A printer's printing speed is simple: it's how quickly it can produce properly printed pages, whether they're black-only documents, color documents, or photos. If you need to print in bulk or need something that can get long documents out fast, you'll no doubt benefit from having a printer that prints quickly. You'll save time, which is especially important in small business settings where you could potentially queue up many different types of print jobs one after another. On the other hand, professional-grade photo printers could take up to a few minutes to produce photos. However, they usually come out with much better quality and color accuracy than other consumer-grade inkjets that print quickly. Therefore, just because a printer prints slowly, it doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad choice.
This article discusses our standardized methodology when measuring a printer's print speeds. We measure it for different types of media, how long the printer takes to print out a page after going unused for a while, and we also list the printer's total paper capacity as stated by the manufacturer.
Most businesses that need to print lots of long reports, spreadsheets, shipping labels, or invoices will appreciate a model with a fast black-only text document print speed. Likewise, a business looking to mass-produce colored flyers with photos or hard copies of color-coded PowerPoints will benefit from something with a fast color document printing speed. On the other hand, professional photographers looking to print high-quality photos likely won't care much about how long a printer takes to print a single photo, but someone using an inkjet for casual photo prints will likely want something that can get photos out quickly. Otherwise, if you only use your printer occasionally but need something that can get your prints out quickly, you'll need a model with a quick first page out time, so you don't have to wait for it to get ready.
When measuring a printer's printing speeds, we use specific conditions and different documents tailored to simulate real-world workloads. It's different from the "idealized" printing speeds that manufacturers tend to list in their specifications, which state the maximum speed a printer can print finished sheets under the best conditions and are often higher than what you can realistically get.
In all our tests, we connect the printer via Wi-Fi to the same wireless network as our test computer, which runs Windows 10. We ensure that the Wi-Fi signal is strong and that the computer has the latest printer drivers installed. This LAN also has multiple wireless devices connected to it to simulate the printer's performance in a typical wireless-connected setting.
This test measures how quickly a printer prints a typical black and white document, measured in PPM (pages per minute). Our test document is a 50-page PDF of three scientific papers composed of text, tables, graphs, and images. It simulates a typical black and white document, like an essay, report, or business invoice you might print.
We take the printing speed video at the same time we run this test. After allowing the printer to sit unused for at least one hour, we load the printer's main paper input with 8.5" x 11" format plain sheets, open up our black-only printing test document using Adobe Acrobat Reader, click File > Print, and make sure that "Print in grayscale (black and white)" is selected.
We then click "Print" and start the video at the same time. We start the stopwatch the moment the printer finishes printing the first page, then stop the video and cancel the printing process after exactly one minute. We count the number of complete pages the printer produces within that minute (excluding any pages that came out after cancelling the print job), minus the very first page, and note that down as the test result.
As you can see in almost all our printing speed videos, there's often a long wait between clicking "Print" and when the printer switches on from standby and prepares to print the first page; it's because the computer has to send the document file to the printer, which then has to process the file before it even begins to print. Generally speaking, printers take longer before they begin printing documents with more pages; we'll get into more details about this in the 'How To Get The Best Results' section below.
Like our Black Only Text Document test, this test measures how quickly a printer prints a typical color document, measured in PPM (pages per minute). Our test document is a 35-page PDF consisting of two PowerPoint slides per page, centered in the middle. Each slide has lots of colored text, color-coded graphs and flowcharts, desktop screenshots, and photos, similar to typical color documents you might print.
Unlike the Black Only Text Document test, we don't ensure that the printer has sat unused for at least an hour; we also don't take a video of the process. We ensure that the printer's main paper input has plenty of 8.5" x 11" format plain sheets, open up our color document using Adobe Acrobat Reader, click File > Print, and ensure that "Print in grayscale (black and white)" is not selected.
We then click "Print" and start the stopwatch the moment the printer finishes printing the first page, then cancel the print process after exactly one minute. We count the number of complete pages the printer produces within that minute (excluding any pages that came out after cancelling the print job), minus the very first page, and note that down as the test result.
This test measures how long a printer takes to produce a typical photo, measured in seconds. The test document is a single JPEG that contains 25 smaller photos arranged in a grid format with five rows and five columns. Each photo is a typical photo you might take of landscapes, cityscapes, and people and contains lots of blue hues and a smaller proportion of greens and reds. The result is a good indicator of how long you can typically expect to wait for the printer to produce a single photo in the format it supports.
