Brother HL-2040 review

Price when reviewed

Personal laser printers are ideal for anyone who works from a home office, where size can be important. If the printer has to be crammed onto the desk in front of you, Brother’s HL-2040 is suitably compact and attractive, and it won’t crowd the workspace as some other lasers might.

Brother HL-2040 review

It’s also easy to use. The large toner cartridge almost falls into place by itself, and together with straightforward software installation you should be up and running in just a few minutes. The paper tray is bigger than it looks from the outside, holding 250 sheets of 80g/m2 paper, and there’s a slot in the front of the printer to manually feed in single pages or envelopes. Round the back you’ll find a USB 2 port and parallel connector, good for older PCs or notebooks, or those that don’t have many USB ports to spare.

If you want to save power when not using the printer, the on/off switch is on the right side and so is easy enough to reach. Apart from the flimsy front door for access to the toner, everything else feels solidly put together.

Quoted print speed is a zippy 20ppm, which is especially good considering the printer’s small dimensions. Print quality in standard documents with text and charts is extremely good – as it should be with any laser – and marginally better than the more expensive Kyocera FS-820. This can be seen particularly in crisper edges, straight lines and boxes, and white text is thrown into sharp relief on pure black backgrounds. It also performed admirably well with our challenging spreadsheet tests, printing against a coloured background. Standard and bold elements remained legible at all times, with hardly any dithering visible in the mono rendering of a colour document.

The limits were found when printing photos, however. Printed images have a wide range of contrast with highlights left white and heavy blacks, but they lack subtlety within that scope. That means shadow detail tends to get lost in swathes of black, and highlights flare out. Pictures with subtle changes in saturation or colour can also break down into distinct bands rather than a greyscale smooth progression. It’s particularly noticeable in areas such as sky shots or skin tones.

But photo printing isn’t a major consideration in a personal laser, where crisp text is the priority. The big letdown here is that paper comes out so curly that it never really straightens out. Printouts are therefore great for personal use, but they can look untidy in CVs and reports. Using the manual feed slot does help a little but it’s an annoying side effect of the cramped paper path.

The 2,500-page toner cartridge costs £35 and the 12,000-page drum is £55, making the cost per page 1.86p. Brother claims a print speed of 20ppm and that’s exactly what we found with most documents, dropping to 17.4ppm in our memory-intensive Excel tests. Even test files with a mix of images and text whizzed through at 20ppm.

If your printing is likely to include images and artwork or you need to present long documents to clients, this isn’t the printer for you. But if you need to save space and have a fast, low-cost laser for personal use with great text quality, the Brother HL-2040 will do an admirable job.

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