Inkjets vs. Laser Printers: The Pros and Cons

by Rich on August 19, 2009

Inkjet printers and laser printers both have their benefits and drawbacks. Which one is right for you will probably depend on the type and volume of printing you’re doing. Here are a few things to consider when choosing between inkjet and laser printers.

Inkjets are cheaper up front; lasers are cheaper over the long term. You may find that inkjet printers are ridiculously inexpensive in stores-but before you get excited, check the ink prices. Many manufacturers price inkjet printers low, then reap the profits in ink sales once consumers are stuck buying their expensive ink.  You’ll also see manufacturers developing cartridges with “smart chips” that put an expiration date on your cartridge and disallow installation of third-party cartridges, as well as three-in-one cartridges that require you to replace the entire cartridge when one colour runs dry.

Laser printers tend to cost considerably more up front, but the cost for consumables is lower over the long term. They tend to be more efficient as well, and you’ll likely be able to print many more pages on a laser printer before replacing the cartridges. Still, laser printer manufacturers sometimes require users to replace other parts besides the toner cartridge on a semi-regular basis, which can add to the cost of consumables-some manufacturers require this, while others include all replaceable parts in the toner cartridge.

Of course, if you don’t print often, an inkjet printer may still be worth it to you-you may go six months to a year or more before having to buy new cartridges. But if you print ten pages a day or more, a laser printer is going to save you significant amounts of money on consumables.

Laser printers are faster. Both inkjet and laser printers often produce beautiful images. But inkjet printers work considerably more slowly than laser printers do. Some manufacturers will claim speeds of 20 or 30 pages per minute on inkjet printers, but this is typically for low-quality economy or draft modes.

If you’re only printing a few pages at a time, an inkjet can still be a good choice. But if you print long documents, the extra speed of a laser printer may be worth the extra cost.  If you print a lot of photos, speed may be more important to you than quality; if that’s the case, go with a laser printer. An inkjet printer may take as long as a minute to print a single 4×6 photo, or four minutes for an 8×10.

Inkjets are stronger on photo printing. If you’re looking for really good quality photo printing, you’re better off going with an inkjet printer. While colour laser printers do print good quality photos, they typically can’t compare with even the cheapest inkjet printers combined with the right inks and paper.

Laser printers are stronger on text. Don’t get us wrong; you can still get good-quality black-and-white text printing with an inkjet printer. But laser printers do look slightly better, especially at smaller point sizes.

Lasers are better in a networked environment. You can hook either laser or inkjet printers up to a network. But laser printers are often designed to be hooked up to larger, more complex networks of the type you’d find in a business environment. If you’re considering printers for a business setting with a large computer network, a laser printer may be the way to go.

Inkjet ink can be problematic. In certain cases, the printouts from an inkjet printer can be more prone to smearing-especially on glossy paper just after printing. Inkjet printer ink is also prone to smudging from fingerprints and fading over time. Laser printouts don’t smudge and take a longer time to fade overall.

So which one is right for you? It depends. If you’re an individual user who prints documents occasionally and wants to print family photos, an inkjet printer may be the best bet for you-especially if you don’t print often. If you’re printing in a business setting, need to print at high volumes or need a printer with complex networking capability, a laser printer may be better suited to your needs. Still, every brand and every model is different-so do your research, and you should be able to find the best printer for you.

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