The sheer range of printers is bewildering and with the many manufacturers in the market after your money, making the right decision can be tough. It's doubly tough when you realise why there's so much competition; the real money is made on the many consumables your business will be purchasing to maintain that new printer purchase. What might initially seem modest costs can soon add up over time.
So where do you need to start? Even the most modest of offices will likely be networked and sharing a resource as useful as a printer is an essential. So you should only be looking at printers that are capable of networked use. Wired offers speed and robust function for a fixed office. Wireless is flexible, cheap to deploy but not as fast in use.
Multi-function features can be found across the board and at all cost scales. Basic features start with USB Key and card readers for PC-free printing, moving to scanner and copier functions. At the higher end automatic document feeders (ADF) can manage 50 copies in a single go and produce booklets including duplex printing, stapling and folding. Often the basic ADF features will accommodate most medium-sized offices.
In the past there has been a marked difference in Cost Per Page (CPP) between lasers and inkjets but in recent years inkjets have managed to drop their prices to compete. Either way it's important you carefully assess the CPP of each device. Manufacturers measure the toner or cartridge yields with an industry standard ISO rating. So you can safely assess the total price of replacing all the cartridges or toners divided by the print yield across all the potential models.
The total volume of prints you're going to make also needs to be taken into account. Devices often quote a "duty cycle" monthly maximum and recommended figures. These are the total number of prints it's designed to handle per month. If possible assess the number of prints per employee for the office and ensure the device is capable of meeting your current and future demands.
Finally in the past colour especially for laser printers has demanded a premium, that's not so much the case these days. However these models are still more expensive due to the additional materials required for the toners and printer manufacture. There's still a big enough differential that if you don't need regular colour you should opt for a mono model, perhaps using a cheaper inkjet or even out-of-house printing for occasional colour requirements.
Here ordered upwards in price, are the top ten printers for businesses large and small, from a basic monochrome lasers suitable for a small business and a home office through to a small departmental multifunction printer.
1/ Samsung ML-2165W
From £50 ex VAT
The notion of the large, expensive laser printer should have long been dispelled and if nothing else can do that then the Samsung ML-2165W will. This small-footprint mono printer costs less than many inkjets but has the capability to provide basic wireless-based print services to a home office or smaller office.
With a rating for up to 10,000 pages per month and an A4 print speed of up to 20 pages per minute its small size shouldn't hide the fact that this could be a little workhorse. Its biggest main limiting factor is the single 150-sheet paper tray.
The single consumable is the drum and toner cartridge that comes with a 1,500 page yield.
With an equivalent 1200 dpi printer output it makes a good job of producing clear, crisp text in no time. The single consumable is the printer toner that comes in 1500 page yield capacity. These are well priced and easily replaced. Beyond these basics the Samsung ML-2165W has little to offer, which does limit its appeal even for home office users never mind a smaller sized office.
2/ HP LaserJet Pro M1217nfw
From £113 ex VAT
The HP LaserJet Pro M1217nfw isn't going to win any design awards but what it lacks in aesthetics it really does make up for in functionality. This entry-level office multi-function mono laser printer offers all the standard print, copy, scan and fax features you'd want to see in an office workhorse. Add to that wired Ethernet networking alongside wireless networking and it has all the connectivity too.
Suited to the home and smaller small office, it has a conveniently compact footprint, until you open its paper trays to print. A top speed of 18ppm is good for this class of printer, particularly since the machine gets close to that speed under test. Its basic, 150-sheet paper tray has no dust cover, though, and the output tray sticks out in a fairly easy-to-knock way.
Making up for this is the inclusion of a 35-sheet automatic document feeder, its ability to multitask with print and copy jobs and the low running costs. Print quality is also excellent in terms of both its text and greyscale images. Oddly for HP the built-in controls are somewhat lacking, with just a two-line LCD display.
3/ Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4535DWF Inkjet Multifunction
From £150 ex VAT
One of Epson's range of small business inkjet multifunctions, this machine really can out-perform an equivalent colour laser in several important ways. Whether you look at feature set, speed or running costs, there aren't many lasers at this price that come close.
