Best Small Printers of 2022

When desk space is tight in your home or office, try these compact models from Brother, Canon, Epson, and HP

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illustration of small printer with paper in paper feeder and output trays Photo: iStock

With space at a premium as so many of us work from home these days, a printer can take up more room than you care to spare. If you know where to look, though, it’s possible to find a compact model that performs well without monopolizing your precious home office real estate.

It might seem obvious to just buy a portable printer. Designed for on-the-go use, they can run on battery power and they’re small enough to stash in a drawer. But many lack convenient features such as an LCD screen, a memory card reader, and support for PictBridge software, which allows you to print photos directly from a camera without the use of a computer.

Most portable printers are also expensive to buy and operate, with per-page ink and maintenance costs sometimes running two to three times higher than those of other inkjets, according to Rich Sulin, who leads CR’s printer testing program. The cartridges tend to be smaller, too, so they hold less ink, which means more trips to the store.

“Unless someone really needs the printer to be portable or needs to stow it away in a very small space, such as a mobile home, I would consider one of the smaller conventional all-in-one models, such as the Canon Pixma MG3620,” Sulin says.

We’ve picked out five of the best small printers in our ratings, including the only portable model we currently recommend and two laser printer models—notable because it’s less easy to pare that tech down. All the options have been scored by our testers on almost 250 data points. To make sure the model you buy is no different from the one we test, we purchase every product that enters our labs from a retailer, just like you would.

No matter which printer you choose, keep in mind that manufacturers often cut down on size by shrinking the capacity of the feed trays. Many small printers can handle only about 10 to 50 pages at a time.

The measurements we list for each printer are taken when it’s ready for operation, with paper trays in place.

Size: 6.1 inches high x 17.6 inches wide x 22.7 inches deep

If you want a bargain-priced all-in-one inkjet that won’t drown you in maintenance costs, the Canon Pixma MG3620 is a great option.

It will let you print, copy, and scan to your heart’s content. And when you factor in the estimated yearly ink cost of $56, your overall investment remains relatively low for an inkjet.

On the downside, you have to replace the entire color ink cartridge each time a single shade runs out, so you can’t print black text when the cyan is gone. And while the model gets a solid rating for photo quality, it’s just okay for text quality. But if you’re using it to spit out forms and driving directions, that might not matter much.

Size: 10.2 inches high x 14.8 inches wide x 23 inches deep

Inkjet printers use a refillable ink reservoir instead of cartridges, which makes for rock-bottom ink costs. The models used to be so expensive that they made sense only for people who need to print all the time, but they’ve dropped in price significantly.

The Epson EcoTank ET-2800 is a great example. You can often find it priced under $250, which may still sound like a lot until you factor in ink prices. The average ET-2800 user should expect to use just $5 of ink per year, according to our estimates. That’s dirt cheap compared with most inkjets, where the cartridges can cost more than $100 a year.

The ET-2800 is also a solid performer. It delivers text with decent quality at admirable speed. It doesn’t excel at printing photos, charts, and graphics, but it does those jobs about as well as most inkjets. (For truly professional-quality graphics, you need to spring for a more expensive color laser printer.)

There are a few caveats. For one, the ET-2800 doesn’t do auto-duplexing, meaning it won’t print on both sides of a page; if this feature is important to you, check out the ET-2850. The Epson EcoTank ET-2800 also lacks an automatic document feeder, so if you want to scan a stack of papers, you’ll have to do it one by one because upgrading to the ET-2800 won’t check that box, either.

Size: 10.5 inches high x 14.9 inches wide x 21.7 inches deep

If portability is what you want, the HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile is ready to go, powered by a plug or a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (sold separately for $80). And it collapses into an even smaller footprint when not in use.

The model is pricey, but it has helpful features that other portable printers lack, including a built-in LCD screen (for viewing and editing images from a memory card) and scan and copy functions, though the sheet-fed scanner processes only one page at a time.

“It requires a little care and patience,” Sulin says. “And it’s not ideal for batch scanning.”

The printer has a few other drawbacks. It gets a middling score for text and photo quality, the multicolor ink cartridge needs to be replaced when a single hue runs out, and the paper tray fits only 50 sheets. We estimate the annual ink cost to be $48, which is typical for an inkjet.

Size: 7.2 inches high x 14.2 inches wide x 14.9 inches deep

If you don’t need to do much beyond printing term papers and recipes, this is a smart choice. It won’t scan or copy, and like a great majority of black-and-white lasers, the graphics quality is unimpressive, but the model receives exemplary scores where it counts: text quality and speed.

It also has auto-duplexing capability (meaning it can print on both sides of a page). The estimated toner cost comes to about $10 per year, which is a lot cheaper than you’ll find with most other options. And laser printers tend to rate higher than inkjets for reliability and owner satisfaction.

Size: 7.5 inches high x 14.2 inches wide x 17.4 inches deep

For those who want more features, this black-and-white laser offers space savings and functionality (copying, scanning, and a fairly generous—150 sheet—feed tray). When the feed tray is stowed away, the unit is a mere 10.4 inches deep, small enough to sit on a bookshelf.

At $22 per year, though, the estimated toner cost is high for this type of machine. And the model accepts only HP-brand cartridges. The graphics quality is poor, too, so it’s best to stick to printing text.

Allen St. John

I believe that technology has the power to change our lives—for better or for worse. That's why I’ve spent my life reporting and writing about it for outlets of all sorts, from newspapers (such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times) to magazines (Popular Mechanics and Rolling Stone) and even my own books ("Newton’s Football" and "Clapton’s Guitar"). For me, there's no better way to spend a day than talking to a bunch of experts about an important subject and then writing a story that'll help others be smarter and better informed.