There are a million reasons to invest in a printer for college. Your school might offer printing services or have printers in the library for students to use, but nothing beats the convenience of printing from your own dorm room moments before class starts. Having a printer is so much more cost-effective as well. My university’s library charged $0.15 per page printed in black and white. Color printing cost even more. That might not sound like much, but those costs add up quickly when you’re printing something almost every day. When you own your own printer, you might have to pay for paper and toner or ink, but at the end of the day (or rather, by the time you graduate), you end up paying far less per printed page and you save all that time you would have spent running back and forth from the library. So, if you’ve decided to buy a printer before you head out to college, kudos. You’re making a wise decision.
Now you have another decision to make: laser or inkjet. This article will focus on the best laser printers, which are a better option for some, but not for everybody.
Laser vs. Inkjet
The fundamental differences between inkjet and laser printers lie in the way they print. Simply, inkjet printers produce images using droplets of ink, while laser printers produce images by using an electrostatic charge to bond “toner” — a powder — to the page.
That might not mean much to you, but this difference changes everything, from how fast the printer prints to the cost of each printed page. Inkjet printers are the most common household printer while laser printers are more common in offices, but that may be changing as the upfront cost of laser printers lowers.
Here are the main differences between laser and inkjet printers:
- Laser printers tend to print faster and are better for high volume print jobs.
- Laser printers and their cartridges cost more upfront, but less down the road. The per-page cost for laser printers is much lower.
- Toner cartridges last longer than ink cartridges.
- Laser printers print well in black and white, but do not print very well in color.
- Laser printers are not good for printing high-quality photographs and complex, multicolored graphics.
- They are larger and heavier.
- They are generally better for printing text.
- Laser printers have lower maintenance — easier to use with fewer issues.
- Inkjet printers are great for photographs, complex graphics, and image-heavy documents.
- They are versatile — can print on many types of textured paper, including glossy photo paper.
- They are better for low-volume printing.
- Ink can dry out if left unused for long stretches of time.
- Laser printers are cheaper upfront, but often more expensive down the road, particularly if used frequently.
- Ink cartridges are cheaper than toner, but do not last nearly as long.
- Some inkjet printers will produce smudged text.
In short, if you need to print a lot of images (photographers, designers, artists, etc.), you should opt for an inkjet printer. People who don’t regularly need to print or only print a few pages at any given time should also consider buying an inkjet.
If you need to print a lot of text or need to print very frequently, you should probably opt for a laser printer. In my opinion, laser printers are better for most students, particularly those in reading- and writing-intensive programs. As a history major, I was constantly printing lengthy readings, papers, and writing assignments for my classes. But even students in fields that don’t require a lot of writing, such as the sciences, business, or economics, might find themselves printing documents more frequently than you’d expect.
Things to Consider When Shopping for Laser Printer
When deciding which laser printer you should buy, take into account these factors:
Color vs. Black and White
We’ve already established that laser printers are not great at producing high-quality color images. If that is a feature you’re looking for, opt for an inkjet printer. That said, many laser printers are capable of printing in color, and many can do a pretty decent job at it. If you expect to print a lot of graphics or diagrams, you’ll definitely want to seek out a printer capable of color printing. As a result, color printers are better for students in fields like business, economics, or natural sciences. Students in writing- and reading-intensive fields such as history, law, English, or philosophy will most likely do fine with a monochrome printer.
Toner Replacement Cost
Replacement toner cartridges can raise the long-term operating cost of your printer dramatically. When looking for the most cost-effective toner, you’re going to want to consider a few factors. Check the price of on-brand toner cartridges, which varies by brand and model. Do a little bit of digging before your purchase to see how much brand-name replacement cartridges cost. Also check the page yield you can expect from one cartridge. Page yield varies by the printer brand as well as the toner cartridge brand. Some toners yield up to 20,000 pages, so you may not have to replace the cartridge for years. Lastly, see if your printer can use compatible toner cartridges, also called generic toner cartridges. Compatible toners are off-brand toners that replicate the original toner design, but are produced by a company unaffiliated with the printer manufacturer. These toners are often far cheaper, but also may have a lower page yield or can even cause problems with your printer.
How much does print quality matter to you? Of course, you don’t want a printer that consistently produces smudged text and faded images. That said, if you’re mostly going to be printing text, print quality may not be your main priority. Consider how often you expect to be printing images or graphics.
Need a machine capable of spitting out 50 page PDFs like it’s nothing? Some printers can, quite literally, print 50 pages per minute. If you are going to be consistently printing out long papers, you’re going to want something speedy, or you’ll end up spending a lot of time waiting.
Many printers these days come with a whole host of features, including Wi-Fi compatibility, two-sided printing, and memory card and flash drive readers. Pick a printer that gives you what you need, not simply the option with the most features. For example, while Wi-Fi compatibility is nice, in my experience, it’s not really necessary for college. In fact, it can sometimes create more problems than it solves if you live in a dorm with a shared Wi-Fi connection or if you find yourself moving frequently (which most people do in college). For some, a printer with USB connectivity will be sufficient. Two-sided printing, however, is a must. It’ll save you a fortune in printing paper, and you’ll be doing the environment a favor as well.
