Need to know
- Our experts tested 98 inkjet and laser printers from brands like Canon, Epson, Brother, HP and more
- We assess printers for print quality, printing speed, ease of use, power consumption and yearly ink and toner costs
- Become a CHOICE member to read our full reviews and test results
With so many models, features and costs to consider, buying a printer can be confusing. Plus, it's not as if you can try before you buy instore – if only you could rock up and print your holiday photos or kids' homework for a test run!
That's why we've been testing printers for years – so you know what you're getting before you buy.
Our lab experts reviewed 98 popular models, assessing key factors including print quality, speed, scanning and copying, yearly ink and toner costs, power consumption and ease of use.
Fresh prints: We test 90-plus printer models.
In the process, we've uncovered some impressive printers (spoiler alert: they're not always expensive) alongside some seriously average performers.
We don't want you to end up with a dud buy, so here are the products that scored lowest in our lab tests. Consider becoming a CHOICE member to see the best performers.
A quick word before we delve into the printers to avoid...
Along with testing print quality, speed and more, our experts also calculate running costs for each printer. We look at how much it costs to print a text page, a graphics page and a photo page, plus how much you'll spend on ink and toner over a year.
For the calculations, we've estimated what the average person would print in a year: 1000 mono prints, 250 colour prints and 250 full-colour photo prints.
Want to know more? Here's how we test printers.
This HP will truly drink your ink.
HP DeskJet 4122e
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 58%
- Price: $87
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $1033
Yes, you read that correctly: this HP costs more than 10 times as much a year in ink as it does to buy off the shelf.
We thought the Canon Pixma below was bad, but then this HP arrived at the party and said "hold my drink". (Or should that be "hold my ink"?)
We thought the Canon Pixma below was bad, but then this HP arrived at the party
If you're thinking of buying this printer to save money on photo printing, don't: it'll cost you $2 per print. And over three years, you'll be out of pocket a grand total of $3186, thanks to the purchase price and ink and toner costs.
Not to mention that it'll need constant attention – its main tray holds fewer than 100 sheets, and it'll only print 115 pages of text before you need to replace the cartridges. By comparison, other printers will deliver 300-plus pages, with some into the thousands.
Unfortunately, millions of printer cartridges are thrown away each year, so not only will you be putting your hand in your pocket more often if you buy this HP printer, you'll also be putting more waste into landfill if you don't recycle them.
It's not great at basically all the things you buy a multifunction printer for
It scored poorly in almost every single test we ran: 29% for ink wastage, 44% for printing speed, 46% for copying...
It did perform well when we analysed its networking capabilities and power consumption, but it's not great at basically all the things you buy a multifunction printer for.
Want to know more? Read the full HP DeskJet 4122e review.
This Canon takes 54 seconds to start up... and then prints poorly.
Canon Pixma TS3160
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 60%
- Price: $69
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $287
Highlighting the cheap printer trap, this Canon will cost you $69 – and then four times that in ink for a year of use. That said, $287 is actually a low amount compared with thirstier models out there, but it can still be a nasty surprise.
As the second-lowest scoring printer overall in our test, this model's chief sins are dismal print quality (it scored 43%) and pretty ordinary copying (55%).
Highlighting the cheap printer trap, this Canon will cost you $59 – and then five times that in ink for a year of use
It does have some saving graces – it scores well for print speed and scanning – but it's undone by woeful ink wastage.
It also takes a finger-drumming 54 seconds to start printing after being switched on, so you'll be left like Cinderella at Officeworks, bemoaning "some day my prints will come".
Read our full Canon Pixma TS3160 review.
Low price, low print quality, high running costs: the HP Deskjet 3720.
HP Deskjet 3720
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 61%
- Price: $69
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $1192
At $69, this HP printer might seem like a steal – until you realise how expensive it is to print from. Our tech experts estimate that it will cost you an epic $1192 in ink each year (based on our average-use scenario of 1000 mono prints, 250 colour document prints and 250 full-colour photo prints over the course of a year).
For that amount of upkeep, you'd expect immaculate printing results, but sadly this printer doesn't deliver: it scored just 58% for printing quality and 43% for printing speed.
One good point is that it can print from mobile devices by Wi-Fi, which is just as well – it's so noisy that you wouldn't want to be sitting next to it while it prints.
Read the full HP Deskjet 3720 review.
High price, low print quality: HP Laserjet Pro MFP M428fdw.
