Colour laser printer reviews

Personal laser printers can colour your world, but watch out for hidden costs.
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01 .Introduction

colour laser printers - ink

This article is no longer current.

Our latest reviews of Multifunction printers and Standard printers include inkjets, and both colour and mono laser printers.

Test results for 10 colour laser printers, priced from $269 to $1007 - UPDATED*

Inkjet printers were once the only way to get quality colour printing at home. You can buy all-in-one printers that combine inkjet printing, copying and scanning functions (some have fax) into one device. See our latest test of these multifunction printers to see their advantages. Inkjets undoubtedly still produce the highest quality colour photos, but printing more than just a couple can prove expensive.

That’s where a colour laser printer comes into its own. The print quality is high and the output is fast, with some laser printer engines able to spit out black and white copies at up to 20 pages per minute and only a few pages slower for colour.

We tested 10 colour laser printers designed for the home and small office to see which produced the fastest output and the best quality – but quality and speed don’t tell the full story. We also compared their ongoing running costs which, like inkjet printers, can quickly outstrip the initial purchase price. The differences were dramatic.

*Following your feedback in the Comments of this article about the high running costs of some of our recommended models, we updated this article on 23 February, 2010, to factor this into our results. As a result, some of our What to Buys have changed.

Printer brands tested

  • Brother HL4040CN
  • Canon Lasershot LBP5050N
  • Dell 1320c [A]
  • Fuji Xerox DocuPrint C1110B
  • HP Colour LaserJet CP1215
  • Konica Minolta Magicolour 1600W
  • Kyocera FS-C5100DN
  • Lexmark Professional C540N
  • Oki C3300n
  • Samsung CLP-315

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Kyocera FS-C5100DN

Kyocera FS-C5100DNPrice $1007

Good points

  • Equal second score for print quality.
  • Second-lowest colour cost per page.
  • Third-lowest annual energy cost.
  • High monthly duty cycle.
  • Easy installation.
  • Very good manuals.
  • LCD display with navigation buttons.
  • Prints duplex (double-sided).
  • Manual feed tray accepts heavy media.
  • Easy toner cartridge replacement.
  • Ethernet networking built-in.
  • Two-year onsite warranty.

Bad points

  • Second slowest full-colour photo print.
  • Most expensive model on test.
  • Second-heaviest printer on test.

Fuji Xerox DocuPrint C1110B

Fuji Xerox DocuPrint C1110BPrice $301

Good points

  • Lowest annual energy cost.
  • Equal second-lowest cost per black page.
  • High monthly duty cycle.
  • LCD status display with navigation buttons.
  • Easy installation.
  • Good manuals.
  • Basic print profiles provided.
  • Custom print profiling available.
  • Manual feed slot accepts heavy media.
  • Easy toner cartridge replacement. BAD POINTS
  • Fonts display rough edges.
  • Some undesirable patterns in fine lines.
  • Only one-year warranty, return-to-base.

HP Colour LaserJet CP1215

HP Colour LaserJet CP1215Price $341 

Good points 

  • Highest score for print quality.
  • Fourth-lowest annual energy cost.
  • Attractive finish, smooth lines.
  • Easy installation.
  • Good manual.
  • Basic print profiles provided.
  • Custom print profiling available.
  • Easy toner cartridge replacement.

Bad points

  • Relatively high colour toner cost per page.
  • No manual page feed.
  • Only one-year warranty, return-to-base. 

A note on the Dell 1320c: Although it scored second overall in our results table we do not recommend the Dell 1320c due to its high running cost when taking toner usage into account (see Cost of Ownership).

