For most of the Information Age, countless pundits (this author among them) predicted that, sooner or later, much of the world’s workforce would be working from home. Fewer office skyscrapers, less drain on fossil fuels, goodbye to nasty traffic snarls—remote work would no longer be just for a select few professionals. As it happened, it took a global pandemic to bring governments and companies to their work-from-home senses—and to revitalize interest in affordable hardware, including the oft-neglected printer.
Today, even as the pandemic seems to be (fingers crossed) winding down, venturing out to Kinko’s or Staples to make prints and copies doesn’t have the appeal it once did. Even part-time home-based workers, not to mention families and students, need to print, scan, and make copies, and maybe even send the occasional fax. And while co-workers in a corporate office might share the same high-volume printer, smaller settings and smaller budgets call for diverse desktop printers. We’ve collected our under-$200 favorites from recent reviews. Check them out, then keep reading to learn what to look for as you shop for your next affordable printer.
Table of Contents
The Best Cheap Printer Deals This Week*
*Deals are selected by our commerce team
Recommended by Our Editors
Our 8 Top Picks
Best Budget AIO Printer for a Home Office
Why We Picked It
Brother’s MFC-J4335DW is such an appealing all-in-one printer that it’s hard to find for its $159.99 list price. Like many of its competitors, it takes little desk space and delivers good text and better-than-good graphics quality, but the Brother adds duplex printing, faxing (either as a standalone fax machine or from almost any app on your PC), a 20-page automatic document feeder, and low running costs of under a penny per black and under a nickel per color page. The ADF doesn’t handle double-sided pages, but you have to sacrifice something in this price range.
Who It’s For
Both homes and small (to be honest, very small) offices can readily make room for the MFC-J4335DW. You probably won’t use its fax capability often but it’s nice to know it’s there if you run into a business that requests one, and its above-average paper handling makes it a convenient choice.
Brother MFC-J4335DW Review
Best Budget AIO Printer for Families
Why We Picked It
Most low-priced multifunction inkjets with two (black and tricolor) ink cartridges instead of four or more separate colors have high operating costs—you get a low purchase price, but spend a pretty penny for refills. HP’s Envy Pro 6452 has a money-saving trick up its sleeve in the form of HP’s Instant Ink subscription service, in which the printer monitors its own ink levels and automatically orders cartridges as needed. The 300-pages-per-month plan ($9.99 monthly) reduces running costs to 3.5 cents per page—any page, whether double-spaced black text or a letter-sized color photo with 100% ink coverage. That’s a sensational bargain if you print a lot of pics.
Who It’s For
The Envy Pro isn’t exactly speedy, but it offers good print quality and a strong feature set including an automatic document feeder for copying or scanning multipage documents. If your family produces 200 to 300 printouts per month, it’s an excellent starter AIO and an attractive desk accessory.
HP Envy Pro 6452 All-in-One Review
Best Budget AIO Printer for Photo Printing
Why We Picked It
With a list price of $199.99, Epson’s Expression Premium XP-7100 Small-in-One is a great option for a den or family room—this five-cartridge printer adds a “photo black” ink to the usual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black quartet for topnotch photo quality. It’s also a good choice for a home office, with a 30-page single-pass automatic document feeder that can make double-sided copies and scans without your having to flip the stack manually. It offers a nifty touch-screen control panel and great connectivity to PCs and mobile devices.
Who It’s For
Like other inexpensive printers, the XP-7100 doesn’t hold a ton of paper, with just a 100-sheet tray plus a 20-sheet photo paper insert, so you’ll need to refill it several times a month. Its running costs aren’t terrible, but aren’t cheap either. But for small-business and photo-centric purposes, it’s tough to beat.
Epson Expression Premium XP-7100 Small-in-One Printer Review
Best Budget Personal Laser Printer
Why We Picked It
Officially, the Pantum P3012DW has no list price—it’s $139.99 or less from retailers like Amazon—but it has nothing to be ashamed of if you’re seeking an entry-level monochrome laser printer. Taking about 13 by 14 inches of desk space, the Pantum offers higher paper capacity (a 250-sheet drawer plus single-sheet tray for letterhead or other special media) and more connectivity options than most of its peers. It also has automatic duplexing and prints relatively quickly.
Who It’s For
Like other low-cost lasers, the P3012DW prints admirable text and tolerable graphics (no one buys a black-and-white laser to print photos). Its running costs disqualify it from high-volume office settings, but it’s a first-rate personal desktop printer.
