Printer Guides posted by

Inkjet vs Laser: Which Printer Is Right For You?

Inkjet vs Laser: Which Printer Is Right For You?

Shopping for a printer without knowing what makes each one different from the other is a mission that’s likely to fail. The amount of options in the market these days can be overwhelming even for a seasoned buyer. Flashy features aside, you need to know how to strip each printer down to the basic functionalities you really need. With this guide, we hope to help you answer the most basic of all printer shopping questions: Should you get an inkjet or laser printer?

The biggest differences between inkjet and laser printers is that an inkjet printer uses ink, is suitable for low volume printing, and is the traditional choice of home users, while a laser printer uses toner, is ideal for high volume printing, and is mostly utilized in office settings.

Inkjet printers generally have a low startup cost, boast a space-saving size and have the versatility to print both text-based documents and high quality images, especially photos. Laser printers, on the other hand, offer a lower cost per page, faster print speeds and typically involve a lower total cost of ownership. But let’s take a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of laser and inkjet printers so you can make your next purchase with confidence.

What Will You Use The Printer For

If you’re looking for a home printer for the occasional printing of colored as well as black and white documents, get an inkjet printer. Laser printers can print large quantities of black and white documents frequently and were originally built for office use (though it’s recently growing in popularity as a home printer for economical reasons).  Color laser printers are good for everyday color printing but if you’re looking to print professional high resolution photos, go with an inkjet printer. That’s not to say all inkjet printers produce great photos; there are models particularly engineered for professional photo printing.

Technology (How It Works)

Inkjet printers spray liquid ink through microscopic nozzles onto paper while laser printers have a drum unit that fuses toner powder onto paper with heat. One printer type uses ink, the other uses powder. With this difference in application between the two printer types, it’s common belief that smudging is more common with inkjet printers than laser. That’s not to say all inkjet printers do. Inkjet printers that use pigment based ink aren’t likely to smudge whereas dye-based ink require a longer drying time for the ink to set. And this also depends on what paper you’re printing on. Some paper types absorb ink better while some don’t.

Print Quality

Print quality depends on the output you need. If you need to print vivid photos, look for a good quality inkjet printer that produces high resolution images. If want you need is a reliable printer that can keep printing sharp documents, a laser printer is what you need. A common perception is that inkjet printers are better with colored images, and laser printers are best for black and white. New color laser printer models in the market today beg to differ. Advancements in printer technology have allowed color laser printers to now produce pretty impressive colored photos as well. Although inkjet printers still win over laser when it comes to better toned photographic prints, color laser printers is now an option for those looking to print medium-quality colored images while enjoying the reliability, endurance, and economic benefits of a laser printer.

Print Speed

Laser printers are built to accommodate the demands of a workplace so they are engineered to print faster between 15 to 100 pages per minute (ppm), while inkjet printers print slower at about 16 ppm. Since laser printers are faster, they are able to produce more documents compared to inkjet printers and therefore have a higher monthly print volume.

Print Volume

Print volume refers to how much your printer can print at a given time. A laser printer is considered to be the workhorse of the office because of its capability to quickly print large amounts of documents. Given that inkjet printers are meant for home use, it’s print volume is significantly smaller. For comparison, let’s take a look at the HP LaserJet Pro M401n’s print volume and speed alongside the Canon’s inkjet PIXMA MX922.

HP LaserJet Pro M401n Canon PIXMA MX922 (Inkjet)
Pages Per Minute 35 ppm 7 ppm
Monthly Print Volume 750 – 3,000 pages 250 – 500 pages

Notice the stark contrast between the print speed and print volume between the two printer types.

Maximum Monthly Duty Cycle vs Recommended Monthly Print Volume

It’s often confusing to consumers which number to follow when it comes to how much they should really print with their printers to keep their printers in optimal running condition. Let’s take this opportunity to clarify the difference between maximum monthly duty cycle and recommended monthly print volume. The maximum monthly duty cycle is how much your printer can print in a month without causing damage to its parts. The recommended monthly print volume is how the amount you should print monthly to keep your printer at optimum performance. Printing at maximum monthly duty cycle can result in your printer calling it quits much sooner than you expect. Try to stay within the recommended monthly print volume instead to keep your printer around longer.