HP Laserjet Pro MFP M428fdw
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 62%
- Price: $875
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $92
This mono multifunction model (try saying that three times quickly) proves it's not just the cheapies that let you down.
Despite its $875 price tag, it scored the lowest for print quality (44%) of the laser models in our test. It's also average at copying (51%) and rated just OK for ease of use (64%). And it'll cost you and the environment with its high power use.
If you can forgive those big flaws, it does print super quickly and scores well for scanning and networking. Still, our experts found cheaper and far superior models in our test, so it's best to steer clear of this bottom-dweller.
Read our full HP Laserjet Pro MFP M428fdw review.
Haste makes waste: this HP laser printer delivers quick but poor quality prints.
HP Colour LaserJet Pro M283fdw
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 62%
- Price: $619
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $548
This colour multifunction printer may churn the prints out quickly, but the quality of the prints leaves a lot to be desired – it scored just 47% for print quality. It's pretty good at scanning, but not great at photocopying.
That speedy printing certainly comes at a cost, too: it has very high relative toner costs and poor power consumption.
Read our full HP Colour LaserJet Pro M283fdw review.
The HP Laserjet Pro M404dn will deliver poor-quality prints, pronto.
HP Laserjet Pro M404dn
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 63%
- Price: $445
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $85
It may have excellent print speed and very low ink/toner costs, but this printer will guzzle huge amounts of energy (366 Watts when printing, to be precise).
And while it'll give you your prints pronto, they'll leave you disappointed – our experts rated this model's print quality at just 52%.
Read our full HP Laserjet Pro M404dn review.
Before you start shopping around, it's vital to consider how you plan to use your new printer.
"Printers can be quite specialised these days, from cheaper models aimed at only occasional use, to ink-tank (not cartridge) models designed for high output at low cost per page, plus models designed to print high-quality photos," says Steve Duncombe, CHOICE Computer editor.
It's important to be realistic about what sort of printing you are likely to do most, and what features are essential for youSteve Duncombe, CHOICE Computer editor
"Then there are the multifunction printer models that have a wide range of extra features, from scanning and copying to faxing (yes, people still do this!) and more.
"So it's important to be realistic about what sort of printing you are likely to do most, and what features are essential for you, and do your homework to find the right sort of printer to do that job – which is where our printer buying guide comes in."
Need for speed: Our lab test measures how quickly a printer can print.
Don't just look at the upfront cost of a printer before you buy, our experts warn.
"Ink is usually a bigger component of total cost than the printer itself," says tech content producer Ben Bridges.
Ben shares seven hot tips to avoid spending too much on printer ink:
1. Remember that inkjet cleaning cycles use more ink
Inkjets have to keep the jets clear, which they do with a cleaning cycle if the printer hasn't been used recently, or has been switched off. This uses up ink, which adds to the cost of ownership. Laser printers don't have to do this.
2. Don't assume it's cheaper to buy a new printer
People sometimes look at the price of the printer and the price of ink – and think it's cheaper to buy a new printer. It generally isn't: new printers nearly always come with a reduced supply of ink, so you won't be getting the full complement.
And of course there's the environmental impact of replacing an entire printer, rather than just buying a new ink cartridge.
3. Check whether you can use compatible inks
Some printers prevent you from using 'compatible' inks that are generally much cheaper than the manufacturer's ones. They're now obliged to include a statement on the box that they don't work with compatible inks – you might want to avoid these printers.
4. Consider a CISS printer
On a positive note, there are now plenty of CISS (continuous ink supply system) printers that let you refill their cartridges from bottles. They're much cheaper to run, but more expensive to buy – another trade-off.
5. Avoid single 'colour' cartridges
There are a few printers with a single 'colour' cartridge, so when one colour runs out, you have to replace the whole cartridge. These printers are best avoided.
6. Beware false predictions about remaining toner
An inkjet printer can tell exactly how much ink is left in an inkjet cartridge (by shining a light through it). But lasers have no real way of measuring the toner left. So they just count the pages printed and tell you you're running out when the number comes up. In actual fact, you may not be.
7. Don't let your photos fade away
If you want to print photos, you really need special photo ink. Magenta and cyan both fade in the light, so if you stick your photos to the front of the fridge, for example, they'll eventually turn yellow.
Our laser and inkjet printer reviews let you see how much a printer will cost you in toner and ink each year, plus how much ink they use for cleaning – and much more.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.