The following models scored the best results in our test

  • Kyocera FS-C5100DN - $1007
  • Dell 1320c - $399
  • Fuji Xerox DocuPrint C1110B - $301
  • HP Colour LaserJet CP1215 - $341  

  • Colour laser printer result table
    Brand/Model Price paid ($) Overall score (%) Print quality score (%) Ease of use score (%) Print speed score (%) Total annual energy cost
    Kyocera FS-C5100DN
    1007 76 75 79 75 4.49
    Dell 1320c [A]
    399 75 75 79 71 2.78
    Fuji Xerox DocuPrint C1110B
    301 74 71 80 72 1.77
    HP Colour LaserJet CP1215
    341 74 76 79 63 4.99
    Brother HL4040CN
    542 72 61 76 92 9
    Canon Lasershot LBP5050N
    449 72 72 77 64 6.41
    Lexmark Professional C540N
    369 71 68 75 74 7.29
    Oki C3300n
    420 71 69 72 74 7.63
    Konica Minolta Magicolour 1600W
    464 68 65 75 65 6.1
    Samsung CLP-315
    269 65 59 76 62 4.83

    Colour laser printer result table
    Brand/Model LCD display Ready Data Alarm Print cartridge status Paper jam alert Load paper Manual feed Watermark Security slot
    Kyocera FS-C5100DN
    Dell 1320c [A]
    Fuji Xerox DocuPrint C1110B
    HP Colour LaserJet CP1215
    Brother HL4040CN
    Canon Lasershot LBP5050N
    Lexmark Professional C540N
    Oki C3300n
    [B] [B]  
    Konica Minolta Magicolour 1600W
    Samsung CLP-315

    Colour laser printer result table
    Brand/Model Ethernet USB Weight (kg) Number of paper feed trays Input tray capacity (pages) Dimensions (cm, Hx W x L) Warranty (years)
    Kyocera FS-C5100DN
    28.55     45.3 x 34.4 x 96.5 2
    Dell 1320c [A]
    16.5 1 250 41.2 x 404 x 85.5 1
    Fuji Xerox DocuPrint C1110B
      17 1 250 41.8 x 40.3 x 84.0 1
    HP Colour LaserJet CP1215
    18.15 1 150 25.0 x 39.9 x 98.5 1
    Brother HL4040CN
    28.75 2   32.0 x 41.5 x 113.0  
    Canon Lasershot LBP5050N
    19.25 1 150 25.9 x 39.9 x 98.5 1
    Lexmark Professional C540N
    21.1 1 250 33.3 x 44.1 x 92.0 1
    Oki C3300n
    20.95 2   29.0 x 37.2 x 99.5 1
    Konica Minolta Magicolour 1600W
      15.45 1 200 38.5 x 39.7 x 51.0 1
    Samsung CLP-315
      11.6 1 150 34.2 x 38.6 x 84.5 1

    Using the table

    Price paid: in July 2009.

    Scores The overall score is made up of Print quality: 50%; Ease of use: 30%; Print speed: 20%.

    Total annual energy cost see How we test, below, and Cost of ownership.

    [A] Now replaced by 1320cn which includes a network card.
    [B] Status events and alarms via bundled status monitor software.
    [C] Optional 2 x 500-sheet trays.

    How we test

    Print quality Output quality is determined by assessing test documents designed to showcase fonts at various sizes, fine lines, tonal gradations, tone percentages, solid areas, patterns, detailed colour graphics, and a full-colour reference image, which provides a range of natural skin tones and background colours.

    Print speed We print a variety of documents, including text, graphics and a combination of both, and record printing times for both black-only and colour documents. Multiple timing runs ensure consistency. We record results for peak ppm, average ppm, Acrobat ppm, and photo page speed.

    Ease of use Our testers take into account hardware setup; installation of required software and additional supplied software; help and instructions, including any quickstart guide, manuals and onboard help system; controls, LCD panel (if any) plus navigation and configuration of settings; predefined profiles and ease of profile creation if available.

    Energy cost Our testers repeatedly print a test document and measure the energy used by the printer over a set period and determine a kilowatt per hour power usage figure, then repeat this with the printer in idle mode and again in standby mode. Our yearly power consumption scenario assumes an eight-hour working day, five days a week, with the per-day calculation based on the printer being off for 16 hours, on standby for seven and a quarter hours, idle for 40 minutes and actively printing for five minutes. Working days are 260 per year and 105 non-working. Yearly consumption is calculated at 17c per kilowatt hour.

