March 14, 2022
Inkjet vs. Laser Printers: Which Printer is Best for You?
Considering a new printer, but can't decide if a laser or inkjet printer is the better choice? Learn the pros and cons of inkjet vs. laser printers and the features to look out for when making your purchasing decision.
What is an Inkjet Printer and How Does it Work?
Inkjet printers have dozens of printhead nozzles that move side to side over the paper as it is fed through a roller, spraying microscopic ink droplets onto paper or other media to produce images and text. Inkjets blend yellow, magenta and cyan dye- or pigment-based ink in different ratios, which faithfully reproduces images. Inkjet printers are a common choice for at home or small office printing due to the low upfront cost of this type of printer and its ability to print high quality, photolike prints and graphics.
Inkjet printers come as single-function and as all-in-one printers, which includes more capabilities such as document scanning, copying and faxing.
What is a Laser Printer and How Does it Work?
Laser printers use toner powder instead of ink to produce prints in both monochrome and color.
The key to how laser printers work is understanding the drum, a cylindrical, photosensitive component that allows the laser to pick up toner through static electricity. When you switch on your laser printer, the drum is negatively charged. When exposed to light, the drum loses its negative charge. The laser assembly inside laser printers is pointed at drum, drawing a pattern of positively charged dots while the drum rotates slowly, attracting the negatively charged toner. Then, the toner meets the paper as the drum rotates and it is heated with hot rollers to fuse the toner onto the paper.
Like inkjet printers, laser printers are sold as all-in-one units as well. Some also have features like dual-band Wi-Fi and double-sided printing, too, as well as enhanced security features (yes, your printer is a network security concern!). To save money, you can purchase a monochrome laser printer if you know you don’t care to print in color.
Comparing Inkjet vs. Laser Printers: Which Wins Overall?
Here’s a quick glance at what you should consider when comparing inkjet vs. laser printers and which printer excels in each category:
- How They Work: Inkjet printers spray ink onto the page, laser printers fuse toner onto pages
Winner: Laser printers, since inkjet nozzles can clog and ink can run. Toner is dry and does not run or bleed.
- Device Cost: Inkjet printers are often less expensive on average than laser printers
Winner: Inkjet printers, but by an increasingly slim margin. Prices in recent years have evened out
- Consumable Costs/Page Yield: Toner cartridges cost more than ink cartridges but last significantly longer both when in use and not, giving users a much lower cost per page than ink. Both toner and ink cartridges come in high yield varieties to stretch your dollar further
Winner: Laser printers due to cartridge lifespan
- Cost Per Page: Inkjet printers average about 5-10 cents per page for black-and-white and 15-25 cents for color, with laser printers averaging between 2-5 cents for black and white and 15 cents for color. These savings add up quickly when printing in high volumes.
Although laser printer cartridges are more expensive, laser printers have a significantly lower cost per page than inkjet printers, particularly if you’re looking to print a lot in black and white.
Winner: Laser printers
- Print Quality/Resolution: Inkjet printers shine when it comes to producing high quality photo prints and would for sure be the winner for photographers, graphic artists or anyone else who won’t compromise on color. Laser printers can still print decent quality color photos but can’t match the depth and vibrant colors inkjet printers produce. Inkjet printers start at around 1200 dot per inch (dpi) and max out around 5000dpi, whereas most laser printers max out at 1200dpi. However, the difference is close to negligible to the naked eye.
Another important consideration: since laser printers use dry toner, the ink doesn’t bleed or smear, which can be a problem with inkjet printing. Laser printers certainly get points for clean, legible letters.
Winner: Inkjet printers, although you could argue laser printers have better average quality for black and white prints since they don’t smudge. We’ll give a point each!
- Print Speed/Volume: Laser printers are significantly faster than inkjet on average. Depending on the resolution and colors, inkjet printers average anywhere from 5-20 pages per minute, whereas typical home laser printers crank out 20-40 pages per minute, with some top-of-the-line laser printers printing more than 50 pages per minute and up to 100.
Not only are laser printers faster, but they also have higher monthly print volume. Print volume is the recommended number of pages your printer can print a month for optimal performance. Monthly print volumes for laser printers are well into the thousands for most models. However, most inkjets have a monthly duty cycle usually under 1000. If you’re looking to print fast and print a lot, laser printers are the way to go.
Winner: Laser printers, hands down
- Page Yield: Laser printer toner cartridges have much higher page yield than ink cartridges. Your mileage may vary with both, but the very best inkjet cartridges yield 1,000 pages, with around 200 being average, whereas the low end of toner cartridges yield 2,000 pages, with high yield cartridges capable of cranking out 10,000 pages with a single cartridge. You’re getting between 5-10x more prints out of toner than you are with ink and paying about twice as much for a toner cartridge than an ink cartridge, plus you don’t need to worry about it drying out.
Winner: Laser printers
- Form Factor: Laser printers are significantly bulker than inkjet printers. If you have limited desk space, odds are you won’t be able to fit a laser printer
Winner: Inkjet printers
- Media Compatibility: Laser printers typically only handle standard paper sizes, but inkjets tend to be more flexible with different types of paper and even different media. Inkjet printers excel at printing on unusual media such as iron-on transfer sheets, plastic, vinyl and more.
Winner: Inkjet printers
That puts the tally at 6 for laser printers and 5 for inkjet, so we have a winner! However, it truly comes down to what you intend to use the printer for and how often. Read on for our quick summary.
What You Need to Know Before You Buy
If you’re short on time, your main takeaway should be that laser printers may cost a bit more upfront on average but are the better choice for most consumers due to their low cost per page, particularly if you print mostly in black and white and at higher volume.
However, if you’re a photographer or looking for a printer to give you photolike, color-rich prints, you don’t print much (also consider the ink cartridge will dry up if you don’t use it enough), you want to print on unusual paper/material, or simply don’t have the space for a laser printer, an inkjet is the way to go.
Printer Supplies Program (PSP)
Take the stress out of obtaining print supplies for your office or remote workforce. CDW’s Print Supplies Program provides you ready-access to printer supplies with free ground shipping and deep discounts on printer supplies like ink and toner from every major brand including Brother, HP and Xerox, plus complimentary fulfillment services to ensure the supplies arrive when needed.
There are no contracts to sign, costs to join, commitments to stay or renewals to worry about.
Managed Print Services (MPS)
We get that your organization has more pressing concerns than printers. Choose from a set of managed print services for device maintenance, supplies management, and remote management and diagnostic services.
We back the printers in our fleet with cutting-edge management software and exceptional delivery and support teams. No matter the needs of your organization or the brand or type of printers you have, consider your printers managed.
We hope this guide provided a comprehensive overview of printer technology and will help you decide if inkjet or laser printers are best for you or your organization. Shop inkjet and laser printers and print supplies on CDW.com.