Pantum P3012DW Review
Best Personal Laser AIO with Low Operating Costs
Why We Picked It
Like the Pantum just described, HP’s Neverstop Laser MFP 1202w is an entry-level monochrome laser printer. But instead of being a print-only device, the 1202w is an all-in-one that adds copying, scanning, and fax capabilities. Its purchase price is much higher, especially considering that, as AIOs go, it lacks an automatic document feeder and has manual instead of automatic duplex printing—you must flip documents and put them back into the paper tray to print double-sided pages. But its operating costs are unbelievably low—less than a penny a page, which means you’ll offset its higher purchase cost and come out ahead as you keep cranking out pages.
Who It’s For
If your small office needs to print a couple of thousand pages per month and you demand laser-quality text (as with most personal mono lasers, the Neverstop’s graphics are nothing to write home about), the 1202w and its innovative refillable toner system are a godsend. You can’t get better documents for less.
HP Neverstop Laser MFP 1202w Review
Best 3-By-3-Inch Snapshot Printer
Why We Picked It
The Retro part of the name of Kodak’s Mini 3 Retro pocket-size photo printer refers to its ability to print 3-inch-square images that are either borderless or have narrow white borders like old-time drugstore prints. We think the former option looks sharper, but both kinds look great thanks to the Kodak’s four-pass dye-sublimation technology. Dye-sub printing produces snapshots that surpass the zero-ink (Zink) output of many compact photo printers. The Mini 3 Retro is also offered in three colors (white, yellow, or black) and its $156.99 starter kit comes with enough media for 68 prints (30-, 60-, and 90-pack refills are available).
Who It’s For
The Retro connects via Bluetooth and prints from both Android and Apple phones and tablets (but not from PCs or Macs). It’s not the only dye-sub game in town—HP and Canon offer bulkier models that print larger pics—but if you’re content with 3-by-3 instead of 4-by-6 snapshots, it’s a fun, nifty smartphone companion.
Kodak Mini 3 Retro (3×3) Portable Printer Review
Best Low-Cost Label Printer
Why We Picked It
This isn’t your grandfather’s Dymo Label Maker. The Epson LabelWorks LW-PX300 ($59 alone, though the $89 kit with accessories is a better deal) can produce everything from standard plastic stick-on labels to heat-shrink tube tape for industrial or electrical cables and promotional refrigerator magnets. It’s an easy-to-use handheld gadget with a small QWERTY keyboard (it doesn’t connect to a PC or phone) that works on either battery or AC power. It prints on a variety of clear or colored labels up to 0.71 inch wide, on silver-matte or strong adhesive tape, or fluorescent tape available in five colors.
Who It’s For
The LW-PX300 can’t print graphics (though it has a library of bar codes and symbols for industrial and professional use), and it prints pretty slowly. But its labels look great and work fine. It’s ideal for light-duty industrial labeling, and it even offers a lifetime warranty that covers accidental breakage.
Epson LabelWorks LW-PX300 Review
How to Buy a Cheap Printer
Getting hard copy shouldn’t be hard. A low-priced printer won’t be as fast as, or rated for as high a volume of pages per month as, an enterprise business model. But you shouldn’t have to compromise on output quality or convenience (though you’ll probably need to fill its smaller paper tray more often). Paper jams and other performance issues are pretty much non-issues with today’s printer and scanner technology, letting you focus on productivity features, handy control panels, and saving money by comparing running costs.
Some of the questions to ask when printer shopping haven’t changed in years; some are new. Let’s start with the big two—print-only or multifunction, and monochrome or color—and go on to the details from there.
First Question: Are Cheap Printers Worth It?
Depending on what you do, the answer can be a resounding “yes,” or a firm “no.” To start figuring out where your print needs stand relative to the cheap models on the market, you first want to think about whether you need a single-function model or a multifunction printer.
Single-function printers do just one thing—print, naturally—while all-in-ones (AIOs, also known as multifunction devices or MFPs) can also copy, scan, and sometimes fax documents. In terms of design, most AIOs are printers with a flatbed scanner sitting on top.
Sometimes all you need is a device that prints, and paying extra for a bigger device with imaging features you don’t need doesn’t make sense. That said, most home offices will benefit from at least occasional copying and scanning, and therefore choose an AIO. Even if you don’t make a lot of copies, if one of the reasons for buying a printer is reducing your family’s need to run local errands, spending a little extra for a part-time copier makes sense.
An important distinguishing characteristic of an AIO is whether its flatbed scanner comes with an automatic document feeder (ADF) for handling multipage documents without user intervention. When copying or scanning a stack of pages, the simplest and cheapest AIOs oblige you to place each page on the scanning glass or platen one at a time. With an ADF, you put the stack in the feeder, press Copy or Scan, and walk away. That’s an obvious time-saver if you work with lengthy documents more than rarely.