This machine gives a genuine 13ppm on long documents and, what is more impressive, 8.5 sides per minute when printing duplex, over double the duplex speed of most sub-£200 colour lasers. Paper handling comprises both a 250-sheet main tray and an 80-sheet rear tray, suitable for envelopes or photo paper. The Automatic Document Feed is also duplex, so it can copy double-sided in a single pass.
Three different yields of ink cartridge are available and the highest yield gives a print cost of 1.8p for black and 5.0p for colour. These are cost levels well below those of colour lasers and the printer has the further advantage of being able to print on glossy photo paper.
Full fax functionality is built in, with 60 quick dials, and the machine offers wireless, Ethernet and USB connections. The front-panel USB socket will output scans, but can't be used to print from, one of this machine's few missed tricks.
4/ Canon i-SENSYS MF4890dw Mono Laser Multifunction
From £188 ex VAT
Canon doesn't sell as many laser printers and multifunctions as HP, but it does, of course, make their print engines. Pretty much the same gear is used in the company's equivalent models and they're often slightly cheaper, too.
Canon's i-SENSYS MF4890dw is aimed at the small business market and includes a couple of unusual extras for a printer in this price bracket. For a start, it has a duplex scanner, as well as a duplex print engine, so it can produce two-sided copies in a single job.
A 250-sheet paper tray is supplemented by a single-sheet special media slot and the feed tray has a cover, to protect against spillages. The printer offers USB and Ethernet connections, but also supports wireless, with WPS setup for quick connection. Canon provides a print App for iOS and Android phones, too, giving easy print from a variety of mobile devices.
The printer is rated at 25ppm and we saw over 21ppm under test, a good speed for this class of multifunction. The 50-sheet ADF gave fast scan speeds too, including when copying duplex. Print quality is good for text, but only fair on greyscales, where some darker shades have a tendency to black out.
5/ Lexmark T650n Mono Laser Printer
From £205 ex VAT
Sometimes compromise won't do and the Lexmark T650n is a no compromise type of mono laser printer.
Suitable for any workgroup sized installation everything about the Lexmark T650n is robust. It has a maximum monthly duty cycle of 200,000 pages with a recommended number of 20,000 pages. It has a main paper tray of 250-sheets, with a supplementary 100-sheet multi-purpose tray, which folds down from the front of the machine. There are a number of optional paper handling extras, building to a maximum capacity of a fairly staggering 4,000 sheets.
Other options include a complete scanner unit, converting the printer into an MFP. If you need duplex print, you can pay extra for the T650dn and if you need the extra paper capacity from the start, the T650tdn provides this.
This model lacks a duplexer but that's found on the Lexmark T650dn, while the T650dtn offers the extended paper trays as default.
These models all offer the same 45 page per minute print speeds, which isn't the fastest printer we've seen, but it certainly delivers enough throughput to remain impressively fast. If you do want more speed the Lexmark T654 has a more powerful print engine.
With good graphics and text output alongside it's low running costs this mono laser will happily keep any office running smoothly, while it retains a very low cost of ownership.
6/ Brother MFC-J4510DW Inkjet Multifunction
From £217 ex VAT
Earlier this year Brother brought out a range of small footprint multifunction inkjets which could print occasional A3 as well as A4 pages. The company achieved this by a bit of lateral thinking, and printed A4 pages in landscape mode, in strips from top to bottom.
This increases the print speed slightly; Brother claims 12ppm and we saw over 11ppm on test. It also makes the printer quite noisy, though, particularly when feeding paper. There's a basic 150-sheet paper tray, plus a single-sheet rear feed.
The MFC-J4510DW includes an ADF in its completely flat top and can print duplex, though only copy single-sided, unless you duplex manually.
Print can be a little fuzzy, but is generally good enough for SOHO use. A3 pages have to be fed through the small guides at the back of the printer which is fiddly, but OK occasionally.
The ink cartridges give page costs of around 3p and 7p for black and colour pages, which are good compared to colour lasers but can be bettered on inkjet machines, like the Epson WorkForce Pro. If space is at a premium and you have a use for occasional A3 print, this machine will be an economical fit in your office.