We use 4" x 6" glossy photo paper; otherwise, we use glossy Letter-format photo paper if the printer doesn't support 4" x 6" sheets or plain paper if the printer doesn't support photo paper.
Unlike the Black Only Text Document test, we don't ensure that the printer has sat unused for at least an hour. We open the photo printing test document using the built-in Windows 10 "Photos" app, click the Print icon, and select the following settings:
We then click "Print" and start the stopwatch at the same time, note the time it takes for the printer to get out the finished photo, and note that down as the test result. Unlike our other tests, we also account for how long the printer takes to receive and process the file after clicking "Print".
Even though our photo test document is a collage of 25 photos, it simulates the time it takes the printer to print a typical 4" x 6" photo because having different pictures collaged together acts as an average of the different kinds of photos you might print. Additionally, keep in mind that the printer will take longer to produce an image if you select a quality higher than "Standard".
This test measures how quickly it takes a printer to produce a one-page document after going unused for at least an hour, measured in seconds. Our test document is a single-page PDF totally filled with 12-point sample text, with no images or graphs. It simulates the typical file size the printer has to take the time to receive and process before printing if you haven't used it in a while.
We ensure that the printer hasn't been used for at least an hour and ensure that the printer's main paper input has plenty of plain 8.5" x 11" sheets. Then, we open the first page of our printing test document using Adobe Acrobat Reader, click File > Print, and make sure that "Print in grayscale (black and white)" is selected.
We then click "Print" and start the stopwatch at the same time. The moment the printer finishes producing the single-page document, we stop the stopwatch and note the time down as the test result.
This test relays the method the printer uses to produce double-sided (duplex) prints. It's important if you intend to print double-sided documents often, so you'll benefit from a printer that can print them as quickly and with as little manual interaction as possible.
To determine what type of duplex printing method a model uses, we use the same test document as our "Black Only Text Document" test. We open the document using Adobe Acrobat Reader, click File > Print, then select "Print in grayscale (black and white)". We also go to the printer properties and enable 2-sided printing.
If the printer doesn't require any intervention to finish printing, we list "Automatic". On the other hand, some printers have a different manual duplex printing process; some print the odd pages first, then require you to flip over the entire stack and reinsert it into the paper input, while others need you to flip over each page as they print. Otherwise, we list "No" if there aren't any options for double-sided printing in the print dialog or printer properties.
Keep in mind that inkjet printers tend to take a lot longer to produce double-sided, multi-page documents compared to single-sided documents. It's because they usually wait a few seconds after producing the second side to let the ink dry before printing the next page. On the other hand, most 2-pass laser printers will take only slightly longer than when printing single-sided documents, so a laser model is likely a better choice if you need to make duplex prints often.
We list the total capacity of all the input trays, as provided by the manufacturer for that specific printer model. It includes all removable cassettes and/or the rear feeder. The greater the input capacity, the less often you have to refill the paper if you print often. Similarly, the greater the input capacity of a special tray, like a rear feeder that can process larger-size sheets, the less cumbersome it is to produce multiple nonstandard-format prints.
Because the computer needs to send the data to the printer in the proper format, you'll notice that long documents take longer to start printing than short, one-page prints. It's because the printer has to receive the stream of data and process it into a printable format before it even begins to print. As a result, smaller-size documents will generally process and print more quickly, so it's likely better to print Microsoft Office files in the DOC or DOCX formats rather than PDFs if you're in a hurry. In a similar vein, a printer will take longer to print photos if you set the Printing Quality to a higher setting, so you can lower the printing quality for noticeably faster print-outs as long as you don't mind losing out on some details.
Keep in mind that some printers first print either the last page or first page, which means that you might need to wait for the entire print job to finish before you can grab the first or final page to sign, no matter how fast your printer's printing speeds are. However, some printers let you change this setting under their list of properties, so you can tweak each print job to produce the most important section of the document first.
There are a couple of things we don't test yet, like:
However, we're constantly considering and developing different, more effective test methods and improving on our current tests to help you make a better-informed decision when buying the best printer that suits your needs.
The speed a printer can print at depends on the type of media you're printing and what proportion of the page is filled, the printer's settings, and whether the printer's been unused for a while. Typically, your print speeds for everyday use will be slower than the manufacturer's rated printing speeds, so it's best to expect slightly worse performance than the model's specification suggests. Ultimately, it's best to get a printer with fast printing speeds and a fast first page out time if you intend to produce long, multi-page prints or need to get time-sensitive documents out without having to wait.