    Toner usage Our testers load a new standard-capacity black toner cartridge and print test pages until the print quality begins to lessen. They then remove the cartridge, shake it and replace it as necessary to get a maximum page output figure. Similarly for the colour cartridges, they print batches of colour test pages until no more can be printed. In all cases, the number of output pages is recorded and all cartridges are weighed before and after printing and the amount of toner used is calculated.

    Size is always a factor. Most colour lasers are squarish in shape and quite a bit larger than the average A4 inkjet printer, but vary considerably in overall bulk. Some compact-looking models need a paper output tray extended when working, so they use more space than it at first appears.

    Speed is the maximum print output of the printer’s engine, in pages per minute (ppm). Look for this on the packaging. Don’t make a purchase decision solely on this figure, however, because there’s no standard for measuring print speed and actual output speed can vary greatly depending on toner coverage and colours used.

    The status panel may include an LCD display with menu options or just simple status lights, depending on the model. Paper jam and low toner indicators can be helpful in quickly diagnosing problems.

    Connectivity Personal colour lasers usually have a USB connector so you can plug directly into a PC. They may also include an Ethernet port for local area networking.

    Paper handling Most personal colour lasers have one multisize paper tray, with a maximum size of A4. If you do a lot of printing, look for a high-capacity tray (250 sheets) and even a supplementary tray (50 sheets). Some printer trays handle only 150 sheets. If you need to print envelopes and heavier paper, look for a manual feed slot with movable guides.

    Starter cartridge caution

    Many laser printers ship with "starter" cartridges, sometimes preinstalled. This helps you get up and running quickly right out of the box, but they’re light on toner. Some starter cartridges don’t carry anywhere near the same charge of toner that a standard cartridge does. So, whichever printer you buy, keep aside some cash because you can expect to be forking out more cash for regular full-yield replacement cartridges fairly soon.

    Top tip: Keep the box

    Before you throw away the box, check the printer’s warranty requirements. Some models, such as the Brother, require the printer to be shipped according to strict packaging requirements if relocated (such as moving home or returning the printer for a warranty claim). Failure to do so might invalidate the warranty. Brother provides detailed repacking notes that you need to comply with. Other makes may require the original box to be kept for shipping.

    What's it going to cost you?

    We took the initial purchase price and added the cost of toner usage for a typical usage scenario over three years. The total cost of buying and running the printers over that period varied from less than $1200 to well over $5000. Only half of the printers on test would cost less than $2000 by the end of the third year of ownership (see Cost of Ownership.

    As you might expect, the cheaper the printer, the fewer features you get. Cheaper printers usually only have USB connectivity, not Ethernet networking, and only basic controls and status displays, if any. Higher-priced printers can include faster print engines and processors, better paper handling and in many cases higher quality output. However, there’s no direct correlation between purchase price and print quality. The HP CP1215 is among the cheaper models on test, but produces good quality prints, with a good balance of fine detail, smooth gradients and good colour fidelity. It is let down however, by its relatively slow print speed. 

    Ongoing toner cost is probably a bigger consideration than initial purchase price. Toner cartridges vary in size and price across brands and models, so it’s difficult to compare them.

    The cost of printing a page depends on the purchase cost of a cartridge and the number of pages that can be printed from it. It can vary greatly between brands, even if they use similar print engines. For example, the Fuji Xerox C1110B has a significantly lower cost per page than the Dell 1320c, even though they have similar print engines, use similar toner cartridges and the cartridges cost about the same. However, the Dell cartridges weigh much less than the Fuji Xerox and, given the casing manufacture is identical, it may be that the difference is a smaller toner charge in the standard Dell cartridges.

    In our test, the cost of an average black page (5% toner coverage) ranges from 3c-10c. Colour costs vary greatly though. The cost of a full-colour A4 photo ranges from 57c to $5.69 – a tenfold increase.

