Inkjet vs Laser: Which Printer Is Right For Me?

Despite the fact that we are living in an increasingly paperless society, everyone needs to print hard copies from time to time. Luckily, there is no shortage of options when it comes to printers. The downside is that there are a ton of printers on the market. They all print, however they vary in price, size and type. The two most common printers consumers come across in the wild are inkjet and laser. Which one is the best for your home or office? Read on to understand the basic differences between these types of printers and explore your options.

Note: as we mentioned above, there are many, many printers on the market. This article is meant to break down the basic differences between printer types, not to recommend a specific model.

The first thing you need to identify as a consumer in the market for a printer is whether or not you need to print in color. Generally speaking, inkjet printers are for folks who need color, whereas lasers are for those who only need black and white. The consumables (ink cartridges) inkjet printers use are a viscous liquid ink. Liquid inks mix together well, allowing vibrant colors to be accurately reproduced. On the other hand, laser printers use a dry powder called toner. While there are color laser printers, they are not as common as black and white lasers. This is because the dry toner does not mix well, resulting in a less vibrant color print.

printer-colorphoto

If you only ever really print documents, then you might be better off with a laser printer. Conversely, if you like to print photographs or graphics, inkjets are the way to go. They produce better images than lasers and are capable of printing on thicker photographic paper.

We’ve already mentioned that inkjet printers excel at printing color photographs due to their excellent color reproduction. However, the same cannot be said about text. Unfortunately, due to the fact that inkjets use a liquid ink, they often suffer from ink bleeding when printing text. This is when the text on the page can look blurry, due to the ink seeping through into the fibers of the paper. In addition, inkjet printers are much more susceptible to smudging.

printer-textbleed

Lasers, on the other hand, do not suffer from either of these problems since they do not use a liquid-based consumable. This means lasers can produce sharper text with the added bonus of not having to worry about smudging.

Often the number one concern of most folks in the market for a printer is the cost. Anyone who has ever owned a printer knows that the printer itself is usually pretty cheap. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the consumables. It should come as no surprise that the printer manufacturers don’t make their money on the machines themselves but rather the ink. Unfortunately, figuring out which printer is the cheapest to run isn’t exactly easy. There are a number of factors to consider when trying to determine which printer has the best ink efficiency.

printer-ink

Inkjets usually use four separate ink cartridges (some models have even more than this). All four of these cartridges must be present in the machine, otherwise it will refuse to print. For example, if you want to print a black-and-white document, and your yellow cartridge is empty, you’re not printing until you replace that yellow cartridge.

Lasers, on the other hand, use only one toner cartridge (if you’re using a monochrome laser). On the surface it would appear that lasers are better value since you only have to buy one cartridge; however, that may not be the case. Generally, toner cartridges are significantly more expensive that inkjet cartridges. However, things are not always as they appear, as toner cartridges usually have a higher page yield.

printer-toner

Since different printers use different consumables, the easiest way to figure out which printer has the lowest operating cost is by crunching the numbers. All printer cartridges state their estimated page yield. This tells you the estimated number of pages that can be printed with a particular cartridge. Take the cost of the cartridge and divide it by the estimated page yield to give you the cost of printing a single page. This information can help you decide which printer has the lowest operating costs for your needs.

For most folks, this category won’t be as important as things like running cost and print quality. That being said, it is important to consider what sort of functionality you need out of your new printer. Generally, inkjet printers combine a host of other features into a fairly neat package. These multifunction printers can scan, copy, connect to Wi-Fi, and in some cases, even fax. Despite the added functionality, the prices of inkjet printers still skew towards the affordable. Unfortunately, the reason behind this is because the printer manufacturers make most of their profit through cartridge sales.

printer-multifunction

If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, there are dirt cheap laser printers on the market that do nothing but print. Of course, you can find laser printers with the same sort of features found on inkjets; however, these are typically marketed toward an office type of setting.

Whether you opt for an inkjet or laser really boils down to what you want to print and how much. Inkjet printers offer a more complete package with added functionality and the ability to print color; however, there is a catch. While inkjet printers themselves are affordable, the ongoing cost of cartridges can really stack up.

printer-office

Laser printers are a good option for people who really only need to print documents. Color printers are fairly bulky machines that aren’t really meant for personal use. Furthermore, color lasers cannot produce the same quality color print as inkjets. That being said, text from a laser is crisp and not susceptible to smudging. In addition, laser printers can print much faster than inkjets.

Long story short, you have to do your homework when it comes to buying a new printer. Don’t be fooled into settling for whichever one has the cheapest price tag, as there are a number of other factors to consider.

What do you look for in a printer? Are you in the market for one? Which do you think you’ll opt for, inkjet or laser? Let us know in the comments!

2 comments

  1. I have the best (or worst) of both worlds depending on one’s point of view. I have a laser and a ink jet. In my experience, the laser has been much cheaper to operate than the ink jet. With some ink jet printers, it is much cheaper to buy a new printer than to buy replacement cartridges. I can easily buy off-brand toner while off-brand ink cartridges are not so easily available. I get many more pages from a toner cartridge than I get from a set ink cartridges. My laser prints faster than the ink jet, especially in duplex mode. The only negative with my laser printer is the power consumption. When it wakes up and starts printing, it dims the lights in the whole house. It goes from using less than 4 watts while sleeping to using over 400 watts when printing.

  2. Another factor to consider is frequency of use. One who primarily uses a laser printer for B/W text and desires to use an inkjet for infrequent color printing may find that the latter is always dried out. Some inkjets try to prevent this by periodically spitting out ink, but this is not an entirely successful fix.

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