When it comes time to buy a printer for your home, home office, or business, you have many choices, but the biggest one is laser or inkjet. While traditionally inkjet has been the most popular for home use and most business environments use laser, it’s not really quite that simple anymore. Let’s discuss the benefits and downfalls of each technology, and hopefully help you pick the one best for your needs.
When it comes time to buy a printer (or multi-function printer, or all-in-one, whatever you’re looking for), you can buy one for the price of an average restaurant dinner or the price of whatever the latest and greatest smartphone costs.
Both technologies have their pros and cons, so let’s get to it!
Initial Cost: Inkjet is Cheaper
The simple reason you’ll find inkjet printers everywhere is the low cost of purchase. You can buy a brand new color multi-function print/scan/copy inkjet printer on Amazon for less than $50, and there are plenty available at local stores like Best Buy for less than $100. Sure, it’s not going to last many years of hard use nor will it perform particularly great in any particular way, but if you just need a cheap color all-in-one printer, inkjet is the way to go.
You can find a new black and white (monochrome) laser printer for about $80 on Amazon, but if you want a color multi-function unit it’s going to set you back a minimum of about $300.
If you just need to print text and don’t need color or particularly fantastic image performance, you can pick up a good monochrome laser printer for about $100, and you’ll get years of affordable,trouble-free black and white printing. But remember, if you want color, great photo printing, a bunch of extra features, or a snazzy shiny appearance, it’s going to cost you.
Cost Per Page: Laser is Cheaper
This is where laser printers really shine. Whether you’re printing text or pictures, laser printers are far, far cheaper per page than inkjet printers. Sure, the average toner cartridge for a laser printer costs more than the average ink cartridge for an inkjet printer, but a single toner cartridge usually has much higher yield (pages printed per cartridge) than an ink cartridge.
Another consideration in printing costs is the lifespan of the cartridge. Laser print cartridges last nearly indefinitely, with only a minor degradation in print quality after many years, while inkjet cartridges dry up quickly. If you don’t print a lot, you might find that ink cartridges become unusable before you even use up all the ink, which further increases the cost of printing, where you can keep the toner cartridge as long as you need it, even after it’s removed from the sealed packaging and installed in the printer. For example, I’ve had the same set of toner cartridges in my Dell 1350cnw color laser since 2011 or 2012 when I bought it (it’s my secondary printer, I don’t use it much), and prints still come out perfectly.
Text Printing: Laser is Better
Laser printers are a favorite for office use because they excel at printing text quickly and at perfect quality. Laser printing technology can better print fine lines, so even the smallest font sizes are readable. Why? Well, toner is a fine powder that the printer bonds to the paper during the printing process, so the preciseness of the printing is superior to ink.
The reason inkjet printers don’t do fine text so well is because they use small drops of ink, but they aren’t really all that small, and depending on the quality of the ink, design of the printer, and the paper used, font will appear blurry and imprecise.
Photo Printing: Inkjet is Better
Now, when it comes to pictures, inkjets are usually more capable. The way the ink lands on paper, it bleeds together just enough to make the image look smooth and vivid.
Especially on lower cost laser printers, photos won’t come out all the well, because the same tiny powder particles that make laser printer text so perfect doesn’t give photos the same vivid, smooth look.
Also, keep in mind that paper quality does make a difference in how pictures look. You can run pretty much any paper through an inkjet, but you can’t use any glossy or coated paper in a laser printer, since laser printers got hot and it would cause the paper to melt inside the printer and will probably result in buying a new printer.
Print Speed: Lasers are Faster (Usually)
Well, this is a tough one. Laser printers are much faster for text, and color lasers still beat out inkjet printers for photos most of the time, but they have one downfall: warm-up times.
The latest laser units that use LED printing technology generally have shorter warm-up times, but still, it’s relevant – if you haven’t printed in quite a while, and even just want to print one page, you get to wait a good 15-30 seconds for most printers before it spits out your document. Of course, subsequent prints have little to no warm-up times, but it can still be annoying.
For large documents that are more than several pages, a laser printer is going to be far faster, and there is no way an inkjet can keep up. If you do a ton of printing and/or usually print multi-page documents, you want a laser printer.
Reliability: Laser Printers are Built Better
Inkjet printers, even more expensive ones, don’t seem to hold up as well as lasers, even ones that aren’t particularly pricey.
Why, I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect it’s a combination of factors. First off, laser printers use lots of heat to operate, so the components inside need to be of higher quality to withstand those extreme temperatures. Second, laser printers use shorts bursts of a lot of electricity to create that heat, so they need robust circuitry that can supply said power reliably. Another factor might be how inkjet printers work, with the print heads that need to move back and forth across the page rapidly – that’s a lot of little plastic pieces that wear out over time, especially since most inkjet printers are built to one specification: as cheap as possible!
All that aside, if you want a printer that’s going to stand up to frequent use or simply give you many years of reliable service, you definitely want a laser printer.
As you can see, both laser printers and inkjet printers have their advantages and weaknesses. If you need a ton of features at a low initial price, you don’t need crisp text or long-term reliability,and/or you print photos frequently, inkjet printers are probably better. If you print a lot, especially text, and value total cost of ownership over purchase price, laser is for you.
In terms of which printers are best, the point of this article is not to review printers, but in terms of inkjets I’d recommend sticking to Epson, and for laser printers, you can’t go wrong with Brother, though you can’t go wrong with Samsung or Dell either. I’m not a huge fan of HP – while their older laser printers were unkillable, their newer stuff, even on the pricier end of the spectrum, isn’t quite in the same realm, to be polite.
I’d love to hear from you – if you have any comments or input, please feel free to comment below!