Printer vs Cartridge Cost

The upfront cost of a laser printer may seem like its biggest weakness. After all, inkjet printers have a much lower upfront cost with newer models priced as low as $29.99 while laser printers are significantly more expensive with the cheaper ones priced at around $59.99–still twice the price of the cheapest inkjet. This is partly because inkjet printers have a minimum life span of 3 years whereas laser printers have a lifespan of at least 5 years–and this is all depends on frequency of use. A more important factor to consider when shopping for a printer is its cartridge price.

Cartridge prices for a laser and inkjet printer also widely differ–in fact, much more so than printer cost–and for good reason. Laser printer cartridges, also known as toner cartridges, can print significantly more pages than any inkjet cartridge! Using the two printers we used previously as an example, the HP LaserJet M401n uses the HP 80x high yield toner cartridge which can print at least 6,900 pages while the Canon MX922 inkjet printer uses the Canon PGI-250 high yield ink cartridge (250XL) which prints at least 500 pages. Compare 6,900 pages vs 500 pages! An HP 80x cartridge costs $187.99 (as of 05/10/2017) and the Canon PGI-250XL cartridge currently costs around $45.98. Although the HP toner is priced 75% more than the Canon cartridge, since you get 92% more pages out of the toner, the HP laser cartridge has a more economical cost per page. Check out the table below.

HP LaserJet Pro M401n Canon PIXMA MX922 (Inkjet)
Cartridge HP 80x Canon PGI-250XL
Page Yield 6,900 pages 500 pages
Cost $187.99 (*as of 05/0/2017) $45.98 (*as of 05/0/2017)
Cost per page 0.027 cents per page 0.09 cents per page

**If the price of laser toner is too steep for you, consider trying more affordable toner cartridge alternatives in the market.

Non-OEM compatible ink and toner cartridges are widely available at much better prices and print just as well as expensive branded cartridges.

For comparison purposes, let’s take the pricing of an original HP 80x cartridge and compare it with a compatible HP 80x cartridge.

Original HP 80x Cartridge: $187.99
Compatible HP 80x Cartridge: $34.99

That makes the compatible HP 80x cartridge 83% cheaper than the original. You can get big discounts on compatible ink cartridges as well. Thanks to aftermarket options, expensive printer cartridges is now a thing of the past.

The upfront cost of an inkjet printer might seem the more economical (and attractive) choice at first but when you take into account the price of ink cartridges AND how often you’ll have to replace them (considering it’s low page yield), the running cost of replacing cartridges will easily get much more expensive than the initial cost of the printer.

On the contrary, laser printer cartridges can print more pages so it will be months or even years before you’ll need replacements, again depending on how much you use your printer.

Mind the Drum Unit
Laser printers always come with a drum unit that transfers the toner powder onto paper. The toner and drum unit are the two consumables required for a laser printer to work. Sometimes they come together as one piece and sometimes there are models where they come separately. When shopping laser printers, make sure to check if you’ll be needing to replace the toner cartridges AND the drum unit (though you only need to replace the drum unit a lot less frequently than the toner).


Here’s a summary of the differences between an inkjet and laser printer.

Inkjet Printers

PROS

  • Inkjet printers are usually smaller and lighter – making it ideal for a bedroom or home office where space saving is valued.
  • Great at producing photo quality prints and image-heavy documents, as inkjet printers do a better job of blending and producing vibrant colors than laser printers.
  • The price of an inkjet printer is less than most laser printers.
  • No warm-up time needed before printing.
  • Can print on a variety of paper types, including glossy photo paper, textured stationery and fabrics.
  • Ink refill kits can reduce the cost of printing.

CONS:

  • Ink is expensive, especially for users who print on a regular basis who are continually forced to repurchase more cartridges due to their low-yielding consumables.
  • Much slower than laser printers.
  • Low-capacity paper trays of 50 to 100 sheets, which can be frustrating for a user who prints a lot.
  • Low monthly duty cycle (the maximum amount of prints possible in a given month without causing damage to the printer).

Laser Printers

PROS:

  • Laser printers print much faster than inkjet printers. This isn’t and shouldn’t be a strong selling point for casual printers, but high volume users will notice a huge difference.
  • Laser printers produce sharp text. If you’re a high volume printer that only requires text documents, laser is the way to go.
  • Higher monthly duty cycle means they are better prepared to handle high-volume jobs.
  • A price-by-price comparison favors laser printers over inkjet printers if you print on a frequent basis and aren’t producing documents that are graphically complex.

