Color Printers That Work Hard or Play Hard

Check out these color printers and multifunctions that can make your business documents pop or create cards, photos, and posters at home.

FOR WORK: Brother HL-4040CN

The Brother HL-4040CN ($349) offers decent speed and print quality, but has a sometimes-confusing design. It produced text at a rate of 19.3 pages per minute, and graphics at 4.2 ppm. Text looked crisp, but color images looked yellowish and grainy (they improved with fine-tuning).

The control panel's LCD is very communicative, but the navigation buttons' multiple functions can make you pause. The 50-sheet multipurpose tray is unmarked and hard to find. Most odd, the toner-cartridge bays are not keyed; you could switch them and print a bizarrely colored page (without damaging the printer). The high-yield cartridges are economical, and the standard-capacity versions are also reasonably priced.

FOR WORK: Dell 3130cn Color Laser Printer

The $549 Dell 3130cn Color Laser Printer is extremely capable, and it has room to grow. In our tests, plain-text pages burst out at a rate of 25.3 pages per minute (ppm), and its tested graphics speed of 5.7 ppm was also extremely fast. Text looked crisp and black, and photos appeared realistic even on plain paper. Paper-handling add-ons (such as a duplexer) cost extra.

A two-line, monochrome LCD with navigational buttons adjacent makes the menus easily accessible. The door for replacing the toner cartridges also exposes the transfer belt--a potential damage risk--but the toner itself is economical and perfect for high-volume office use.

FOR WORK: HP Color LaserJet CP2025n

The squat, round-cornered HP Color LaserJet CP2025n ($499) offered middling speed but impressive print quality in our tests, generating 17.5 pages per minute (ppm) on plain text and 4.2 ppm on graphics--pretty good compared with the competition. The results are quite nice, consisting of crisp, black text and fairly natural colors (sometimes tending toward yellow or cyan).

The unit provides one 250-sheet input tray (adding another costs $180) and a 150-sheet output tray, plus a 50-sheet multipurpose tray and manual duplexing. Movable parts tend to feel rattly but work satisfactorily. The machine ships with starter-size, 1200-page supplies, but the higher-capacity replacements are decently priced.

FOR WORK: Brother MFC-9450CDN

The Brother MFC-9450CDN gives you a lot of capabilities for a low price ($650). It's fast at printing both text and color. The output varies: In tests, text looked black and crisp, but color images seemed pale and yellowish. Monochrome scans and copies looked good, while color scans tended to be dark.

Paper handling includes an automatic duplexer. The control-panel layout is generally easy to understand, and a USB/PictBridge port makes printing documents or photos directly from the machine easy. Standard-size toner cartridges are moderately priced; high-yield versions are even cheaper.

FOR WORK: Dell Multifunction Color Laser Printer 3115CN

The Dell Multifunction Color Laser Printer 3115cn ($899) offers lots of power but lacks some refinement. In our tests it churned out text at a rate of 24.2 pages per minute (ppm) and graphics at 5.4 ppm. Text was flawless, but photos looked oversaturated and dark. The copy and scan quality were quite good overall.

Paper handling includes a 250-sheet input tray and a 150-sheet multipurpose tray, plus a 50-sheet automatic document feeder. The control panel is hampered by clumsy navigation and vague LCD messages. Changing the toner cartridges requires exposing the transfer belt, a damage risk; on the bright side, however, the toner costs are low.

FOR WORK: HP Color LaserJet CM2320nf

The HP Color LaserJet CM2320nf is inexpensive ($699) and well designed, but certain features limit it to lower-volume offices--for one thing, its speeds are average. Its uncluttered control panel includes a color LCD for showing menu options and messages. On screen, HP's ToolBoxFX gives you easy access to status and maintenance options, as well as animated videos explaining common tasks.

A higher-volume office, however, will want an automatic duplexer, and the CM2320nf doesn't have one. In addition, its black toner cartridges are expensive to replace--easy to shrug off if you print fairly little, but hard to ignore if you print a lot.

FOR WORK: Canon Pixma MX700

The Canon Pixma MX700 offers strong overall performance for a comfortably midrange price of $180. It's fast, pushing out text in our tests at a rate of 9.1 pages per minute and graphics at 3.2 ppm. Text was attractively black but slightly uneven; color images had an orange cast. Copies looked crisp, while scans seemed reasonably accurate.

The cost per page is low, thanks to the unit's individual color tanks. Though the dual input trays are nice, the overhanging output tray conceals one of them.

Canon printers scored better than average overall in our recent Reliability and Service survey.

