Colour 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 colour, laser printers really shine in network settings that allow multiple users to take advantage of their high speed and duplexing capabilities.
You can find our advice based on recent reviews at the end of this article.
How do you weigh those advantages and at the same time balance features and price? Here are some tips on shopping for a colour laser printer if you’re in the market for one this festive 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 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 colour laser is the way to go. If you want a colour printer for printing photographs, buy an inkjet printer. There are many good ones on the market, with excellent image quality. colour 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, colour bars, and simple graphics, but they struggle photographic images.
Consider the cost: Most good-quality colour laser printers run in the range of £200 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 colour laser printer is inversely related to its speed: the lower the printer price, the longer you will wait for prints
Maintenance issues: colour printers are more complicated to maintain because they have four toner colours and four drums (one for each colour) 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 maximise speed and efficiency. Printing on both sides of a page ultimately saves you money on paper. On a related note, colour 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 colour 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. colour 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 colour 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 colour 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 colour laser printer you are considering. Observe how the printer handles both text and graphics and what the final output looks like.
If you are on the look out for a new laser printer, colour or mono, or even inkjet printer here's a round up of recent reviews here at Macworld will links to the full reviews.
Remember, these are SRP prices only and most printers can be found significant cheaper if you shop around but in stores and online.
The best lasers of 2012
HP LaserJet Pro 400 M401dw
We said: There’s nothing fancy about the M401dw, but it’s very fast and affordable, with modest running costs as well. It’s a good follow-up to the successful P2055, and will make an excellent workhorse printer for any small business.
Dell B1160 Laser Printer
We said: Priced at just £83, this 600dpi mono laser printer is easily affordable for small business users or people who work from home. It measures a mere 178mm high, 331mm wide and 215mm deep, so you can easily fit it onto your desk or a nearby shelf without taking up too much space. Around £83.
HP TopShot LaserJet Pro M275
We said: The roof of the HP TopShot LaserJet Pro M275 comprises a white podium. Place an object onto the podium, manoeuvre the camera into place, and, three flashes (and six camera shots) later, the M275 creates a ‘3D’ image of the object. In practice, the effect is a bit like having a moderately experienced photographer come and shoot the product from an angle. Around £400.
Canon i-Sensys MF4730
We said: If you need a colour printer for photos or presentation graphics then an inkjet printer may still be the better option. However, people who simply need an affordable mono printer for their business documents will find that the MF4730 provides good quality and performance, along with very reasonable running costs.