SLIDESHOW

Save a Bundle With Our Top Picks for Inexpensive Printers

Low on cash? These printers can't print more money for you (sorry), but they can help you save what you have with their low purchase prices and reasonable ink or toner costs.

Color Inkjet Printer: Canon Pixma iP2600

You find few true bargains among low-cost color inkjets, but the Canon Pixma iP2600 has the goods where it counts, producing surprisingly decent print quality, even on plain paper. Sure, it's really slow, and it has a flimsy output tray and a nearly indecipherable set of front-panel buttons and lights. But it sports lots of room for paper, with a 150-sheet rear input area and a 150-sheet front output tray (the latter for plain paper only). And while ink costs can hit hard on the low end, the Pixma iP2600's are okay: pricey for black text (7.9 cents) but better for a four-color page (18.1 cents).

Color Inkjet Printer: HP Photosmart D5460

The HP Photosmart D5460 manages a swift 11.4 pages per minute printing text and 3.4 ppm printing graphics. The main input tray holds just 125 sheets and doesn't accept legal-size media, but the unit also has a dedicated 20-sheet photo tray and an integrated input tray and caddy for printing on specially coated CDs or DVDs. 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 and lasts about 300 pages (3.3 cents per page). The 750-page high-yield cyan costs $15--just 2 cents per page.

Color Inkjet Multifunction: Canon Pixma MP620

The Canon Pixma MP620 sports premium features including a scroll-wheel controller and connectivity galore, covering USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi (plus Bluetooth if you buy a $50 adapter). You get two 150-sheet input trays: one underneath for letter-size plain paper, and one in the rear for larger or thicker media. The Pixma MP620 posted just average speeds in our tests--printing 7.6 pages per minute with plain text, and 2.2 ppm with graphics--but text and graphics samples both looked good. Scan and copy tests yielded decent results as well. Ink costs are good, too, at 4.6 cents per text page and 12.1 cents per full-color page.

Color Inkjet Multifunction: HP OfficeJet J4680 All-in-One

The star attractions of the OfficeJet J4680 are its integrated 802.11b/g wireless and fax connectivity, and its 50-sheet automatic document feeder--both rare on such a low-priced machine. They compensate somewhat for the minimalist 100-sheet input tray, which doubles as a 20-sheet output tray--yes, printed pages drop right on top of any blank paper you have loaded. Text and graphics samples looked good but took a long time to come out. The OfficeJet J4680's ink costs are reasonable. The standard-size, 200-page black and 360-page tricolor (cyan, magenta, and yellow) cartridges each cost about 7 cents per page. A high-yield (700-page) black cartridge costs $28 (approximately 4 cents per page), a much better deal.

Color Laser Printer: Dell 2130cn

The cubelike Dell 2130cn produces good-looking output at average-to-better speeds. The standard configuration is pretty basic, but it has some room to grow: You can purchase a second 250-sheet input tray or an optional duplexer for $150 each. What you can't do is use it with Macs. As for supplies, stick with the high-yield options, as the high-yield black costs $70, or 2.8 cents per plain-text page, and color supplies cost $95 apiece, making a page with all four colors cost 14 cents total. Those prices are acceptable, while costs for the standard-size supplies--5 cents per plain-text page, 23 cents total for a four-color page--are not.

Color Laser Printer: HP Color LaserJet CP2025n

The squat, round-cornered HP CP2025n offered middling speed in our tests, managing 17.5 pages per minute printing plain text and 4.2 ppm printing graphics. The results were quite nice, though, producing crisp black text and fairly natural colors (sometimes tending toward yellow or cyan). Its design includes a 250-sheet input tray (adding another costs $149) and a 150-sheet output tray, plus a 50-sheet multipurpose tray and manual duplexing. The moveable parts tend to rattle, but work satisfactorily. Though the machine ships with only starter-size, 1200-page supplies, the higher-capacity replacements are reasonably priced. A 3500-page black cartridge costs $116, or about 3.3 cents per page, while each 2800-page color cartridge costs $114, or about 4 cents per color, resulting in a four-color page cost of about 15.3 cents.

Color Laser Printer: Lexmark C543dn

The Lexmark C543dn has a couple of nice bonuses, namely automatic duplexing and the inclusion of high-yield toner cartridges (rather than standard or reduced-size "starter" cartridges) in the box. It produced mixed results in our speed and print-quality tests. Text printed at average speed and looked black and fairly crisp. Color graphics exited very slowly and looked pretty natural on plain paper, but surprisingly worse on Lexmark's own glossy laser paper. The upshot: Stick to plain paper, and prepare for a wait. The high-yield toner is acceptably priced, at 2.8 cents per plain-text page and 15 cents per color page (using all four colors). The standard-size, 1000-page supplies are pricey, however, so avoid them.

Snapshot Printer: Epson PictureMate Dash

The Epson PictureMate Dash may look like a glorified lunch box, but it delivers fairly well. In our tests photos (4 by 6 inches only) came out quickly, averaging 1.5 pages per minute. Though the palette was universally pale, as a result it showed more detail in dark areas. The cost per print is an inexpensive 26 cents (based on the $40 PictureMate Print Pack for 150 4-by-6-inch glossy photos). The large LCD makes viewing and manipulating photos easy. Unusual options include changing color photos to monochrome or sepia tones, and adding decorations, preset phrases, or dialogue bubbles. For managing and manipulating photos further, Epson bundles ArcSoft PhotoImpression, a full-featured application.

Snapshot Printer: HP Photosmart A536

Even though it's slow, the HP Photosmart A536 has plenty of other attractions. For one thing, it can print on both 4-by-6-inch and 5-by-7-inch photo paper. In our tests, it reproduced most of our photo samples adequately, though some flesh tones looked unnaturally ruddy. Ink costs are decent, though the printer ships with just five sheets of 5-by-7-inch photo paper and a starter tricolor cartridge that yields 10 to 20 prints, so you'll need to buy new supplies almost immediately. HP's package of 120 sheets of 4-by-6-inch paper and ink is priced at $38, or 29 cents per photo--a much better deal than the 55-sheet pack, which costs $20 (36 cents per photo).