How we test printers and scanners

How we test: Printers and scanners

You can learn a lot from the manufacturers’ specifications, but there’s no substitute for hands-on testing. In all our printer and scanner reviews, we tease out devices true strengths and weaknesses through a battery of tests designed to mimic real-world print, scan and copy jobs.

We’ll also make more subjective assessments of elements such as the design, appearance and build quality, as well as the additional quality-of-life features it offers, and the value for money.

We start with untimed print tests across a variety of print types, including black and white text, colour photos and greyscale images. We use these to check the output quality of the printer, looking for factors such as colour banding, text sharpness, image definition and whether there’s any run between ink colours.

To measure print speeds, we time how quickly a printer delivers a first page of black text, and a full 25-page mono job. Because we include all the time taken from clicking Print to the last page dropping into the output tray, our page-per-minute (ppm) speeds are always somewhat lower than the manufacturers’. On inkjets, we repeat this test at draft quality, which usually produces a faster result.

Our next test uses a 24-page document comprising web pages, presentation slides and magazine pages to measure colour speed. It’s a challenging test, so colour printers usually fall well behind their rated speed - mono printers typically get closer. Where there’s duplex, we print the first 10 pages onto five sheets, quoting the speed as images (sides) per minute. On laser printers we use a page from this document to time how long a first colour page takes. We repeat the mono and colour time-to-first-page tests from cold.

A photograph of the Canon MAXIFY GX70505

On inkjets we print two 10 x 8in photos onto A4 photo paper, then six borderless 6x4” photos. With lasers we print the latter test onto three A4 sheets. We do all our photo tests at the highest available quality settings.

Copy speeds

On an MFP we time a single photocopy and, where there’s an ADF, a 10-page copy, repeating this test in colour where available. If both the printer and ADF support duplexing, we time a 10-page, 20-sided colour copy. While we’re at it, we check the menu system’s usability, particularly when it comes to direct print and scan features.

Scan speeds

We test scanners with an office document, a 6 x 4in colour photo and a Kodak Q-60 colour input target. We time how long it takes to obtain a preview image, and create A4 scans at 150 and 300 dots per inch (dpi). We also time 600dpi and 1,200dpi scans of the photograph. The target helps reveal limitations in a scanner’s dynamic range, most commonly manifested as poorly distinguished dark shades.

Power consumption

Finally, we measure each printer’s power use in sleep and standby modes. We also measure peak consumption, usually during mono photocopying. It’s worth noting that, for laser printers in particular, our peak measurements are usually far higher than the typical power consumption.


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