CONS:

  • Can handle simple graphics, but complex images and photos are a challenge.
  • Although there are some compact laser printers on the market, they are generally bigger and heavier than inkjet printers.
  • Laser printers can’t handle the same variety of paper that inkjets can.
  • Toner, on average, is cheaper in the long run for high volume printers because their higher yielding cartridges; however, the upfront cost for the printer will be more than your average inkjet printer.

Deciding on whether you should go with an inkjet or laser printer comes down to what and how much you print. Inkjet printers are best suited for small, image-heavy documents, like photos and school projects. But, if you’re looking for a printer that can handle heavy volumes of text-based documents, a laser printer is the more efficient and economical choice. It also pays to think farther down the road. Do you project your print needs to change? Will your kids be needing a more reliable laser down the road or should you stick to an inkjet printer? Our needs change and taking them into consideration can save us potentially hundreds of dollars in the future. Happy Shopping!

3

51 Comments

  • What do you recommend for the consumer who doesn’t use a color printer frequently but still needs one to print color documents and/or photos? We constantly have issues with ink jet printer cartridges drying out and having to replace them when we rarely print color documents or photos. When we go to print a color document or photo we are consistently getting messages that ink cartridges are low and need replaced. Would Laserjet printers be a better choice for infrequent color printing?

    • Yes, you got it! What you do need is a color laser printer. Check out the Brother HL-3140CW color laser printer. It’s very reasonably priced at around $169-$179. Original Brother laser toner cartridges for the HL-3140CW are priced between $57.49 to $69.99 but you can get cheaper alternatives that print just as well for only $19.99 each at http://www.ldproducts.com/Brother/Laser-Toner/HL-Printers/HL-3140CW/8549-Printer.html. Feel free to do more research on other color laser printers that suit your budget. HP laser printers run on the more expensive end while Dell and Brothers are more affordable.

  • Yes, you are 100% right, I was sick and tire of HP inject ” ink sucking machine”, also the inkjet printer give me lot of trouble with ink system problems, so I bought a Brother laser printer, boy, I wonder why I was so stupid, and I didn’t do it long time ago,the laser printer work better and the cartridge last 10 times longer and cheaper per page.

  • I don’t use a color printer at all. I mostly print black and white documents but would also like to be able to scan and copy. Faxing seems to be on it’s way out so what do you recommend. I hardly print anything out more than once a week and it’s usually only a couple of pages at most.

  • what types of jobs are best for inkjet

    • If you’re particular about color image clarity, tonality, and brilliance, inkjets are the best. Inkjets used to be the go-to for home printing but consumers have realized that these machines are expensive to maintain for a number of reasons and so more people are shifting to laser printers even for home use. A good rule of thumb when it comes to inkjets – AVOID THE CHEAP ONES. The more expensive perform a bit better and have higher page yields so you don’t keep replacing ink cartridges often.

  • I print proposals from home as an independent consultant. I need good quality graphics and high speed printing. My current model (HP Office Jet x576dw MFP) isnt the greatest at printing graphics on the same page at the b&w text. Plus, supplies are almost $500 a pop to buy every color. Do you have any recommendations on how I can get better quality at a reasonable price before I buy another round of printing supplies? I want to stay with the all-in-ones.

    • You can try the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M476 dw 21PPM. It’s an all-in-one printer that produces good graphic output quality at the same time uses HP 312X toner cartridges. If you want to save on toner cartridges, you can get a set of compatible color cartridges for the HP 312X for just $80 – https://www.ldproducts.com/HP/Compatible/Laser-Toner/4-pack/CF440AM/74773-Product.html. I hope this helps!

  • On more question, what do those HP PageWide printers do that most others dont?

    • The typical inkjet printer uses a printhead that scans across the page from left to right to produce a print. HP PageWide printers are different in that they use a stationary printhead that’s designed to print across the entire page in a single pass, which makes for a much faster print speed.

  • I own a dog boarding place. I print out the contracts and such for new clients, daily report cards for the dogs & their pictures on the first day & then I laminate them. My laser printer I’ve had for almost 8 yrs just literally took it’s last breath. I am torn on what to get next. I need one that does printing, copying, scanning & fax. I am all different machines right now & would love to consolidate. HELP!

