With so many models, features and prices on offer, buying a printer can be confusing. Plus, it's not as if you can try before you buy in-store – if only you could rock up and print your holiday photos or kids' homework for a test run!
That's why we've tested printers for years – so you know what you're getting before you buy. Our lab experts have reviewed 100 popular models, assessing key factors including print quality, speed, scanning and copying, yearly ink/toner costs, power consumption and ease of use.
In the process, we've uncovered some impressive printers (spoiler alert: they're not always expensive) alongside some seriously average performers. So you don't end up with a dud, we reveal some of the lowest-rated models and share expert shopping tips so you can finally find your Prints Charming.
1. Canon Pixma TS3160
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 52%
- Price: $59
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $300
Highlighting the cheap printer trap, this Canon will cost you $59 – and then five times that in ink for a year of use. That said, $300 is actually a low amount compared with thirstier models out there (see below), but it can still be a nasty surprise.
As the lowest scoring printer overall in our test, this model's chief sins are dismal print quality (it scored 38%) and pretty ordinary ease of use (56%). It does have some saving graces – it scores well for print speed and scanning – but it's undone by mediocre copying and woeful ink wastage.
It also takes a finger-drumming 54 seconds to start printing from 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.
This Canon takes 54 seconds to start up... and then prints poorly.
2. HP Deskjet 3720
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 55%
- Price: $59
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $898
At $59, this HP printer might seem like a steal – until you realise how expensive it is to maintain. Our tech experts estimate that it will cost you an epic $898 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 a year).
For that amount of upkeep, you'd expect immaculate printing results. Sadly, this printer doesn't deliver: it scored just 50% 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 you wouldn't want to be sitting next to it while it prints. Read our full HP Deskjet 3720 review.
3. HP Tango X
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 56%
- Price: $349
- Yearly ink/toner costs: $715
Time to tango? You may be waiting a while on this print partner – it rated just 50% in our printing speed test. Sadly, when it does finally start busting moves, our experts found its print quality ordinary (55%) and the unit's ease of use just OK (58%). Next!
As well as its much higher retail price, you'll also be staring down the barrel of hefty ink costs – an estimated $715 a year. Our testers found much better performers for a lot less, so you might want to dance with them instead. Read our full HP Tango X review.
1. Brother HL-2300D
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 58%
- Price: $149
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $111*
If you're looking for a mono-colour unit, skip this basic Brother that scored lowest in our laser printer tests. On the upside, it's easy to use, fast to start up (14 seconds) and quick to print (scoring 96% for speed).
Which all sounds sweet until you see the poor print quality, which rated a lowly 46%. It also uses a lot of power and doesn't feature scanning or copying functions.
Interestingly, Brother makes a bevy of mono laser models around the same price that perform far better than this one. Check out our reviews and buy one of those instead of this clanger. Read our full Brother HL-2300D review.
*Yearly ink/toner cost is based on 1000 mono prints, 250 colour document prints, and 250 full-colour photo prints over the course of a year.
Oh Brother! This ordinary unit scored just 46% for print quality.
2. HP Colour LaserJet Pro M283FDW
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 59%
- Price: $539
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $531
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 42% 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 uses a whopping 377W of power when printing. Read our full HP Colour LaserJet Pro M283FDW review.
3. HP Laserjet Pro MFP M428FDW
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 59% (tied)
- Price: $661
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $91
This mono multifunction model (try saying that three times quickly) proves it's not just the cheapies that let you down.
Despite its $600-plus price tag, it scored the lowest for print quality (40%) of the laser models in our test. It's also average at copying (59%) and rated just OK for ease of use (66%).
If you can forgive those big flaws, it does print super fast 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.
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."
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.
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 'bottle' printer
On a positive note, there are now plenty of 'bottle' 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 put your photos on 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.