With so many printer options on the market, searching for a new printer can be overwhelming. Deciding between an inkjet or laser printer is the first decision most customers will make in the buying process and with this this guide, we’ll break down the pros and cons of both, so you can shop for your next machine with confidence.
To put it simply, inkjet printers have been the traditional choice of home users, whereas laser printers are typically found in offices. Most inkjet printers generally have a low startup cost, are compact and can print both text-based documents and high quality color documents, including photos. Alternatively, laser printers offer a lower cost per page, faster print speeds and involve a lower total cost of ownership. To help you make a more educated decision, let's dive into the specifics of both types of machines.
What will you use the printer for? If you’re looking for a home printer that for the occasional printing of colored as well as black and white documents, get an inkjet printer. Laser printers, on the other hand, were designed for the office use and can handle large quantities of black and white documents everyday. Some laser printers also print in color but if you’re looking to print high resolution photos, go with an inkjet printer.
Technology (How They Work)
Inkjet printers spray ink through microscopic nozzles onto paper while laser printers have a drum unit that fuses toner powder onto paper with heat. Due to these differences in technology, laser printers will typically have a faster print speed since it takes less effort to put toner on the page.
Print quality varies, depending on the types of prints you need. If photography is your thing, inkjet printers are the way to go. If your business regularly prints documents, a laser printer will fit the bill.
A common perception is that inkjet printers are better with colored images, and laser printers are best for black and white. Although inkjets printers still have the edge when it comes to photo prints, color laser technology has improved substantially and many printers can hold their own.
Laser printers are build for the office and are engineered to print anywhere between 15 to 100 pages per minute (ppm) depending on the model. Inkjet printers print slower at an average of 16 ppm, allowing for crisp, detailed photo prints.
Print volume refers to how much your printer can print at a given time. Most laser printers can print a large amount of documents in a short amount of time. Since most inkjet printers are intended for home use, the print volume is typically much 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.
Notice the stark difference between the print speed and print volume between the two printer types.
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
Printer & 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 some models priced as low as $29.99 while heavy-duty laser printers can quickly get into the hundreds of dollars. The higher upfront cost can often times pay for itself over time when you factor in the price and capability of the machine’s cartridges. Cartridge prices for a laser and inkjet printer also widely differ--in fact, much more so than printer cost--but for good reason. Laser printer cartridges, also known as toner cartridges, can print significantly more pages than most inkjet cartridges.
To illustrate this, we will use the two printers we mentioned previously as an example. The HP LaserJet M401n uses the HP 80X
high yield toner cartridge and prints up to 6,900 pages while the Canon MX922 inkjet printer uses the Canon PGI-250XL
high yield ink cartridge and prints at least 500 pages. 6,900 pages vs 500 pages is a big difference! An HP 80X
cartridge costs $187.99*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)
Page Yield 6,900 pages 500 pages
Cost $187.99 $45.98
Cost per page 0.027 cents per page 0.09 cents per page
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.
For a quick a recap, we’ve broken down the pros and cons of both machines:
- 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 initial price of an inkjet printer is usually 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 all comes down to what and how much you print. It also pays to think farther down the road. Will your print needs change over time? All of these factors should be considered before you buy and taking the time to do so can potentially save you hundreds of dollars in the future.