FOR WORK: Canon Pixma MX7600

Considering the $400 price, the Canon Pixma MX7600 color inkjet multifunction printer had better be good--and it is. In our tests the Pixma MX7600 printed at above-average speeds. The quality was high on both plain and photo papers. Copies and scans of text and photos look good.

This model's paper handling includes two input trays and an automatic duplexer. The scanner's 35-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF) can scan two-sided documents in a single pass. Ink costs from the individual tanks are very economical.

Canon's better-than-average rating in our recent Reliability and Service survey is the icing on this substantial cake.

FOR PLAY: Canon Pixma MP980

The Canon Pixma MP980 ($300) offers premium photo features. A scrollwheel navigates quickly on the large, tiltable, 3.5-inch color LCD. Connectivity includes USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi. Paper handling encompasses an automatic duplexer and two input trays. The media slots accept CompactFlash, SD Card, and Memory Stick.

Print speeds in tests were average: 8.1 pages per minute (ppm) for text and 2.5 ppm for graphics. On plain paper, text appeared crisp; color graphics looked a little pale, and flesh tones seemed orangey. Canon's own photo paper improved results. Lastly, the ink costs are reasonable: Black costs 4.1 cents per page, and a page with all four colors (excepting photo gray) costs 13.1 cents.

FOR PLAY: Epson Artisan 800

The Epson Artisan 800 is lavishly equipped, with a price ($300) to match. It boasts a large touch-screen control panel with a color LCD. Two media slots take CompactFlash, Memory Stick, SD Card, and XD Picture Card; the unit also has a PictBridge port. The star feature is an integrated CD/DVD printing mechanism for use with specially coated media.

In addition to offering all those features, the Artisan 800 is fast: Plain-text pages in our tests exited at 9.8 pages per minute (ppm), and graphics came out at 5.4 ppm. Perhaps not surprisingly, you'll get the best output results on Epson's own photo paper; our plain-paper samples looked dull, feathery, or grainy. Scans were good, but copies seemed a bit fuzzy. The ink is reasonably priced, fortunately.

FOR PLAY: HP Photosmart C6380 All-In-One

The $200 HP Photosmart C6380 All-In-One does a good job at nearly everything. It prints plain-text pages at a rate of 11.3 pages per minute (ppm), and color graphics as fast as 3.2 ppm--above average compared with the competition. On plain paper, text was slightly fuzzy, and photos came out a little dark but smooth. Everything improved on HP's own paper, except flesh tones, which were orangey.

Connections cover USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi. The control panel includes a 2.4-inch color LCD. Media slots take Memory Stick, SD Card, XD Picture Card, CompactFlash, and PictBridge-compatible media. A main input tray includes a piggybacked photo tray. The standard-size ink tanks are reasonably priced, but the high-yield ones are an even better deal.

FOR PLAY: HP Photosmart D5460

The $100 HP Photosmart D5460 managed a swift 11.4 pages per minute (ppm) printing text and 3.4 ppm printing graphics in our trials. The main input tray holds just 125 sheets and doesn't accept legal-size media, but the machine does have a dedicated 20-sheet photo tray and an integrated input tray and caddy for printing on specially coated CD or DVD media.

An extra, pigment-based black ink created nice, black text in our test. Photos printed on HP's own paper looked natural and detailed. Both the regular and high-capacity inks are well priced: The regular-size cyan, for instance, costs $10 as of this writing and lasts about 300 pages (3.3 cents per page). The 750-page high-yield cyan costs $15--just 2 cents per page.

FOR PLAY: HP Photosmart D7560

The HP Photosmart D7560 ($149) packs extra-cool features. In tests, its photos looked natural on HP-brand photo paper, but grainier and darker on plain paper. Text samples on plain paper appeared black and crisp. Print speeds were average or better in most cases.

The printer's color touchscreen LCD and uncluttered control panel are easy to use. In addition to a main paper tray and a piggybacked photo-paper tray, you get a CD/DVD labeler for printing on specially coated media. The only high-end feature the D7560 lacks is networking: It has neither ethernet nor Wi-Fi. The standard-size inks can be costly, but the high-yield versions are much cheaper.

FOR PLAY: Canon Pixma iP4600

The Canon Pixma iP4600 ($100) is billed as a photo printer even though it lacks media slots; nevertheless, it's worth considering for the budget-minded home user and amateur photographer. You do get two input trays and automatic duplexing. The ink tanks are inexpensive: As of this writing, they cost 4.3 cents for a black-text page and 12.2 cents for a four-color page.

Text pages exited at a snail's pace of 7.3 pages per minute (ppm) in our tests, but they looked black and crisp. Photos came out at a comparatively fast 1.9 ppm. The images appeared slightly grainy and pale on plain paper, but Canon's own photo paper brought out better detail and smoothness.

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