    • Hi Karissa,

      Glad to help! Before I jump into recommendations I’d like to get a better understanding of your printing habits. About how many prints do you run a month? How many of those prints are in color versus black and white? How much do you want to spend per month on printer cartridges? Look forward to your reply.

  • How about if I want to use it at home and I will occasionally use color. I think I will not use it everyday but at one time I will need to print out a lot. I don’t like it when the ink dry up on me. Can you recommend which laser printer for me?

  • I found this article very interesting, loved that it’s recent and covers so many bases. I’m in the market for a printer and your article has me leaning towards a laser printer because of the long term savings BUT we still need to be able to scan/copy and print the occasional photos for schools projects and such.

    My 10th grader has to print homework assignments daily and I feel Ike we’re constantly purchasing ink.

    My 6th grader has school projects and such and does need the occasional color print job.

    We were looking at an HP inkjet for $200+ so we’re willing to spend more than $60 for a printer.

    I do love crisp clean print jobs and I’m wondering if we should use FedEx printing for color projects and buy a laser printer for day to day homework assignments.

  • My husband is in college and will be going to med school in the future. We need a printer that will last that can print off all of his power points he will need for class for a good price. So a printer that can print large amounts and have the ink last forever. It would also be nice to be able to print a photo occasionally! What should we get?

    • Definitely a color laser printer. The Samsung Xpress C430W is an affordable wireless color laser printer that might be a good fit for your needs.

  • I use my printer daily for my tutoring business, church and personal uses. I print both black and white and color, text and graphics/pictures, all on regular paper. I want a printer that can print good quality color graphics/pictures on regular paper, that is not grainy. I use duplex printing often. Do you have any recommendations? Thanks!

  • I have a Lexmark Orevail 705 that I LOVE! I have had it a long time. I need a comparable printer for my office work and family photos that I like to print. What is a good option, since I can’t buy Lexmark in stores anymore?

    • Hi, Mamie! If you are looking for cartridges for your Lexmark Prevail 705, we sell both compatible cartridges and original Lexmark cartridges here: https://www.ldproducts.com/Lexmark/Ink-Cartridge/All-In-One/Prevail-Pro705/4149-Printer.html

      If you are looking for a new all-in-one inkjet printer, we like the Brother MFC-J985DW. It uses four separate cartridges like your Lexmark and has many of the same features, including automatic duplex printing and print, scan and fax features. The cartridge page yields are very generous too, the black cartridge prints 2,400 pages and each color cartridge prints 1,200 pages. Hope this helps, let me know if you have any other questions.

  • Hi, i need ur suggestions. I work in company that need to do the printing for our promotions tool such as flyer or poster. We have such an old A3 printer that can’t work properly (it’so slow) and we think it’s time to get a new printer for our business. And also i think we’ll use more art paper for the printing material.

    Ps. I dunno about the budget for buying a new printer. My boss ask me to find some references about the printer first then we can talk about the budget xoxo

    Hope you can help me!

    • It sounds like what you need is a wide format inkjet printer based on your size and paper requirements. Check out HP Pagewide as well as Epson Artisan printer models. You can also look into the Canon PIXMA Pro 100–price is good and it’s a highly rated inkjet printer. Best of luck!

  • Hello. I need your advice. I need a printer for stickers, A4 posters, postcards (around 200-300 gsm) and 2-sided business cards. I am an artists and I print a lot of my artworks to sell as merchandise. I will also be printing copies of my group’s fully-colored comic soon. And for stickers, we’d prefer if it was at least water-resistant. What would you recommend?

    • Inkjet printers that use pigment ink is what I would recommend. Check out the Epson SureColor P400 or P600 printers, and also the Canon PIXMA Pro-10: these are all top quality inkjet printers that use pigment ink and if you’re going to be printing on various paper media, pigment is the way to go. Pigment ink is also water resistant so it would work well with your printers.

      One last tip: make sure not to use pigment ink on a printer that uses dye ink as this might damage the unit.