7/ Samsung CLP-620ND Colour Laser Printer
From £235 ex VAT
This is a colour laser printer, plain and simple. It's a tall machine, due to the arrangement of its four drum and toner cartridges inside, but this also means a relatively small footprint on the desk.
The printer is fitted with a 250-sheet main paper tray and a 50-sheet multi-purpose tray which folds down from the front. A further 500-sheet tray is an option. Controls are adequate, with a two-line LCD display and a ring of buttons for basic menu navigation, but most control comes through USB or Ethernet connections.
The printer is aimed at office or small workgroup and has a high-rated colour speed of 20ppm. We saw 16ppm under test, in both colour and black print. Unusually for a colour laser, duplex print is standard on the CLP-620ND and we achieved 8 sides per minute. All of these are fair speeds, though not up to departmental standards.
Print quality is very good, with crisp black print and more than adequate colour. Even photos print reasonably well, usually a hard task for a colour laser. Page costs come out at 3p and 10.5p, so black print is low cost, while colour is comparatively pricey. This is a good colour workhorse for everyday print, where colour isn't a major part of the mix.
8/ HP LaserJet Pro 300 colour MFP M375nw Colour Laser Multifunction
From £360 ex VAT
This is a heavyweight colour laser multifunction intended for small business or workgroup use. Its slabby black and white design is functional and includes a large touchscreen for control, though the printer is only rated at a typical 1,500 pages per month, which is quite low for its class.
It includes a 50-sheet automatic document feeder, which is bulky, given it doesn't handle duplex scans. There's no duplex print on the machine, either, which is a little surprising in a machine at this price.
It's rated at 18ppm for both black and colour print, though we only saw about 14ppm when we tested it. This is a still a fair turn of speed, and copies come through quickly, too. It can handle input from USB, Ethernet or via wireless link, with support for iOS and Android mobiles. A front panel USB offers scanning to and printing from USB drives.
The four toner cartridges give calculated running costs of around 3p for black pages and about 12p for colour. Again, the colour cost is a bit high, compared with some other lasers and a lot of inkjets.
Print quality is good, particularly on black text and colour graphics and photo images are above average too.
9/ Dell C3765dnf Colour Laser Printer
From £500 ex VAT
The Dell C3765dnf simply does so much, so well that it's hard not to heartedly recommend. That's not to say it's going to suit every office perfectly but then that's why we have nine other choices.
To start this is a workgroup-class fast multi-function colour laser with a suitably-high duty cycle of 80,000 pages and an optional extra-high capacity black toner with a 11,000 page print yield. It's these types of features that help this service a large busy office without breaking into a sweat.
Digging a little deeper for a colour laser Dell gets you pile more functionality, this Gigabit Ethernet network printer offers a 550-sheet and 150-sheet input tray with an optional second 550-sheet tray for a maximum 1250 sheets.
It's no slouch in use rated at up to 35 pages per minute for both colour and mono documents. It has full-auto duplex printing too that only drops the speed to 23 page per minute. For full compatibility it offers the standard PCL6 and Postscript 3 driver support alongside XPS. In general use the print quality of the Dell is sound with its graphics if anything being slightly ahead of its text. What's also impressive is that print costs are low for such a class of colour laser printer.
Additionally the Dell comes with Nuance's PaperPort Pro 14 to help manage your businesses work flow, and includes security features such as LDAP, Kerberos authentication and the ability to add 10-digit passwords to documents for printing.
10/ OKI C822 A3 Colour LED Printer
From £606 ex VAT
Paying a premium for A3 printing is expected, but at least the OKI C822 A3 colour laser manages to take most of the sting out of that premium.
It's a wired Ethernet networked printer and with a monthly duty cycle of 50,000 pages and recommended usage of 5,000 per month making it suitable for a medium-sized office. This is backed up by its decent 23 page per minute throughput and its base 400-sheet input and the option to expand this to a solid 930-sheets.
It has the usual bland OKI office styling, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Running costs for an A3 printer are actually excellent with A4 mono and colour costs as good as most smaller lasers.
The main disappointment for the OKI is its colour output that's somewhat washed out, text however is excellent, making it useful for producing presentations and in-house drafts. This model does lack duplex printing but that is available on the more expensive OKI C822dn model.