Besides having different capacities (30 versus 50 sheets, for instance), automatic document feeders come in two main varieties: manual duplexing and auto duplexing. With the manual kind, when the machine finishes scanning the first side of a stack of double-sided pages, you need to flip the stack manually and put it back in the ADF to scan the other side. Auto duplexing handles this for you.
Auto-duplexing ADFs are not common on machines under $100. As you move closer to $150 and into the $200 range, you’ll see not only auto-duplexing ADFs (not to mention duplex printing) but also higher-capacity feeders.
To refine things further, auto-duplexing ADFs come in two subtypes: single-pass duplexing, and reverse duplexing. The difference is simple. Single-pass ADFs have two scanning sensors, one for each side of the paper. These allow the scanner to capture both sides of a document simultaneously. Reverse duplexing scans one side, pulls the sheet back in, flips it, then scans the other side. While single-pass duplexing is faster, printers with reverse-duplexing ADFs are cheaper and both methods work well, with few or no jams in our tests.
Do You Need a Monochrome Printer, or a Color Printer?
Without question, color pages are more fun and more attractive than their black-and-white counterparts, and they carry more impact. Color is all but essential when producing your own brochures, flyers, and other promotional materials, or if you’ll be printing any photos other than Ansel Adams’s.
But some kinds of documents don’t benefit from color, and sometimes using color ink is an unnecessary expense. Depending on your printer and the pages you print, a color page can easily cost you three to five times as much as a monochrome one, or more.
As we discuss a little further down, though, in recent years numerous manufacturers have come out with machines that print both monochrome and color documents at an unheard-of low cost per page (CPP). Some pull that off by making you refill ink reservoirs from bottles instead of buying small cartridges; some sign you up for an ink subscription.
Whatever the scheme, you’ll want to look at your printer purchase with a very clear idea of what kind of output you’ll need. If all you’ll print is reams of text, an inexpensive monochrome laser might make more sense; if photo printing or colorful workbook sheets or presentation handouts are on the agenda, a color inkjet is your best bet.
Which Is Better: An Inkjet Printer, or a Laser Printer?
At one time, laser printers were considered faster, more reliable, and less expensive to use and were lauded for better output quality than inkjet machines. A surprising number of people still spout these traditional wisdoms, but they’re decidedly unwise nowadays. Lasers may still have an edge for super-sharp text on plain paper (and color lasers do surprisingly well with charts and graphs), but inkjets are superior for photo prints and have made huge strides in print quality and speed. We bust some myths and break down pros and cons in our inkjet versus laser comparison.
Then there’s what we call “bulk ink” printers. For decades, the printer industry followed a razors-and-blades model, selling printers at relatively low prices and making most of their profits from costly ink and toner refills. Most of today’s entry-level inkjets still follow that plan, but in recent years manufacturers have rolled out products with a selling point that’s the polar opposite: saving money on operating costs.
Bulk-ink printers in families such as Epson’s EcoTank, HP’s Smart Tank Plus, and Canon’s MegaTank are refilled from bottles instead of using replacement cartridges. (HP’s Neverstop lasers do the same with toner.) Brother’s INKvestment Tank printers don’t use bottles but boast larger, lower-cost cartridges than old-school inkjets. These printers can drive per-page costs to under a penny for monochrome printing and just a few cents for color. Our tank versus cartridge tutorial has the details.
Another option is a printer that senses when it’s running low and uses the internet to order ink refills delivered to your door, with a subscription plan such as HP’s Instant Ink. You pay a monthly fee for a set number of pages. These plans can be incredible bargains if you print a lot of photos, since a letter-size borderless photo costs no more than a page of double-spaced black text. (See our guide to low-cost ink plans.)
Paper Handling and Print Volume: What You Need to Know
Some home offices not only print a lot, but also print on different types and sizes of paper. What if you print mostly on plain paper or letterhead, but suddenly need to output a legal-size spreadsheet? Or a sheet of labels, or a check? What if you just print all the time, and you need a machine with deep paper trays that don’t demand frequent refilling?
While most cheap printers lack high-volume trays and multiple input sources, you should still pay attention to a machine’s input options. Many printers come with, in addition to a main paper source or tray, a single-sheet override slot for printing one-off envelopes, forms, or labels, or sometimes a 10- or 20-sheet second tray for photo paper or envelopes.
