You’ve decided you need a printer. Do you buy an inkjet printer or a laser printer? What about supplies? Which type of printer is the most cost-efficient for me? With the multitude of options available and confusing printer jargon, where should you begin? To save you some time and make your buying process a bit smoother, we’ve put together an easy-to-understand guide with recommendations for selecting your next printer.
Key factors in deciding whether to purchase an inkjet or laser printer include:
- Print quality: Ink vs. Toner
- Features to Consider: Paper, Resolution, Print Speed, Multifunctional
- Upfront printer cost: Inkjet vs. Laser (Monochrome vs. Color)
- Printer supplies cost
Types of Printers
Inkjet printers create digital images by spraying liquid ink droplets onto the paper. This ink is contained in removable cartridges that are replaced periodically. A typical inkjet printer will use three colors—cyan, magenta, and yellow—along with a black cartridge.
Cartridge type varies with the printer model. Some printer models call for separate cartridges for each of the colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), and will require you to replace each individual cartridge as it runs out.
Conversely, other models, known as multi-color or tri-color cartridges, have a separate cartridge for each color, which is contained within a single unit. Models that use this cartridge will require you to purchase two cartridges, one for the three colors and one for black. High-end inkjet printers, which are typically used by professional photographers, can use eight or more cartridges that contain extra colors, such as light cyan and light magenta, to enhance print quality.
Unlike inkjet printers, laser printers utilize a laser beam as a part of the image processing. This laser beam combined with toner (powder) transfers images and text onto paper via a heating process. You can choose a model that prints in black only (monochrome) or one that prints in color.
Laser printers generally use either one or four toner cartridges. A monochrome laser printer requires a single black toner cartridge and a color laser printer will typically require four separate toner cartridges, each one holding one of the four standard colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.
When a toner cartridge runs out, you install a new one as needed.
The individual characteristics of ink vs. toner make each one better suited to specific types of printing.
Inkjet Printers (Ink)
Due to the nature of liquid ink, it is simply easier to cover a wider color range and produce more subtle shades with inkjet printers. These printers do very well with color, particularly if you need to print high-quality photos and images with high resolution.
However, since ink continues to dry after the printing process, the possibility of smudged documents when using an inkjet printer is a scenario that inkjet users need to be aware of. Depending on the specific inkjet printer, the type of ink being used, and the type of paper in use, the drying time can vary between a few minutes to a couple of hours.
Additionally, because inkjet printing can bleed a bit, these printers are not the best option for producing crisp text documents.
There are two main varieties of inkjet ink: dye-based and pigment-based.
- Dye-based ink is the standard ink type used in inkjet printers. It consists of colorants that are dissolved in a carrier liquid. This type is cheaper and creates deep, vibrant images, however, it is water-soluble and may fade over time.
- Pigment-based ink consists of an ultra-fine powder of solid colorant particles that are suspended in a carrier fluid. This type is more expensive and has less color depth, but it lasts longer and is more water-resistant. Professional photographers tend to prefer pigment-based ink.
Laser Printers (Toner)
Laser printers use toner, which is a type of plastic made from finely ground polyester. The paper is heated and pushed through rollers where the toner melts and fuses to the paper creating text and images.
Once a page is ejected from a well-functioning laser printer, it cannot smear or smudge. Since laser printers rely on high heat to melt the toner onto the paper, text and images are fused to the paper prior to exiting the printer.
Although advancements in printer technology have improved the capabilities of laser printers, they have not perfected their ability to print professional high-resolution photos yet. However, if what you need is a reliable printer for producing sharp documents with crisp text and only need to print the occasional medium-quality color image, a color laser printer would be a good option.
If color printing is not what you need in a printer and instead want one that produces high-quality, black and white text documents with sharp detail, a monochrome laser printer would be an ideal choice.
Features to Consider
Ever wondered what’s the difference between copier paper (aka multipurpose paper), inkjet paper, and laser paper? Apart from the cost, if you use the wrong paper, you will not produce high-quality printouts or may even damage your printer.
There are two primary factors to consider in determining which paper is best:
- Type of printer: Inkjet or Laser?
- What are you printing: Text, images, or both?
Copier (Multipurpose) paper
For most of your basic, all-text documents, you can use standard copier paper and get adequate results in both inkjet and laser printers. However, this paper does not produce the same crisp, clean text and images that specially designed printer paper does.
The key to obtaining high-resolution pictures and images from inkjet printers is to use high-quality inkjet paper, which is treated with a waxy coating that prevents too much ink from being absorbed. With standard copier paper, the liquid ink sinks in and spreads creating a feathered look and images with blurry edges.
In choosing the best paper to use in a laser printer, it is important to remember that a laser printer applies heat to the paper to create text and images. Laser paper is designed for toner adherence, so you get optimum results. If inkjet paper is used in a laser printer, the waxy coating can melt and damage the laser printer’s internal components.
