quickly when comparing laser printers is that the naming conventions are odd. They often have a very long mishmash of letters and numbers. Sometimes, a printer even has "enterprise" in its name, when it's clearly more of a small office printer.

When choosing a small office printer, look at sheet capacity, print speed, whether you can print on two sides or one, any added features, and -- of course -- replacement cartridge cost. The printers we've listed below all fall under about $700 and should work well for any office with a relatively small number of people putting them through active use.

HP Color LaserJet Pro M479fdw

Best SMB walk-up color multifunction printer

hp-m479.jpg © Provided by ZDNet hp-m479.jpg HP

The idea of a walk-up printer may seem like a throwback to the sneakernet days before we had ubiquitous Wi-Fi, fast Ethernet, mobile devices, and Bluetooth. But it's actually an amazingly helpful little productivity feature, which is why we've called it out for a number of our printer nominations. The idea of a walk-up is that you don't need to have a computer connected. You don't even need to have a smartphone-linked via Wi-Fi direct wireless printing. All you need is a USB thumb drive with an Office document. Just plug in the USB drive and print.

The time savings in an office environment can be quite considerable, especially if you realize you don't need to spend a half-hour with each new user helping them reconfigure their phones to talk to the printer. Just tell them to copy their file to a thumb drive and print. Even though all my printers are networked, I find walk-up printing can often reduce the friction between needing a document and printing it. In terms of specs, this is an all-in-one color printer with a raft of HP security features, workflow automation options, 28 pages per minute speeds, a 250-sheet input tray, an automatic document feeder, and 2-pass scanning. 

When we last looked at this printer, it was $448. Like most home office gear, the price has ballooned. It's now listed at $598 -- a whopping 33% increase in price in just a few short months. 

$598 at Amazon

HP Color LaserJet Pro M454dw

Best SMB walk-up color print-only printer

hp-m454dw.jpg © Provided by ZDNet hp-m454dw.jpg HP

This HP LaserJet printer takes the walk-up concept to a print-only printer. While many businesses like multi-function printers, the advantage of a print-only printer is that they can be placed where printouts are needed, but where you might not want documents to be scanned or copied. This LaserJet is equipped with a range of embedded security features including instant threat notifications and secure pull printing, so documents remain confidential and only print when you're present, standing in front of the printer.

Off the shelf, this printer comes with a 300-sheet capacity, but it's possible to upgrade it to support an additional 550-sheet paper tray. It will print both monochrome and color at 28 pages per minute, and supports Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi Direct connectivity. 

This one also exploded in price. When we last looked at it in the fall, it was $318. Now, it's $448.

$448 at Amazon

HP LaserJet Enterprise M455dn Color Laser Printer

All-around high-speed printer

a close up of a printer: hp-color-laserjet-enterprise-m455dn-1.jpg © Provided by ZDNet hp-color-laserjet-enterprise-m455dn-1.jpg Image: HP

This little printer might look almost identical to the one above it, but it's actually quite different. When I reached out to the folks at HP for which of their own printers they'd most recommend, this is the model they chose. Its stand-out capability is print speed. At up to 49 pages per minute, it's more than double the speed of the M454dw.

The HP product folks I've been working with wanted to tell you this: "The HP Color LaserJet Enterprise M455dn, part of the HP LaserJet Enterprise 400 Series, is the world's smallest enterprise-class MFP, fitting to where employees are working, no matter where they are. The HP Color LaserJet Enterprise M455dn is also the most secure enterprise-class printer, featuring advanced technologies such as HP Trusted Platform module, HP Sure Start, Run-time intrusion detection, and more. Plus, individual devices and entire printer fleets come with easy installation, configuration, and remote management capabilities via Embedded Web Server (EWS) and HP Web Jetadmin. Lastly, the HP Color LaserJet Enterprise M455dn has double-sided printing by default, reducing paper waste and enabling automatic savings, as well as includes HP low melt EcoSmart toner and HP Auto-On/Auto-Off Technology that reduces user energy consumption."

There's undoubtedly some serious marketing hype in their statement, but the fact that it's a very capable, fast printer can't be denied.

