Cheap Printers for People Who Want B&W Text, And Nothing More

When you’re ready to print a report, résumé, or recipe, the last thing you need is an “out of ink” warning that sends you digging through your desk for an ink cartridge or, worse yet, racing to the store to buy one.

With many inkjet printers, you’ll encounter that message more often than you’d like, especially when the color cartridges run dry. Some inkjets guzzle ink like a Humvee consumes gas. Others won’t print black text if any cartridge is empty—even though there’s no color at all on the page. (Read our report on the high cost of wasted printer ink.)

Here we recommend four cheap printers that excel at producing black and white text. We've even got a few ways for you to avoid headaches and save a few extra bucks every time you print.

Consider Ink Costs, Not Just the Price of the Printer

A $40 inkjet printer might sound like a steal, but the devil’s in the ink usage. Printer manufacturers can make more money on repeat ink sales than on the initial printer sale, so there’s a business reason to lowball the hardware and clean up on the ink. But you’ll pay the price. If you’re constantly buying cartridges, the cost of using that so-called bargain printer will skyrocket.

There are two things to check before buying an inkjet printer: the estimated monthly cost for ink and maintenance ink use. Our experts test both and include the results in the printer Ratings. The monthly ink cost (listed under the Features & Specs tab) is based on typical consumer usage. Maintenance ink use reflects how much ink a printer uses for cleaning printheads and other maintenance chores. Note that laser printers, which use toner rather than ink, don’t use any of that toner for maintenance.

Choose a Printer That Works Even When One Cartridge Runs Out

Many inkjet printers use separate cartridges for black and colored inks. Some stop printing if any one of them runs out—even if it’s the red cartridge and you’re printing black text. But other models will keep chugging along in that situation. Oddly, this sometimes varies by models within a brand. For example, the HP Officejet Pro 6230 won’t let you print with an empty color cartridge, but the HP Deskjet 1010 will. Check the manufacturer’s specs to see whether the printer you’re buying supports printing with empty cartridges.

Conserve Ink by Using Draft Mode

You can minimize ink consumption by using draft mode for works in progress or for any document that doesn’t have to be high quality—say, for lecture notes or a first pass at a term paper. Draft mode uses fewer ink droplets per page than the best mode, so the ink goes further. See how good a job your printer does in draft mode. Some look better than others, and draft mode would be good enough for many projects.

Get a Cheap Laser Printer

If speedy, high-quality text is your primary concern and you’re tired of feeding your inkjet printer, consider a black-and-white laser printer. Usually reserved for home offices or small businesses, laser printers now come at prices that make them attractive for personal use too. You’ll see some models selling for less than $100. Some toner cartridges can print a few thousand pages, and the cost per page is usually less than 3 cents. Just keep in mind that you won’t be able to print Web pages, flyers, or photos in color.

Four Cheap Printers That Deliver Pristine Text

Canon Pixma iP7220
This $80 inkjet printer churns out excellent text at a good clip, at a cost of 6 cents a page. It has a dedicated black ink cartridge for text, but it won’t print if any of the color cartridges run out. The Canon Pixma iP7220 has Wi-Fi networking for printing without hooking up cables, a plus if you want to print from multiple devices or when you’re not right next to the printer.

Samsung Xpress M2020W
The no-frills Samsung Xpress M2020W laser printer is cheap (we saw it on sale for less than $65) and gets the job done. With fast print speeds and excellent text output that costs 4 cents per page, plus Wi-Fi capabilities, this black-and-white printer is a perfect fit for anyone with basic printing needs.

Canon Maxify iB4020
At $100, the Canon Maxify iB4020 is an inkjet printer that rivals lasers in many ways. The cost-per-page for text documents is 2 cents, and you can still print text documents even if you have low or empty color cartridges. It uses more ink for maintenance than some other models, but the estimated monthly ink costs are on the low side.

HP Officejet Pro 8100
The $100 HP Officejet Pro 8100 inkjet might seem a little pricey, but it can save you cash in the long run with its low ink cost per month and 2-cent pages. Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity let you hook up your home or dorm room with print capabilities.

Copyright © 2005-2015 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.