      I hope I was able to help. 🙂

  • Hello, I need your advice. I have two inkjet printers but I haven’t use them since the cartridge ink is over since last year.
    Canon Pixma MG2920
    Hp Officejet pro 6230

    I bought first one and when the ink was over instead of buying cartridge I bought another printer. But now both are out of ink.
    This is for home use, I bought specially for black and white prints and on an average I need to print 100-150 pages per week.
    Do you think I should buy the new cartridge or refill the cartridge or go for laser printer?
    I am confused what to do

  • Hello, I need a printer that can print on both sides of one piece of paper. I need it to be mobile as I run my own business and my office is my car. So the printer will be in the trunk.

    I will be printing papers with just text, flyers with graphics on the front and back of the page and the paper will be of a waxy type but not picture paper, excuse my ignorance on this subject because I really don’t know the names of these features and so on. So the other documents I’ll be printing is contracts as well as merchant applications. If you can give me some advice on what printer I need it would be massively appreciated. Thanks and have a wonderful day!

    • Hey Jake! For portable printers, check out the Canon PIXMA iP110 or the Epson WorkForce 100 printer. Both uses pigment ink which will work beautifully on your matte / lustre flyers. You can totally print double sided with these printers–most printers have this functionality now. The price for either printers is very reasonable too! I hope I was able to help. Cheers!

  • Hi! Can you please suggest a printer for me? I have three kids in high school who print about 5-10 pages each a day. I have a business where I print about 30 pages at a time but only occasionally. We rarely print color but need to have the option to do so. The problem is that we have printer jams frequently and sometimes our printer does not work for no apparent reason. We need a printer that is extremely reliable. I almost don’t even care about the price. I just want a printer that is going to make our life easier. Thanks!

    • Hi Wendy,

      We have a few different suggestions on family friendly printers here: https://www.ldproducts.com/blog/best-inkjet-printers-for-families/
      The Brother MFC-J985 that we mention is a good option for your needs, it prints both in black and color and the cartridges offer a high page yield, which is great if you print regularly. Hope this helps!

  • Hii i am a student i occasionally use color printout but more frequent in b and w printouts what kind of printer should i buy ?? And it should hav scanning , copying ,Xeroxing facilities and must be affordable

  • Which printer type is better when you have long periods between printing. Our sporadic printing needs seem to tax the ink jet heads requiring regular cleaning which expends ink and delays printing. Does this same issue exist with laser printers? Can they sit for a long period between printing without consequence?

  • Hey Techies,

    Love this forum and hoping for a recommendation. I currently use a small HP all in one but not cost effective to print 1000 BW or color flyers I need for local schools. I have to get these at a local copy business but inconvenient to drive 15 mins. each way and have them quote me each time. Much cheaper than Staples – just a hassle running all over to get copies.

    Plus

    I would love to be able to use color in my flyers but BW fine just wanting color for a little more “pop” as my biz is art classes! I do not want to spend more than $300 – $400 initial set up for toner/Laser printer. Looking to do all ( and more ) myself as I probably have 10K or more each school year.

    Please help with suggestions? I have always been HP loyal – but not “married” Mostly looking to stop paying copy shops, and spending time, effort, gas, etc. running back/forth!

    HELP and Thanks!! haha!

  • Thank you for your information on this site.
    I am looking for the following:
    —————————————————-
    Laser Jet Color Printer..
    Color printing on occasion for proposals..
    All-in-1 (PRINT, COPY, SCAN) no real need for FAX..
    WIFI..
    Print 11×17
    2-sided printing..
    ———————————————–
    I currently have a Brother MFC-J6920DW. It works okay but It seems to print quite slow, I have not figured out how to print automatically out of the 2 paper trays (I have to change the paper size out manually) and the ink is costly. Any suggestions for me?

    • Check out the HP LaserJet Enterprise M553n Color laser printer; it has a print speed of 40 pages per minute. You can also check out HP’s Pagewide line of printers if you want speed. No need to worry about toner cartridges, you can get cheaper alternatives that print just as well. Let me know if you have more printer questions or want to try out more affordable toner alternatives, I’ll be glad to help. Best of luck!

  • i am occasionally use back and white print please suggest me cheap printer

    • You can get the Brother HL-L2300D Laser Printer. It’s a no-fuss monochrome laser printer that’s been proven to deliver. No need to worry about occasional printing and dried up ink since it uses toner powder. It may not be the cheapest printer but it certainly is one of the cheapest laser printers. Worry not about toner, you can get more affordable toners at half the price. Best of luck!

