Best Home-Office and Small-Business Printers

Today small offices have a wide selection of printers to choose from. Color printers may be inkjets, lasers, and models based on other technologies; and monochrome lasers remain an economical choice. Another option is a multifunction printer, sometimes called an "all-in-one," which combines printing, scanning, copying, and faxing functions.

The first part of this guide details how four printers we've recently tested could work well in your small office, with links to the charts in which they are ranked and to our Shop & Compare pricing tool. (Keep in mind that online prices fluctuate constantly.) The second part of the guide offers tips on how to find the best printer for your particular work situation.

Best Printers for Small or Home Offices

The best printers for a small office or home office generate pages quickly and produce crisp output on plain paper as well as on special media. Higher-end models can hold more paper or can print in duplex mode. Multifunction printers perform a wider set of tasks without skimping on efficiency.

The following recently reviewed models are among the best small-business buys we've seen: Canon's Pixma iP4500 and Dell's 1720dn Laser Printer are top-ranked because they're good at pretty much everything as well as being affordable. The HP OfficeJet Pro L7680 is expensive but offers plenty of features and speed in return.

Canon Pixma iP4500

Canon Pixma iP4500
What you get: Canon's Pixma iP4500 color inkjet printer rivals low-end color laser printers in speed--and leaves many higher-priced inkjet competitors in the dust. The text quality on plain paper was very nice: crisp, black, and just a little jagged in more-complicated fonts. Though a laser could print better text, it couldn't compete with the Pixma iP4500's photos, which (aside from yellowish flesh tones) looked vivid and natural. Automatic duplexing is a big bonus at this price.

Our review unit earned a performance score of 90, one of the highest scores we've seen from an inkjet printer. (Note: Performance is one of four attributes we use in computing the total rating for a product. The others are price, specifications, and design.)

Drawbacks:  My primary design complaint relates to the scattered control buttons. All have icons instead of plain-English labels, so they're harder to identify. Photos of people looked excessively yellow.

Dell Laser Printer 1720dn

Dell Laser Printer 1720dn
What you get: Dell's 1720dn Laser Printer is a reasonably priced, well-equipped, capable monochrome laser. It would work well in either a SOHO setting or a small workgroup. Plain-text pages popped up at  a snappy rate of 29 pages per minute. The 1720dn contains an impressive array of features for the price, including an automatic duplexer. The control panel is clearly labeled.

Our review unit earned a good performance score of 79.

Drawbacks:  The main input tray feels a bit flimsy. Though the control panel is clearly labeled, you have to consult the manual to figure out the meaning of some of the blinking-light patterns.

HP OfficeJet Pro L7680

HP OfficeJet Pro L7680
What you get: The HP OfficeJet Pro L7680 All-in-One is pricier than many other inkjet multifunction printers, but it comes loaded with nearly everything a small office could want in a networked MFP. What's more, its speed and low consumables costs make it a viable alternative to color laser devices that cost much more. It can even fax in color to a compatible machine.

Our review unit earned a performance score of 80, making it one of the faster color inkjet MFPs we've tested.

Drawbacks: It's expensive, and print quality is middling overall.

Dell Color Laser Printer 1320c

Dell Color Laser Printer 1320c
What you get: Despite its low acquisition price, Dell's Color Laser Printer 1320c offers surprisingly good color quality. High-resolution photos printed quickly--3.1 ppm on average--and looked surprisingly smooth. Colors seemed a tad bluish but looked essentially natural.

Our review unit earned a performance score of 79, a middling score for a color printer.

Drawbacks: The 1320c's text print speeds were mediocre (but output looked okay). The control panel is confusing. The toner cartridge's low capacity (1000 to 2000 pages) translates into higher costs for both black and color pages--at best, 3 cents for a half-page of black text and 15 cents for a page with small amounts of black plus all three colors. Low-volume users may not notice for a while, but a busier office will feel the pinch pretty quickly.

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