    There’s also a hidden cost to printing. Different printers can use different amounts of toner to do the same job. All the printers on test have a black toner cartridge, so you would expect that when black text is being printed, the cyan, magenta and yellow toners aren’t be used. In seven of the 10 printers, this isn’t the case – those colours are mixed in with the black, resulting in higher toner use. Only the HP CP1215, Samsung CLP-315 and Dell 1320c print black text or graphics using only the black toner.

    The Fuji Xerox uses a tiny amount of coloured toner per black page (1.1% cyan, and less than 1% each of magenta and yellow) but many of the other printers use more than 50% cyan toner to produce black on a page. The Oki C3300, for example, uses 85% or more from each of the coloured toners when outputting a black page. This high toner usage doesn’t actually produce a better black. The Oki’s black colours are nowhere near as deep and rich as the HP CP1215, for example, which doesn’t mix any colours into black pages. 

    The Canon LBP5050N, which uses the same print engine as the HP CP1215 (but has a different controller board) mixes around 50 percent of its colours into a black page. However, the black reproduction on both the HP and Canon appeared identical. The mixing of colours into black just disadvantages the Canon in cost per-black page calculations.

    Complexity and speed

    All the printers on test are fairly easy to set up and use, however. Replacing the toner is generally the most challenging task. Unlike a mono laser printer, colour lasers have four cartridges to replace. On most of the printers this is relatively straightforward, but not so the Konica Minolta 1600W. 

    It has a rotating cartridge assembly that only allows a single cartridge to be installed at each quarter revolution and our testers found it difficult to align the cartridges correctly. The manual says to remove all cartridges before replacing any units but from practical experience, our tester recommends never removing more than one cartridge at a time.

    Two main factors influence print speed – the speed of the processor and the speed of the print engine. While a print engine might be able to output pages at a theoretical 21ppm for very simple pages or copies, complex pages can require a lot more processing time before actually being printed. For example, the Kyocera is rated at 21ppm peak output, but only manages 0.7ppm on a complex colour photo. 

    The Brother HL-4040CN is the fastest in every one of our printing tests (except peak ppm, where it is a close second). It averages just over 17ppm for complex Word documents and PDF files and 20.4ppm for simple black text Word documents. 

    Printing full-colour photos is always much slower. The Brother’s speed of 3.3ppm for A4-sized photos might not sound impressive, but is almost 30% faster than the next fastest, the Fuji Xerox C1110B at 2.4ppm. 

    The Samsung CLP-315 is slowest for general documents, although the Lexmark C540n and Kyocera FS-C5100DN really drag the chain when printing A4 photos (0.6ppm and 0.7ppm respectively). 

    Cost of ownership

    The ongoing cost of toner is key. We looked at what it would cost to buy each printer and keep it stocked with toner for three years. To calculate this, we worked out a usage scenario that takes into account the amount and type of output you might expect for an average home. This scenario includes an average output of 10 black and white prints and one full colour print per day. It includes the cost of replacement toner cartridges, but not other engine components such as the ‘drum’ which have a fixed life in most models and must be replaced separately at regular intervals (though not as often as toner). The cost of these parts and the service intervals vary from printer to printer.

    The prices we paid range from $269 for the Samsung CLP‑315 to $1007 for the Kyocera Ecosys FS-C5100DN. The Kyocera costs less for toner over three years ($945) than the Samsung ($1043). But the Samsung still works out cheaper to own over the three-year period, at $1312. The Kyocera closed the initial price gap somewhat, finishing at a total three-year cost (printer price plus toner) of $1952.

    The difference is more dramatic, however, with two other similarly priced printers, the Dell 1320c ($399) and the Konica Minolta 1600W ($464), which ended up at opposite ends of the cost scale in our three-year total cost projection. Three years of toner for the Konica Minolta printer works out at $709, but for the Dell this cost blows out to $5237. This brings the cost of ownership (toner and printer cost only) for three years to $1172 for the Konica Minolta 1600W, versus $5636 for the Dell 1320c.


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