Do you need a printer or a printer/scanner/copier? In my opinion, most students will do fine with a printer that just prints. Most people don’t need to scan or copy documents with any regularity in college, and for occasional scanning and copying, you can use the university’s printers. But if you foresee that becoming an issue, invest in an all-in-one printer.
Reliability and Customer Service
This may be the main consideration you’ll want to make when choosing your printer. Printers are notoriously finicky machines and can stop working at any given time. There’s no way to guarantee that you’re buying a product that will last you years, but you should do some digging before your purchase to make sure that you’re not buying a machine that’ll fail on you. Read product reviews, check out the Amazon reviews (but keep an eye out for fakes), maybe even see what Consumer Reports has to say. If you see an overwhelming amount of negative reviews pointing to the same issue, consider staying away. Buy from companies with good customer service reputations. And look for products with a warranty — there’s a chance you’ll need it a couple of years down the road.
Best Laser Printers for Students
Now that you’ve decided that a laser printer best fits your needs, here’s a few of our favorites for students. These printers combine excellent performance with great value.
Best Overall — HP Color Laserjet Pro M254dw
A compact and well-performing color laser printer, the HP M254dw is our favorite laser printer for students. At just over $200, it’s not the cheapest printer on our list, but it is possibly the best value for many consumers. The M254dw prints clean black text and vivid colors for a laser printer in this price range. Setup is easy and navigating the interface is pretty straightforward. It also offers a lot of nice features, including print-duplexing, mobile printing, and Wi-Fi. It is only a printer however, and does not have a scanning or copying feature.
Best Budget — Brother HL-L2370DW
At just over $100, the Brother HL-L2370DW is our favorite budget laser printer and an excellent choice for students in reading- and writing-intensive majors. The HL-L2370DW is very compact, making it a great option for dorm rooms or small apartment spaces. It’s pretty stripped down — the HL-L2370DW only prints in monochrome and does not feature a scanner or copier — but it should capably fill the needs of students who primarily need to print text documents. It prints quickly at 36 pages per minute, is capable of duplex printing, and can connect via Wi-Fi, ethernet, or USB. Brother is known for producing workhorse printers that print clean text and work reliably. In short, the HL-L2370DW is nothing flashy, but it’ll do the job and it will do it well.
Best Splurge — Brother HL-L8360CDW
The Brother HL-L8360CDW is likely the best printer on this list, but it is also the most expensive. This color laser printer has a remarkable ability for a printer of its size. Black text is crisp and clear, while color prints are comparable — even superior — to the quality offered by most inkjet printers. The in-box black toner cartridges have a high page yield of around 3,000, and the page yield of replacement cartridges can be as high as 6,500. It also offers many useful features, including wireless networking, duplex printing, and cloud printing. In short, an excellent printer, but a little pricey for most students.
Best Color — Canon imageCLASS LBP612CDW
The Canon imageClass LBP612CDW produces exceptionally deep, vivid colors for a laser printer. While this is not a photo printer and I can’t reasonably recommend it to photographers, designers, or artists, it does print small to medium-sized pictures well enough and handles complex, multi-colored graphics admirably. This is not the cheapest printer on this list, but still offers a good value when comparing price to performance — it’s rare to find color laser printers under $300, let alone one that prints this well.
Best Monochrome Print Quality — Canon imageCLASS MF232w
Another great printer in Canon’s imageCLASS line, the MF232w is an affordable all-in-one printer that prints quickly and clearly. While it is not the smallest printer on this list, it measures 12.3 x 15.4 x 14.6 inches, a fairly compact size for an all-in-one printer and small enough to fit comfortably on a desk. The MF232w’s best attribute, however, is its print quality. It produces beautiful monochrome text and graphics. Business graphics look good, if you don’t mind printing them in grayscale. It is even capable of printing grayscale photographs with surprising detail and depth.
Best Compact — HP LaserJet Pro M15w
The HP LaserJet Pro M15w is super cheap and super small. It measures in at about the size of a shoebox and therefore fits snugly on any desk. It’s very cheap as well — the cheapest on our life, in fact. But while you may be paying less upfront, you may be paying more for paper down the road, because the M15w doesn’t offer duplex printing. Still, it prints clear monochrome text very well and fairly quickly at 15 pages per minute. Best for light use and primarily printing text, the HP LaserJet Pro M15w is a solid option for students who don’t expect to be regularly printing images or lengthy documents and want something compact for their dorm room.
Best All-In-One — Brother MFC-L2750DW
Students who require a scanner and copier would be wise to check out the Brother MFC-L2750DW. At under $200, the MFC-L2750DW is far more affordable than most all-in-one printers on the market, which frequently run upwards of $300. It prints and copies only in monochrome, but is capable of scanning color documents. Print and copy speed is very fast, and it can handle a heavy monthly duty cycle of 15,000 pages. In other words, it’s equipped for personal or business use, so it should handle the workload of any student with no problems.
Sam Benezra is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in History from the Honors Tutorial College. He is a native of Brooklyn, New York. Sam enjoys writing on a variety of subjects, including science, music, politics, film. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling, playing guitar, and writing songs.