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Lifewire / Will Fulton
Sharp, fast text printing
Additional photo tray and manual feed
Extremely efficient ink use
Fast scanning and copying
Slow color printing
Subpar graphics and photos
No direct USB to PC connection
The Brother MFC-J985DW is a fully featured all-in-one printer that stands out for having the lowest long-term operating costs of any comparable printer because of its efficient and inexpensive ink.
Brother has addressed one of the most frequent complaints about home and small office printers with the MFC-J985DW by focusing on the most expensive thing about printing—ink. As part of Brother’s INKvestment series, the MFC-J985DW sips ink like a hybrid car, with efficient ink use that puts most competitors to shame. It doubles down on that efficiency by offering low-cost, high-capacity refills that provide the best cost-per-page value of any home inkjet we’ve ever tested.
We put the MFC-J985DW through its paces and found that it was solid overall when it comes to functionality, although it’s better geared toward text than images.
The MFC-J985DW is compact and functional, with a black, boxy frame that should blend in nicely in any office setting. The only onboard interface is a 2.7-inch color touchscreen on a narrow front panel that conveniently tilts up to 45-degrees for easy access from above, or lays flat for storage. The paper tray, which holds up to 100 sheets, slides out completely from the front and then opens up.
Of all the printers we’ve tested, it may be the most counterintuitive paper tray designs, but it does allow for a second supply of smaller photo paper to be stacked into it as well. Lastly, there is a third paper feed on the back which only holds one sheet at a time but can accommodate heavier stock than either of the internal trays.
Normally ink is the biggest financial pain point in using printers, so this kind of efficiency makes the MFC-J985DW the best value in the market.
Another unconventional touch that we definitely appreciated about the MFC-J985DW is that its ink cartridges are stored behind a small panel on the front of the printer. This spares you from needing to open up the whole apparatus and insert them directly onto the printing heads like most home inkjet printers. The change feels almost unnecessary because of how wildly efficient the MFC-J985DW is with ink, you just won’t have to replace it very frequently.
On the other side, a second panel hides the memory card slot and USB port, making them both discreet yet accessible. The automatic document feeder on top also neatly folds in out of view for when you don’t need it.
Setting up the MFC-J985DW was a fast and straightforward process that largely entailed removing it from the box, removing several pieces of tape, and plugging it in. The printer powers up automatically and directs you on the touchscreen with step-by-step instructions for filling the paper tray and inserting the initial supply of ink.
After inserting the ink, the printer automatically undergoes an initial cleaning process to make sure the printing heads are in order. This took approximately five minutes, after which it printed a test alignment page. All told, it took twenty-five minutes from opening the box to downloading the appropriate drivers, and printing our own test page from a networked PC.
The MFC-J985DW shined most in printing text documents. Although it does not produce the richest, darkest blacks that we’ve seen, the result was exceptionally sharp, producing crisper details on small and italicized typefaces than we’ve observed in comparable printers and all-in-ones. There were also no notable artifacts, ink spots, or distortions in any of our test documents. It’s rated to print up to 12 pages per minute for monochrome, though in practice we found it hit closer to 8 or 9 pages. It supports automatic duplex printing at minimal cost to speed.
It felt like we had hardly dented the high-capacity ink supply after our rigorous testing process.
Graphics were less impressive, in both speed and quality. Gradients and areas of smooth shading in photographs had a distinct graininess relative to some of the more image-focused inkjet printers we have tested. Colors were also noticeably washed-out on our test photographs, coming out a little too warm and not as vibrant as we would have liked. It’s rated for printing up to 10 pages per minute on color, but we found this much slower in practice, hitting closer to 2 pages per minute with our test graphics.
Scanning with the MFC-J985DW was adequate, if unexceptional. Scanned photos lost a slight amount of detail and vibrancy, but about the same as all-in-ones. It includes both a 12- by 9-inch flatbed scanner and an automatic document feeder that holds 20 pages. It does not support automatic duplex scanning with the ADF, although it does accommodate scanning two-sided documents through on-screen prompts with the flatbed. You can easily scan to email, PC, a connected thumb drive or memory card, or directly to printing. Although the resulting quality of the scans was average, it did achieve those results more quickly than comparable consumer-grade all-in-one scanners.
The fax quality of the MFC-J985DW lines up with its scanning and printing capabilities, achieving high efficiency for simple documents at a slight cost to fine-grained quality in more detailed images. It has a total memory of up to 500 pages as a buffer in case of any printing issues, and works equally over a phone line (with a standard 33.6kbps modem) or by way of a PC.
The MFC-J985DW supports the standard suite of connection options: Ethernet or directly connecting via USB, as well as the Apple AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, and Mopria mobile printing apps. Brother’s own iPrint & Scan app allows for nice touches like scanning directly to your mobile phone’s storage or remote ink level monitoring.
The app’s UI (tested on an iPhone) is barebones but clean and legible. We did find it had some trouble finding all of the photos in our phone’s stored images, however. The analogous suite of PC tools are functional, but to some extent, they feel a bit crude and outdated when compared to HP’s software suite.
Brother lists the MFC-J985DW for $149.99 (MSRP), which is reasonable for the features included and basic printing and scanning quality. What makes the MFC-J985DW stand out is its exceptionally low operating costs. It felt like we had hardly dented the high-capacity ink supply after our rigorous testing process. It even shipped with two additional refills. The black ink refills rated for 2400 pages sell for under $25, and color refills for 1200 pages are under $15, which puts monochrome pages at under 1 cent per page and color at under 5 cents. This is basically unheard of for consumer inkjet printers. Normally ink is the biggest financial pain point in using printers, so this kind of efficiency makes the MFC-J985DW the best value in the market.
HP’s OfficeJet 5255 offers a comparable feature set in a smaller frame. It also sells for substantially less, often available for $70. We found that the color and quality of photos on the OfficeJet 5255 was also noticeably better than that of the MFC-J985DW. Although it has a much lower upfront cost, the OfficeJet 5255 drains ink far more quickly than the MFC-J985DW, making it more expensive to maintain in the long run with a comparable printing load. It may be a better option for infrequent users.
Canon’s Pixma TR8520 splits the difference in cost at $100 from the manufacturer. It has slightly better connectivity options than the OfficeJet 5255 and comparable features overall while also being similarly compact. Where Canon stands out is higher overall quality on printing, making it a better option for users concerned with better image fidelity, but who still want a reasonably inexpensive home all-in-one.
Long term value for a reasonable up-front price.
Brother’s MFC-J985DW offers the best consumer value in the long run because of its exceptionally low operating costs. It supports all of the basic connectivity and productivity features that you would expect from a home office or small business all-in-one. Some corners are cut, but in a way that achieves reasonable quality on everything, with a sustained focus on keeping costs down in the long run.