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Review: Brother's HL-3170CDW color laser-class printer is inexpensive, but graphics are mediocre

Jon L. Jacobi and Melissa Riofrio | July 23, 2013
The Brother HL-3170CDW color laser-class (LED) printer offers good speed and adequate print quality for an inexpensive purchase price, plus, its toner costs are reasonable. However, users seeking better output quality should look at a business inkjet.

Reasonably priced toner
After enjoying its initial purchase price, your ongoing costs for the HL-3170CDW will be, if not actually cheap, at least better than expected. Most low-cost color lasers hit you with high toner costs down the road. The HL-3170CDW's prices hover comfortably around the average—and are better than those of many of its competitors, though not as good as the above-mentioned Epson WorkForce WF-4020, whose inks are amazingly cheap. The unit ships with starter cartridges rated for a scant 1000 pages. Brother's price for the standard-size, 2500-page black is $85, or a midrange 3.4 cents per page (cpp). We found it online for closer to $70, or 2.8 cpp.

The standard-size, 1400-page cyan, magenta, and yellow supplies cost about $70 apiece per Brother—a middling 5 cents per color, per page. Our shopping found prices closer to $57 apiece, or just over 4 cents per color, per page. A page with all four colors (using the lower prices) would cost about 15 cents. Higher-capacity, 2200-page color cartridges are available, but they offer just a small savings in cost per page over their standard-size cousins.

Good speed for the price
Speed is good compared to other entry-level color lasers and business inkjets. The Brother HL-3170CDW spits out text and mixed monochrome pages at a lively 12.2 ppm on the PC and 11.2 ppm on the Mac. Snapshot-sized (4-inch by 6-inch) color photos printed onto letter-size paper at a brisk pace of 2.9 ppm, and full-page photos arrive at a spirited 1.4 ppm.

Fast means nothing if quality is inferior, and unfortunately, that describes the HL-3170CDW's graphics. Both monochrome and color artwork exhibited mild horizontal striations and vertical banding that were visible under light scrutiny. Worse, the color palette is overly light, and human faces look jaundiced. For a dab of color, a small picture, or the occasional, simple graphic, the HL-3170CDW's color quality will suffice, but not for much else. On the other hand, text is top-notch, and that's generally the larger part of the equation for the small or home offices that would consider this model.

A good choice for basic color printing
To its credit, Brother offers a little more than most competitors do. The warranty lasts only one year, but there's free phone support for as long as you own the product. Speed is excellent, and for text and spot color the HL-3170CDW's print quality is fine. Toner costs are around average. At this price point, it offers a decent color-laser experience without gouging you later. But if you want the best possible deal in this price range, a business inkjet delivers far more.


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