$549 at Best Buy Office Depot

Canon imageCLASS LBP226dw

Best SMB high sheet capacity B&W print-only printer

a close up of a printer: canonimageclass.jpg © Provided by ZDNet canonimageclass.jpg Canon

With print speeds up to 40 ppm, this is a fast little printer. Or, at least it starts out little. In its base model, you can load 250 sheets in the standard paper tray and an additional 100 sheets in the multipurpose tray. But you can also add an additional 550-sheet paper tray, bringing the capacity of this compact machine up to a full 900 sheets.

This is a wireless-only printer, with support for Wi-Fi, Apple AirPrint, and Canon's PRINT business app. With a duty cycle of up to 4,000 pages per month, it's an ideal printer for a small department of five or six professionals. 

Shockingly, this printer actually went down in price. It was $286 last year. Now it's $269. 

$249 at Amazon

Xerox B215

Best home/office walk-up multifunction B&W printer

a close up of a printer: xerox.jpg © Provided by ZDNet xerox.jpg Xerox

The most exciting feature of this Xerox printer is that it lets you legitimately say you're going to "Xerox" something -- and then do it. But this genuine Xerox printer is more than just a scan/copy/print/fax powerhouse, it's a very capable, attractively designed multi-function monochrome printer.

To ensure security, this printer supports IPsec, IPv6, IP and Mac address filtering, SNMPv3, Scan to Email with Authentication, Secure Print, and Secure Fax Receive. It also supports AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, Mopria, and Android printing. It also supports walk-up printing, has a 40-sheet automatic document feeder, a 250-sheet paper capacity, and prints at 30 pages per minute. Last year, it was under $200. Now, it's $249. Can you say "inflation"? Sure. I knew you could.

And, hey, let's give Xerox a big ZDNet shout-out of thanks for the mouse and graphic UI that you and I are probably using right now, which originated at the company's PARC research center all the way back in the 1970s.

$249 at Amazon

Enterprise-level departmental printers

The printers we've categorized below as enterprise-level printers are definitely more expensive. They often add security features, very large paper capacities, and much greater duty cycles.

The duty cycle is a measure of just how many pages a printer can print in a given month before it starts to break down. This is not just a random stat. My company once bought a $13,000 printer (in 1990s money) that we killed inside of two months because we ran roughly 10-times the number of pages through it in the first month than the vendor recommended. We had that thing running 24/7 without giving it a chance to cool down.

Keep in mind these are mechanical devices with many moving parts and a lot of friction. If you're cranking hundreds of thousands of pages through your printer, you'll need an enterprise-level printer.

Lexmark CX924DXE

Best high-workload color enterprise printer

a close up of electronics: lexmark-cx924dxe.jpg © Provided by ZDNet lexmark-cx924dxe.jpg Lexmark

What you're looking at here is a print, scan, copy, fax multi-function printer workhorse. Although Lexmark recommends a monthly volume of 8,000 to 50,000 pages, it actually has a monthly maximum duty cycle of 275,000 pages (or 550 reams of paper). Speaking of paper, you can load it up. It starts with two 500-sheet trays, plus a 2,500-sheet feeder. That gets you 3,500 sheets without needing to reload, and you can also add up to 150 pages of "multipurpose" material, like envelopes.

In terms of specs, this will actually print up to 11x17-inches. It can print up to 65 pages per minute both copying and printing, has a gigE LAN interface. You can even scan directly to email or FTP with the 600 dpi CCD-based scanning element. Add to that an automatic document feeder, which can hold 100 sheets. For iPhone and iPad users, the printer supports Apple AirPrint as well. 

$12,811 at CDW

HP Color LaserJet Enterprise flow MFP M880z

Best enterprise-optimized departmental printer

a close up of a printer: mfp-m880z.jpg © Provided by ZDNet mfp-m880z.jpg HP

At 5,000 to 25,000 pages per month, this HP printer has a slightly smaller recommended volume than the Lexmark we just showed you, although it can be pushed to up to 200,000 printed pages. It, too, supports printing, copying, scanning, and faxing (as do most of the multi-function printers we're going to show you). You can load its four paper trays with up to 2,000 sheets. Print directly from mobile devices using built-in Apple AirPrint and HP ePrint support and connect it to your network over gigabit Ethernet. We're also particularly impressed with the built-in security features which include Kerberos and LDAP authentication, PIN codes for up to 1,000 users, and third-party integrations with resources like badge readers.

