Brother’s MFC-J985DW XL Work Smart All-in-One Printer

A simple solution to ink dissatisfaction on low-volume printers

Brother's MFC-J985DW XL and "2 years" of ink.
Brother's MFC-J985DW XL and "2 years" of ink.


Novel concept, Brother: Put more ink in the box and raise the price. In any case, it works. If you use this AIO often enough, it will provide a highly competitive cost per page, especially for a low-volume machine; otherwise, it performs well for a low-volume printer.


  • Low cost per page, especially after you go through the initial cartridges in the box
  • Decent print quality overall
  • Respectable print speed for class
  • Easy to use and reliable
  • 20-sheet automatic document feeder


  • Initial purchase price high
  • Low-volume for price
  • No auto-duplexing automatic document feeder (ADF)
  • Non-XL model appears to be a slightly better deal over time


Brother has taken its INKvestment product, covered briefly in the Lifewire review of the company’s MFC-J5920DW Multifunction Printer a few months ago, a step further, by not only providing low-cost (on a per-page basis) ink for its inkjet printers, but also by throwing a bunch of ink cartridges in the box, and, of course, raising the purchase price.

Taking a cue from Epson’s EcoTank, in the case of Brother’s $299.99-MSRP MFC-J985DW XL Work Smart All-in-One Printer, today’s review unit, Brother has included “2 years of ink,” or three sets of four large ink tanks in the box, for a total of 7,200 black-and-white pages or 3,600 color pages — a significant number of prints given the size of this printer.

Whether that’s enough for two years depends on how much you print and/or copy. If you print everyday of a 30-day month, you should get about 10 monochrome pages per day or about 300 black-and-white pages each month; the color page numbers are about half that much—well within this AIO’s 2,500-page monthly duty cycle. (Which is, of course, the number of pages Brother says you can print each month without undue wear on the printer.) This may seem conservative, but as discussed later on, Brother offers a two-year warranty on this AIO.

As with Epson’s WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank All-in-One Printer, Brother has taken a relatively low-cost printer, in this case the $199.99-MSRP MFC-J985DW Work Smart All-in-One Printer, a non-XL version, thrown in some extra ink and raised the price. The question is, is the resulting “XL” product worth the extra $100 bucks (or whether the non-XL version is worthwhile to begin with)?

Design and Features

At 16.5 inches across, or from side-to-side, 13.4 inches from front to back, 6.8 inches high, and weighing an ever-so-slight 18.3 pounds, this AIO is light and compact; it should sit and behave nicely on your desk beside you, and you can connect to it via either Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or connect to a single PC via USB. You can also print from two of the most popular peer-to-peer protocols, Wi-Fi Direct and Near-Field Communication, o NFC.

The first, Wi-Fi Direct, allows your Android smartphone or tablet to connect to the printer without either device being connected to a network or router. NFC, on the other hand, is in this case a touch-to-print protocol that allows you to print by simply touching your Android device to a hotspot on the printer, in this case to the left of the control panel. The entire control panel is comprised in a 2.7-inch touch screen.

From here you control cloud and some other mobile connectivity features, as well scanning, copying, faxing, and other PC-free, or walkup, activities.

And finally, an advantage that this AIO has over most of the EcoTank models is that the Brother model comes with a 20-sheet automatic document feeder, or ADF, for feeding multi-page documents to the scanner. It doesn’t support auto-duplexing for unassisted two-sided scanning, and frankly, that’s something you’ve a right to expect from a $300- (or even a 200-) printer.

Performance, Print Quality, Paper Handling

Normally, you’d expect a $300 inkjet to be fast, but that’s one of the tradeoffs here. Again, this a low-volume printer; low-volume printers aren’t typically fast — but then they’re also not usually very expensive. In any case, Brother rates this one at 12 pages per minute, or ppm, for black-and-white pages, and 10ppm for color. After you throw in formatting, images, and graphics, though, things tend to bog down, to about a third as fast for both types of output.

Print quality is about average for a Brother printer — stronger on text output and business graphics than photos, but good overall. Photos aren’t quite as brilliant and detailed as you’d get from a photo-optimized printer, such as, perhaps, Canon’s Pixma MG6820, but they’re better than acceptable.

The scanner, too, made decent copies and scans, although I did find myself tweaking images with skin tones. The text scanning and recognition software worked flawlessly, without a single scanning or conversion error.

As for paper handling, the MFC-J895DW XL comes with a 100-sheet tray; inside that you’ll find an insert that holds an additional 20 4x6-inch sheets of photo paper. Printed pages land on a small tray that pulls out just above the input tray. I had no problems with the paper path or any other functions while testing this printer.

Cost per Page

As with EcoTank, the INKvestment product makes more sense the more you print, within reason, of course. The real savings don’t actually kick in until you’ve started replacing the original 12 ink tanks in the box (or in the case of the non-XL model, the original 4 tanks). Once they do kick in, however, they the cost per page is quite low.

For example, the black tanks for this AIO sell for just under $25, and they deliver 2,400 monochrome prints at a fraction under one penny per page. The three color cartridges (cyan, magenta, and yellow) sell for just under $25 dollars each, and they, when combined with the black ink, deliver a CPP of 4.75 cents.

These truly are low CPPs. Epson’s EcoTank printers deliver better ones, but not enough to make a big difference on a low-volume printer like this one.

Key Features:

  • Up to 2 years of ink included
  • Exceptionally low CPP after you go through original ink
  • 20-sheet ADF
  • Many mobile and cloud features
  • Auto-duplex printing
  • Software includes Scansoft PaperPort v12 SE with OCR for Windows and Presto! PageManager for Mac
  • Paper sizes supported: A4, Letter, Legal, Executive. A5, A6, 4"x6" Photo, 5"x8" Indexcard, 5"x7" Photo, C5 Envelope, Com-10, DL Envelope, Monarch, 4"x6" Photo, 3.5"x5" Photo
  • Connectivity options: Wireless (802.11 b/g/n), Ethernet, Wi-Fi Direct, NFC, Hi-speed USB 2.0
  • Two-year limited warranty

Bottom Line

Lifewire's take on the MFC-J985DW XL is that if you indeed print a few hundred pages per month on it, INKvestment will save you money, on both black-and-white and color print jobs. Period. As mentioned, its EcoTank competitor prints color pages for a lot cheaper; if you foresee a lot of color prints in your future, even though the EcoTank product is a little more of a hassle to replace ink on, you really should consider that product.

By providing you with a convenient and inexpensive way to push this AIO to its limits, Brother is demonstrating a lot of confidence in its product. The company further demonstrates its faith in this printer by providing a two-year limited warranty. So go ahead, print to your heart’s content — but remember not to go over that maximum monthly duty cycle.

Let’s face it, of the three new ink-delivery products out there, Brother’s INKvestment is the most straightforward, and also the least imaginative. And it does nothing to reduce this printer’s waste footprint — you’re still throwing away plastic tanks. Even so, overall the MFC-J985DW XL is a fine little printer and a money saver — if you use your printer, that is.