  • Hi, I volunteer for a dog rescue organization and we do adoption events regularly. We print out the dogs pictures with some bio information for our adoption events. We print out about 1000 pages a month. Right now we are using a LaserJet printer that was given to us and is around 5 years old. The rescue is looking to get a printer that can handle the workload and also produce vibrant pictures at a reasonable price. What would you recommend?

  • all of the questions and answers are great but one area I did not see any discussion on is with the support from the various companies. Regardless if you get a laser or injet at some point you have to call for support. I always bought HP in past as it was the cheapest printer and I rarely print things. Now I am looking at getting a laser because I rarely print, but when I do I tend to need to print couple hundred pages in a few days and my ink has always dried out. I just bought a new injet cartridge and now the printer wont turn on. Of course I am 1 month past the warranty, and customer service is completely overseas and cannot think beyond the script in front of them.
    So who has a good laser printer with US based customer service????

  • I have always used inkjet not expensive one since. I printed occasionally maybe 50 to 75 pgs a month. I liked Epson I had 1 for 1 yr it had ink but wouldn’t print, it had me replace ink about $65 and never worked. Unable to find printer to use same ink so purchase another pd a bit more. I will be printing more often and maybe 100 pgs a month or more for next 2 years at least. Need a reliable good color quality.. Was considering just printing on inkjet and making copies at ups, or getting a color laser. If it’s similar expense I will just use inkjet it’s a new one so working well. What do you advise I am really confused and if laser is best I can use info on a good mid priced option. Thanks

    • Hey Betsy! Depending on the quality you need color prints to be, you may be better off with a color laser printer. Check out our article on color laser printers to see which models we recommend. We’ll be updating this article with newer models in a few months too! https://www.ldproducts.com/blog/best-color-laser-printers-for-2017/

  • I want to print product labels that do not run or bleed but do also want the images to look clear, which printer should I use ?

    • You can either use an inkjet printer that uses pigment-based ink OR a color laser printer. Pigment ink bleeds much less if at all compared to dye-based ink. Most inkjet printers use dye based ink. Only downside to pigment inkjet printer is that it’s usually more expensive. You can also look at color laser printers. Most of them produce pretty impressive color prints though not at the same level as professional photo inkjet printers but more than good enough for printing labels.

      Here are some of our recommendations for color laser printers: https://www.ldproducts.com/blog/best-color-laser-printers-for-2017/
      And here’s something you can check out to learn more about dye vs pigment inkjet printers: https://www.ldproducts.com/blog/photo-inkjet-printer-buying-guide-which-one-should-you-buy/

  • This isn’t a reply, but is a question. I’m looking at a home use printer. I print in both color and black and white, but no photos. I like to print on 3 x 5 cards in both landscape and portrait mode, and on both sides. And would like to do the same on 4 x 6 or 5 x 8 cards. As a matter of fact I do a lot of printing on both sides regardless of size of paper. On my old HP6500 I could also make custom size pages, i.e. I’d use letter size paper, but could set a size of paper like those to fit in DVD jewel cases. I scan like crazy often with multiple pages and like the functionality of being able to resize and rotate scanned images until it fits my needs and then save it. I scan from books and magazines most often. I currently have an HP Officejet 5740 that I would love to toss out the window because it often freezes up on multi page scans. . I have no brand loyalty. I’m totally dazzled by all the options out there and get confused by the jargon they use. Can you help? P.S. Money is not the most important issue here – my sanity is.

  • I really like the Qs & your As here. I’m looking for a high quality photo printer but my use will be sporadic. Can you provide any guidance for someone stuck between two hard places: inkjets (HQ but periods of non-use) and color lasers (reliable but lower quality photo printing). Recently retired, I have limited use for color docs and have a Brother HL-2270DW for B/Ws.

  • I need to print labels that are “indelible” pretty sure my ink jet can’t do this. Also does not like coated or glossy paper as it smudges badly. Is a laser printer better for this, or should I just upgrade my ink jet?

    • You can either get color laser printers or get an inkjet printer that uses pigment ink. Both can give you more long-lasting fade-resistant prints.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Search for a Topic

Shop the lowest prices on quality ink and toner cartridges here.