For no-frills colour printing, the Brother HL-L3230CDW is a fine workhorse for the small office.
Quick and quiet printing
Crisp print quality
High paper capacity
Robust build quality
No NFC or USB flash port
Slow first page out time
Small single-line display
Large for a desktop model
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The Brother HL-L3230CDW slots in at the affordable end of the brand’s colour LED lineup and is aimed at the small office or home user.
Eschewing premium features like a touchscreen interface or NFC connectivity, it concentrates on print quality and the bare essentials, such as auto duplexing in order to keep the purchase cost relatively low. The result is a desktop colour printer with impressive specifications for its price category. Printing at a rapid 25 pages per minute and holding 250 pages in its main tray makes it suitable for a heavy workload of up to 1,500 pages per month. With its robust build quality and secure printing capability, it presents a tempting proposition at just £240 (US$249, AU$320).
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Design and build
Brother describes the HL-L3230CDW as a desktop printer, but with a 41cm by 46cm footprint, it’s a little large to share a desk with. It is significantly bigger than Brother’s monochrome offerings because it has to accommodate four toner cartridges instead of one, and it’s slightly wider than most color prints in its class too. The simple symmetrical styling looks smart and it feels very substantial and built to last. Being an LED, it has fewer moving parts than a traditional laser printer, so it may well last longer as a result. With its smooth corners and flat top, there are no flaps or protrusions that look likely to snap off in an office move.
There’s a tiny one-line display on top and an out-tray that can collect 150 sheets of paper before overfilling.
The main paper in-tray at the front is deep enough to hold half a ream of paper and there’s a single-page multifunction tray above it for inserting an envelope or a sheet of headed paper etc.
At the rear you’ll find Ethernet and USB ports, but you won’t find a USB port at the front for flash memory drives unfortunately.
To access the four toner cartridges, the whole top panel hinges up and open.
Features and specifications
Type: Color laser/LED printer
Functions: Print only
Connectivity: Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, USB
Data storage slots: none
Print speed: 25 ppm
Paper capacity: 250 sheets
Print quality: 600 x 2,400 dpi
Apple AirPrint: yes
Google Cloud Print: yes
Consumables included: Toner for 1,000 black pages, or 1,000 colour
Dimensions/Weight: 410 x 461 x 252 mm (WxDxH)/18kg
The feature list for the Brother HL-L3230CDW is short but it does check off all of the indispensable functions. Wi-Fi is built in, for instance, with Wi-Fi Direct available and AirPrint compatibility. It can also auto duplex and print securely. There’s a dedicated button beside the display marked Secure which enables you to pick up private prints at the printer when being used in a shared office. There’s no fancy touchscreen, no front USB port and no NFC or Bluetooth connectivity. There’s not even a window to look into the paper tray to see how many sheets are left, but these omissions do not amount to any real problem.
The Brother HL-L3230CDW’s specifications are more impressive. The claimed print speed of 25 single-sided pages per minute is fast and realistic. Our speed tests showed that it doesn’t slow down much for duplex printing either. The paper capacity is ample at 250 sheets and the print resolution is good and high at 600 x 2,400 when optimised. Brother’s recommended monthly volume is 300 to 1,500 pages, which means you can work this machine pretty hard.
The box includes setup toner cartridges yielding 1,000 black and white pages and 1,000 colour. Higher yield cartridges are available, but not much higher (3,000 mono pages or 1,400 color) and that makes it a little less economical to run than many other laser printers. As with all laser/LED printers, you will also need to replace the drum unit, in this case after about 18,000 pages.
Setup and operation
Setting up the Brother HL-L3230CDW means first removing all the tape and plastic packaging it for transport and this involves removing the four cartridges. The clear and concise setup instructions in the box, or online will help you do this. Then it’s a case of following the instructions to get the printer onto your Wi-Fi network. The free companion app for iOS/Android devices can help you do this, but without Bluetooth, it’s not quite as easy as with Brother’s Bluetooth-enabled printers.
In operation, the Brother HL-L3230CDW is a pleasure to use. The tiny, old-fashioned one-line display is difficult to see from any angle, but that’s not a big issue with a print-only device. It prints quickly and quietly. The solid build quality and fewer moving parts of its LED design help to keep the noise down to just 47dB. If it weren’t for the size and the overly bright LEDs blinking at you while the printer is powered up, you might not mind having it on the corner of your desk. As it is, we’d recommend giving it its own table.
We’re happy to report that the print performance, for the most part, is very strong. Black and white text appears crisp and sharp and accurate. However small the point size that you’re printing at, the fine delineation of the characters ensure they are always legible. The overall effect is not as dark and bold as some other printers, but a light touch like this is nearly always preferable.
Colour prints look particularly bright and vivid, making your documents pop nicely. But while pie charts and spreadsheets look professional, photographs do not fare so well. The black toner in black and white images tends to shine and not shade well and colours look unrealistic. It’s a common problem with laser printers and therefore not a fatal strike against this one.
The first print out time is quoted as 15.5 seconds, which is slow and it can be slower depending on the document because the on-board memory is only 256MB. But it makes up for its ponderous start with a fast and steady churn rater after that. The pages pile up on top of the printer at a smooth and steady pace in duplex mode and without all the noisy wining and straining you often get with inexpensive laser printers.
It feels like the Brother HL-L3230CDW strikes just the right balance between price, performance and features. For the money, you might expect to see a touchscreen interface, or NFC/Bluetooth connectivity, but we would rather pay for better build and print quality, which the Brother HL-L3230CDW delivers. The fast duplex print speed and quiet operating noise make it easy to recommend this simple LED printer.
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Jim is a seasoned expert when it comes to testing tech. From playing a prototype PlayStation One to meeting a man called Steve about a new kind of phone in 2007, he’s always hunting the next big thing at the bleeding edge of the electronics industry. After editing the tech section of Wired UK magazine, he is currently specialising in IT and voyaging in his VW camper van.