Note that a printer’s input capacity tends to scale with its rated print volume, which manufacturers usually express as the number of pages the machine is good to print per month, or the “duty cycle.” There are two kinds of monthly duty cycles, maximum (the absolute most pages a printer is rated to crank out before likely breaking down) and suggested (a much smaller, more reasonable target to avoid undue wear and tear). Some makers of cheap printers don’t supply information on rated duty cycles, but it’s info worth looking for if you can.
Again, these two measurements are often thousands of pages apart; a printer’s suggested monthly volume is often no more than 10% to 20% of its theoretical maximum. When buying a low-volume printer, it’s best to let the suggested volume be your guide. Your printer will require less attention and last a lot longer if you don’t push it to its limits.
What Kind of Printer Connectivity Do You Need?
Nowadays, most printers, especially the cheap kind, come ready to connect to most handheld devices (smartphones and tablets) wirelessly. The standard wired interfaces for use with desktop and laptop computers are a USB port for connection to a single PC and an RJ-45 Ethernet jack for joining an office network. The latter is more of a business-centric protocol and is rare on low-cost printers.
Of the list of wireless standards, only Wi-Fi and AirPrint are actual local area network (LAN) protocols. The others—Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth, Mopria, and NFC—are primarily peer-to-peer protocols that let you link a mobile device to the printer without either being part of a formal network. NFC (near-field communication) is unique in that it allows you to connect simply by tapping an NFC-enabled device to a hotspot on the printer, usually on or near the control panel. In addition to all these, most printers and AIOs these days also support connectivity via several popular cloud sites, such as Google Cloud Print, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, and Evernote.
Most of today’s lower-end machines come with Wi-Fi and USB connectivity. Ethernet, if you can find it, is the fastest and most secure option; Wi-Fi, which is more or less today’s standard, is highly convenient and plenty fast enough for most uses. Most modern printers also provide free downloadable apps for iOS and Android phones. What you get doesn’t always correspond to the printer price, so check the individual details of any model you are looking at with care.
What Kind of Onboard Controls Should You Look For?
Typically, the cheaper the printer, the fewer the functions and features—the less the machine does—and thus the lesser need for a large, option-rich control panel. While a few of today’s low-priced AIOs have roomy color touch screens, most employ simple panels with a few buttons and status LEDs.
A graphical control panel is handy, though. In addition to making walk-up functions (such as making copies or printing from cloud sites) easier, such panels let you specify security and other configuration changes, monitor and order supplies, and generate usage and other reports. You can also control, configure, and monitor most printers via an onboard web portal that you access from any browser, whether on a PC or phone.
Again, the level of comprehensiveness may not correspond to the price. Check reviews or the printer’s spec sheet for features like these.
So, What Are the Best Cheap Printers to Buy?
Each family or home office has its own unique needs in terms of print and copy volume. Since we’re focusing on cheap single-function and AIO printers here, this article assumes you won’t be printing or copying more than a couple of hundred pages per month. For most families and homebound office workers, this is plenty, although demand is rising as we’re seeing more printing from home.
We scrutinized all of the printers PC Labs has tested in the last few years that are still on the market, focusing on lasers, home office or business models (both laser and inkjet), and photo-centric models (all inkjets). Usually, you’ll see significant differences between machines tweaked for office use and for photo printing. Low-cost office inkjets, for example, often include automatic document feeders while their photo-centric counterparts don’t. Meanwhile, photo-minded inkjets by definition do better with photos, with some higher-priced models employing five or six ink cartridges instead of the standard four process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, collectively known as CMYK). By contrast, the cheapest inkjets sometimes use old-school dual-cartridge (black and tricolor) designs, which work fine but are more wasteful as you must throw away the color cartridge as soon as one of its three hues runs dry.
We’ve also included two niche classes of printers widely available for under $200: label printers (for folks shipping lots of items from home) and portable photo printers (for quick snapshots from your smartphone). The very smallest of the latter use an inkless technology known as Zero Ink (Zink) that applies heat to specially treated paper, though their output quality falls short of inkjet and dye sublimation photo printers.
Finally, we can’t recommend any color laser printers for less than $200. All of the top laser machines here are monochrome, and given the typically lofty cost of replacement color toner cartridges (sold in sets), color lasers’ exclusion from this roundup seems sensible.
It’s important to note that you can find some very cheap printers nowadays—some under $50—at the bottom of most inkjet manufacturers’ product lines. But it rarely makes sense to buy a slow printer with scanty features when you’ll blow past its purchase price with its first set of replacement cartridges. It’s smarter to look for authoritative reviews that assess features and cost of ownership, like PC Labs’ do. All of our picks below are informed by rigorous testing.