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Ink droplets from a printer.

The Most Cost-Efficient Inkjet Printers

Looking for a printer that performs all sorts of tasks without drowning you in ink costs? These are CR-approved.

For many consumers, buying printer ink is a dreadful chore. While a cartful of groceries and a cable subscription bring at least some joy to our lives, it's hard to feel anything but cheated when faced with purchasing an overpriced ink cartridge.

You can vow to better manage your ink supply, but the wiser thing to do is invest up front in a cost-effective printer.

All too often, says Rich Sulin, who leads CR’s printer-testing program, shoppers focus on the sticker price alone. But if you don't factor in the cost of ink refills, you're inviting trouble.

A printer with a low price can balloon in cost—and quickly, too. Consider the Canon Pixma TS8020, which seems like a bargain at $100 but ends up setting you back nearly $600 over two years with typical ink use, according to our estimates.

That doesn't mean a high-priced printer is guaranteed to save you money. You need to consider other numbers, too.

To determine the long-term cost of each model that enters our labs, we use the price of replacement ink, data on printing frequency from our readers' surveys, and data on ink consumption from our testing. For more info on the replacement ink costs of specific models, members can consult our printer ratings, which feature more than 170 models.

If you solely print text (as opposed to photos and color graphics), a black-and-white laser printer is a fast and efficient way to go—especially given the lower cost of toner. And if you print lots of text and graphics and you're willing to sacrifice a little print quality, you may want to think about a reservoir printer, which can be refueled with a $12.99 bottle of ink. 

For the rest of you, here are a few cost-efficient inkjet printers recommended by our testers. All come with versatile features such as a scanner, touch-screen navigation, and auto-duplexing (which permits you to print on both sides of the paper).

1
An All-Around Champ
Epson Workforce Pro WF-5690
Epson Workforce Pro WF-5690

    Epson Workforce Pro WF-5690

    Don't let the $295 price deter you. According to our testers, this solid all-around printer produces very good text, graphics, and photos. And based on our findings, it will require only about $5 more per month in replacement ink costs. Over two years, that brings the total cost of ownership to $430.

     

    Using the same math, we estimate that the long-term price for Epson's $300 Workforce WF-7620 will stretch to $540 in the same span of time.

     

    The features for this Workforce Pro include a touch-screen display, auto-duplexing, scan and copy functions, an automatic document feeder, and built-in faxing, plus Ethernet and WiFi networking for wireless printing.

     

    If that $295 up-front cost is too steep for your budget and you're willing to dip down to good text and graphics quality, consider the $240 Brother MFC-J6520DW. Our two-year cost of ownership estimate on that one is $350.

    2
    Photographer's Choice
    Brother MFC-J5920DW
    Brother MFC-J5920DW

      Brother MFC-J5920DW

      If you like to print photos at home, this $295 model is worth a look. It produces excellent 4x6 prints at roughly 35 cents apiece. That's cheaper than the other models on this list. It prints pages of graphics and text at a lower cost, too, but just at fair quality. And with a replacement-ink cost of about $3 a month, the total cost of ownership is $390 after two years.

       

      Better yet, this printer offers features tailor-made for photographers, including a built-in memory card reader, the ability to print borderless photos, and PictBridge software that allows you to print directly from your camera without the use of a computer. Other features include a touch-screen display, auto-duplexing, scan and copy functions, an automatic document feeder, built-in faxing, and Ethernet and WiFi networking for wireless printing.

       

      However, the model will not print if any color ink cartridge is empty.

      3
      Business Ready
      Epson Workforce Pro WF-4630
      Epson Workforce Pro WF-4630

        Epson Workforce Pro WF-4630

        Of the models on this list, the $280 wireless Workforce Pro provides the best performance for printing text. It gets excellent scores for quality and speed.

         

        According to our testers, the graphics quality is very good and the photo quality is simply good.

         

        This model costs a few dollars more per month in ink. At $5.60, we estimate the total cost of ownership to be $440 over the course of two years, which is typical for an inkjet.

         

        Features include a touch-screen display, auto-duplexing, scan and copy functions, an automatic document feeder, built-in faxing, and Ethernet and WiFi networking for wireless printing.

        4
        A Lean Startup Model
        Brother MFC-J985DW
        Brother MFC-J985DW

          Brother MFC-J985DW

          If you need to save money up front but don't want to pay a steep price for that decision in the years to come, this model is a smart choice. It sells for $180, and based on a monthly ink-cost estimate of $5.83, your total cost of ownership after two years will be $330.

           

          But you'll have to make some concessions, of course. The text speed and photo quality are both very good, but the text quality and graphics quality are simply good, according to our testers.

           

          On the plus side, the printer received excellent scores for versatility. Features include a small touch-screen display, built-in faxing and memory card reader, PictBridge software, auto-duplexing, scan and copy functions, an automatic document feeder, and Ethernet and WiFi networking for wireless printing.

           

          The model will not print, though, if a color ink cartridge is empty.

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