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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
- 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 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.
- 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!