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Inkjet vs Laser: What Is The Difference Between Inkjet and Laser Printers?

4th Apr 2018

Inkjet vs Laser: What Is The Difference Between Inkjet and Laser Printers?

Which kind of printer is best? An inkjet or a laser printer?

The answer depends on the print job you’re tackling. If you’re printing on something other than standard paper — photo paper, velum, iron-on transfers, etc. — an inkjet printer is the choice for you. However, if you’re looking for the most economical way to print images and text on paper, a laser printer can’t be beat.

Laser printers and inkjet printers are very different devices that use different technology and fulfill different printing needs. However, before we decide between laser or inkjet, let’s look at the different types of printers available:

Document printer — this is your “basic printer”, great for printing text documents and low-resolution graphics. Document printers can be color or black-and-white, inkjet or laser.

Photo Printer — Do you primarily print high-resolution color photos? High-end photo printers are almost always inkjet printers, which produce brighter, sharper colors and smoother color gradients.

Multi-function/ All-In-One Printer — Need to copy, scan and fax in addition to print? An all-in-one printer is probably for you. Multi-function/ All-In-One Printers can be color or black-and-white, inkjet or laser.

The Difference Between Inkjets and Laser Printers

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 only way to go.

Laser Printers

Laser printers are powerful, sophisticated machines that produce premium print quality and fast print speeds via an intricate laser printing process.

Laser Printing Process

Here is how the laser printing process usually looks:

  1. The laser printing process involves the toner powder particles within the toner cartridge being moved by changes in electric charge. 
  2. First, the image is drawn onto a drum imaging unit by a laser using the electric charge. 
  3. Then toner powder particles stick to the drum which transfers the image onto the paper where it is ultimately melted onto the paper by the fuser.

The process is more elaborate than the inkjet printing process and results in higher efficiency, better print quality, and faster print speeds. 

A laser printer can pump out up to 100 pages per minute, while an inkjet reaches max speed at only 16 pages per minute. Laser printers beat inkjets in terms of both print speed and the overall number of pages they can produce on a monthly basis.

Laser Printers Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Higher print quality
  • Faster print speeds
  • Cleaner
  • More efficient
  • Lower print costs

Cons

  • More expensive machine
  • More expensive toner cartridges
  • Larger footprint

Inkjet Printers

Inkjet printers work via a simpler, less advanced printing process that involves liquid ink being sprayed onto the paper in a series of tiny dots. 

Whereas laser printers see the images they print as a geometric shape, inkjet printers see the images they print as a series of dots.

Inkjet Printers Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Less expensive machine
  • Cheaper ink cartridges
  • Smaller in size
  • Great for photos

Cons

  • Lower print quality
  • Slower
  • Low page output
  • Less efficient ink usage

A trio of HP 63 ink cartridges sit beside an HP 55A toner cartridge.

Ink vs. Toner: The True Cost

Inkjet printers used to cost much less than laser printers, but advances in technology have leveled the playing field. Now both laser printers and inkjets cost about the same price upfront. 

The true cost to own is revealed once you purchase replacement inks or toners for your printer. Because of the high price of replacement ink, the cost per page of operating a laser printer is usually significantly less. High-capacity toner cartridges can bring that cost-per-page down to just a few cents. 

Toner cartridges — both black and color cartridges — may seem more expensive than ink at first, but they’ll last longer, won’t dry out, and deliver an overall better value.

Cartridge World

Laser printers use toner cartridges. Inkjet printers use ink cartridges.

Toner cartridges are containers for the toner powder particles used within the laser printing process. Some toner cartridges include drum units and some do not. 

For example, HP toner cartridges include drum units and Brother toner cartridges do not, with the toner and drum unit being sold as separate components.

Ink cartridges contain liquid ink which is sprayed through microscopic nuzzles onto the paper.

The Mysteries Of Ink

Ink is a liquid that’s tinted with dyes or pigments. Like toner, inkjet printers typically require four separate ink cartridges to print: black, cyan, magenta, and yellow, and each one can be replaced when the supply of ink in that cartridge is depleted.

Tales Of Toner

Toner is not a liquid, but a very fine powdery substance. 

The actual composition and ingredients does vary from one manufacturer to the next, but typically toner is made up mostly of finely ground plastic. The toner powder has chemical properties that enable it to hold a static charge that grabs onto anything with an opposite charge, so when printing with toner, it is actually a heat transfer and the pressure from the fuser that adheres the toner to the paper.

Inkjet vs Laser: Print Quality

Laser printers produce higher overall print quality when taking into account both text and images. However, inkjet printers specialize in color image printing and produce high-quality color photos.

When it comes to crisp, clean black and white text and color images, laser printers are unmatched.

Looking to print small text and images with heavy detail? 

A laser printer is most suitable. The laser printing process features advanced fusing technology which enables laser printers to produce small text and images that maintain clarity and detail.

The one area where inkjet printers thrive is color photo printing. Inkjet printers, specifically inkjet photo printers, are able to create high-quality color photo imaging and delicate color gradation. Inkjet photo printers produce high-quality photo prints with rich coloring and minimal pixilation because they are specifically designed to print photos.

Laser Printer vs Inkjet Printer: Print Speed

When it comes to print speed, laser printers are faster than inkjet printers. Even lower-end basic document monochrome laser printers typically print at least 20 pages per minute, whereas basic document inkjet printers typically print about 5 pages per minute.

Higher-end laser printers reach speeds of 75 pages per minute, which is unmatched by inkjet printers which max out at speeds of 40 pages per minute. If you need a printer for high volume printing, laser printers are noticeably faster.

Another aspect of print speed where laser printers prevail is first page print speed. The fastest inkjet printers take up to 10 seconds to wake from sleep or standby mode and print the first page, whereas the fastest laser printers can wake from sleep or standby mode and print in under 6 seconds.

Print Output

Inkjet printers are unable to handle high-volume printing, whereas laser printers are built for high-volume printing.

Laser printers typically have monthly print outputs of anywhere between 2,000 and 20,000 pages.

Inkjet printers typically have far smaller monthly print outputs- coming in at anywhere between 1,500 and 5,000 pages.

Inkjet printers typically have low-capacity trays of about 50-100 sheets of paper, and output trays are almost existent. If you are planning on printing a lot, this is a major issue and it is why inkjet printers are not suited for heavy-usage.

Efficiency

Laser printers are more efficient than inkjet printers. Laser printers are able to handle high-volume printing and produce lower costs per page.

Inkjet printers are less efficient- unable to handle high-volume printing and with higher costs per page.

Size

Being the more powerful, advanced printer, laser printers are generally larger than inkjet printers. However, there are many laser printers comparable in size and price to inkjet printers. The difference in size between a laser and inkjet printer depends heavily on the specific model of the printer, but the largest printers by a wide margin are multi-function/all-in-one laser printers.

If you need a small printer to fit in a small household space, an inkjet printer would probably be the best option.

Laser For The Win!

All things being equal, a laser printer is a far more reliable and cost-effective piece of equipment than an inkjet. 

But inkjet printers can’t be beat for photo printing, and they accept photo stock paper, as well as card stock, fabric, image transfer paper, and more. 

Laser printers produce sharper text than inkjets, and operate at a far lower cost-per-page. Replacing a toner cartridge costs you less in the long run than ink cartridges. 

Ink is more expensive than the world’s finest champagne! So which printer do you choose? Laser printers are the best for putting text and graphics on paper. Inkjet printers are better at photo printer Laser printer, all the way .... unless you want to print something other than basic text on paper.