This enterprise-level printer distinguishes itself from other HP devices its 200-sheet ADF (automatic document feeder) and two-sided, single-pass scanning. The scanning capability comes with HP's EveryPage advanced scanning software, which helps detect if there are scanning errors. One of our favorite features is the ability to scan directly to SharePoint with one step. If you want to go all out, add the optional finisher attachment and staple, hole punch, and fold as part of your production cycle. 

$8,999 at HP

TROY MICR m806x+ Secure Ex

Best MICR locking printer

a close up of electronics: troy-micr-m806x.jpg © Provided by ZDNet troy-micr-m806x.jpg HP/TROY

As an enterprise laser printer, this Troy printer will do the job. It's a 55-ppm monochrome printer. But when it comes to secure printing, it's special. It offers MICR toner (magnetic ink character recognition) locks (to protect magnetic printing) and paper tray key locks to protect from misuse and theft of laser-printed check stock. In fact, this printer supports a range of MICR-related security features, including precise MICR-alignment controls and a MICR toner cartridge.

In terms of capacity, the m806x+ will hold up to 4,600 sheets. and has a monthly duty cycle of 100,000 pages, although the company recommends a monthly volume of 10,000 to 50,000 pages. Connect to the printer over gigabit Ethernet. 

Here's an interesting note. TROY printers are based on HP printers. TROY takes the standard HP printers and add MICR fonts, MICR toner, and firmware for added check printing security.

$8,609 at CDW

HP Color LaserJet Enterprise M856x

Best enterprise print-only laser printer

hp-856.jpg © Provided by ZDNet hp-856.jpg HP

The 856 supports an absolute ton of connectivity via gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi. There's a laundry list of networking specs for this thing, including real-time monitoring, TCP/IP, IPv4, IPv6; Print: TCP-IP port 9100 Direct Mode, LPD (raw queue support only), Web Services Printing, IPP 2.0, Apple AirPrint, HP ePrint, FTP Print, Google Cloud Print. Discovery protocols include SLP, Bonjour, and Web Services Discovery. IP config options include IPv4 (BootP, DHCP, AutoIP, Manual, TFTP Config, ARP-Ping), IPv6 (Stateless Link-Local and via Router, Stateful via DHCPv6). Management includes SNMPv2/v3, HTTP/HTTPs, Telnet, TFTP Config, Syslog. Security protocols include SNMPv3, SSL Cert Management, IPSec/Firewall, and ACL, 802.1x.

According to the marketing materials, this is a color printer that comes with five paper trays but supports up to six. That lets you load up to 2,300 sheets into the printer before you kick off any print runs. Combining the multipurpose tray with the main paper trays means that this printer supports color printing on media types including plain, heavy, extra heavy, glossy, light, recycled, and so-called "tough" paper sheets, envelopes, labels, glossy film, card stock, and transparencies. It can print up to 55 ppm. 

$5,299 at HP

HP LaserJet Enterprise 700 color MFP M775f

Best all-around enterprise multifunction printer

a close up of electronics: hp700.jpg © Provided by ZDNet hp700.jpg HP

At $5,499, the Enterprise 700 LaserJet printer is only $200 more than the 856. And, while it takes a dive in terms of print speed (at 30 ppm instead of the 856's 55 ppm), the Enterprise 700 makes up for the difference by adding the ability to scan, copy, and fax as well. As it ships, the Enterprise 700 all-in-one printer has a media capacity of 1,350 sheets, has a bypass feeder capacity of 100 sheets, and supports a wide variety of envelope sizes.

Connect to this over gigabit Ethernet or print using wireless networking from mobile devices using Apple AirPrint or HP ePrint. Print at 1200 dpi on envelopes, transparencies, recycled paper, plain paper, film, bond paper, card stock, photo paper, labels, and heavy-weight paper. The whopping 8-inch color touchscreen means that employees will be able to maintain the printer and set up complex printing jobs with ease and you can manage printer driver issues right from the printer. 

$5,499 at CDW

Kyocera Ecosys P6230cdn laser printer

Best high-duty cycle workgroup color printer

a close up of a printer: kyocera-1102.jpg © Provided by ZDNet kyocera-1102.jpg Kyocera

We're about to jump from enterprise printers (and enterprise prices) to workgroup printers suitable for smaller, yet still highly productive teams. This Kyocera is a good example of that breed of printer. It's an output-only printer, but at barely above $600, it's also a tenth the price of the enterprise printers we've been talking about thus far. This little beast can print at 32 pages per minute and while it ships with a 600-page paper capacity, you can add feeders that push its capacity to 2,100 sheets. Print pages up to 8.5-inches by 14-inches and print dual-sided when needed.

More to the point, this is a beast when it comes to duty cycle, with the manufacturer-specified ability to print up to 100,000 pages a month. This printer supports gigE connectivity, wireless network connectivity, as well as a USB interface, if you happened to want to tie it to one machine. More helpfully, it also includes mobile cloud-based services like AirPrint, Google CloudPrint, and Wi-Fi Direct wireless direct printing. An optional card authentication kit is available and Kensington lock capability is standard. 

$691 at Amazon

How to choose

The first thing you'll notice if you're researching laser printers is the companies who make them are doing you no favors in your search. All the printers we've found are identified by arcane product numbers rather than distinguishing branding. What's the difference between an LBP226dw and an M454dw? Only a product manager would know.

There is an enormous glut of printer models out there. For every level of functionality and price tier, vendors seem to have four or five models with slightly different model numbers and prices separated by $20 to $50, each with some minor feature differences compared to its nearly identical brethren. Worse, Amazon lists printers as new with models going as far back (that I found) as 2011.

Consumables can be quite an issue with laser printers, particularly at the lower end. Most printers come with starter toner cartridges that will print a few hundred to a few thousand pages. Then you have to buy the cartridges, which can be quite expensive. Many of the more popular printers can also use a discount aftermarket toner cartridge, which can save you money but could reduce print quality or damage your printer. We did not test toner cartridges, so pay attention to user reviews when making purchase decisions.

We looked at printers that generally fall into three categories: Enterprise printers, workgroup printers, and small/home business printers. Enterprise printers are characterized by their much higher price, huge paper trays, and specialized features like folding, stapling, and enterprise integration.

Workgroup printers are also fast and have great capacity, but they drop in price considerably compared to their enterprise brethren. We generally chose workgroup printers that were capable of printing tens to hundreds of thousands of pages per month.

The small business/home business printers are generally fast but usually limited to about 250 sheets in the paper magazine. These are much less expensive printers, but they often have replacement cartridge costs that come close to the original purchase price of the printer. In choosing smaller printers, definitely be sure to check out cartridge costs as well as the purchase price.

Also, I want to point out that prices are very inconsistent and change regularly. In the week between when I initially chose the products and put them up online in this article, the prices for a few of them changed. If you're interested in a product, look at multiple vendors and perhaps wait a little while. Prices may come down (or they may go back up). Caveat emptor

Our process

We started with a list of over 50 printers recommended by followers, colleagues, other reviewers, and IT managers. We had to narrow it down to a list of 11. 

While we weren't able to perform hands-on tests with these printers, we did factor in customer satisfaction. In all cases, we looked at and read customer ratings and reviews -- in particular, searching for comments that would disqualify a printer from consideration (like, for example, many users complaining of jams or failures for a given model).

Finally, we did a literature review of other reviews on the web, again looking for the printers that were very well reviewed and searching out and eliminating any printers that were described as having characteristics we thought would give you difficulty.

If you're not sure whether you want an inkjet or a laser printer, be sure to check out our Best inkjet printers guide. We look at Epson, HP, Brother, and more.

The result is the list above. Feel free to let us know your favorite printers in the comments below. Do you own any that we've identified here? How do you like them? 

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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