Printers print by depositing dots of ink (inkjet) or dots of toner (laser) onto paper. A printer’s resolution refers to the measurement of these dots per square inch (dpi). The more dots that can be squeezed into a square inch, the higher the resolution, and the crisper the text/image. However, more is not always better. Printing everything in the greatest possible resolution will not create a discernible difference in print quality and will simply be a waste of ink or toner.
For most people who use their printers to print emails, documents, or the random photo, printer resolution is not a major concern. However, to attain a professional photo quality print, a high resolution is needed.
Most inkjet printers produce documents at a resolution starting at 600 by 1200 dpi. Since any dpi above 1200 is only visible under magnification, the additional resolution is only beneficial for those interested in printing professional quality photographs. Some professional photo inkjet printers are capable of much higher resolutions, with some reaching 4800 dpi.
The common default resolution of today’s laser printers is 1200 x 1200 dpi, which will produce very high-quality printouts.
Print speed refers to how many pages per minute (ppm) a printer is capable of printing.
There is a wide variance in ppm among printer types and models. Since laser printers are intended to accommodate heavy document production, which is common in the workplace, they are naturally designed to print faster. Conversely, inkjet printers are designed to excel at printing images and photographs, and, therefore, print much slower.
- Laser Printers: Avg 20 to 40 ppm
- Inkjet Printers: Avg 16 ppm
Multifunction printers, also referred to as all-in-one printers, incorporate the capabilities of multiple devices into a single printer. These printers are available in inkjet and laser models and combine devices that fax, scan, copy, and print.
Advantages of multifunction printers include:
- Convenience of having capabilities (scan, fax, copy) in one device.
- Its small footprint offers space savings for a home or small business setting.
- Cost savings of purchasing one unit that performs multiple functions.
Disadvantages of multifunction printers include:
- A single problem may cause all features to fail.
- May not offer the same high-quality features as individual devices.
There is a wide range of sticker prices for inkjet and laser printers, depending on function and capacity.
On the low-end, a basic, but good quality multifunction inkjet can usually be purchased for under $100. The HP OfficeJet 5255 All-in-One costs about $90. It has a black print resolution of 1200 x 1200 with a print speed of 10 ppm and a color print resolution of 4800 x 1200 with a print speed of 7 ppm. This printer has a low tray capacity (100), making it ideal for low volume print jobs.
Mid-level multifunction inkjets have a price range of $100 to $300. The HP OfficeJet Pro 9025 All-in-One costs about $250. It has a black print resolution of 1200 x 1200 with a print speed of 24 ppm and a color print resolution of 4800 x 1200 with a print speed of 20 ppm. This printer has a higher-volume paper tray capacity (500), making it a good choice for a small business.
High-end multifunction inkjets cost above $300 and can run into the $1000s, depending on features. The HP PageWide Pro 477dw Wireless All-in-One costs about $500. This printer is loaded with features. It has a black print resolution of 1200 x 1200 with a print speed of 55 ppm and a color print resolution of 2400 x 1200 with a print speed of 55 ppm. It has a higher-volume paper tray capacity (500), making it optimum for small to mid-size businesses.
Multifunction laser printers are available in monochrome and color models.
Today, even basic multifunction monochrome laser printers have advanced features such as networking capabilities, wireless printing, duplexing, and large paper capacity. The main difference between low-end and high-end models usually comes down to printer speed and monthly duty cycle.
Multifunction Monochrome printers
Basic monochrome multifunction laser printers ($120 to $300) are a good choice for home and small business with 1-3 users. The Brother-MFCL2710DW Wireless Black & White All-in-One Laser printer costs about $200. It has a print speed of 32 ppm with built-in duplexing. This model is designed for productivity and printing on the go with multiple connectivity options.
Mid-level monochrome multifunction laser printers ($300 to $700) are optimum for small businesses with multiple employees. The Brother MFC-L6800DW Wireless Black and White All-in-One Laser Printer costs about $650. It prints at speeds of up to 48 ppm with a large, expandable paper capacity, auto-duplexing, and cloud-based scanning.
High-end monochrome multifunction laser printers ($700 to $2000) are fast and typically have every possible feature that you could want in a printer. The Hp LaserJet Enterprise Multifunction M528dn costs about $1800 and has a print speed of 43 ppm and a resolution of 1200 x 1200. This model is Energy Star certified and designed to manage business solutions for a mid-size business with 25+ users.
Multifunction color laser printers
Basic color multifunction laser printers ($200 to $500) are best suited for average home use. The Brother MFC-L3750CDW Digital Color All-in-One Printer costs about $400. It prints up to 25 ppm in color and produces high-quality text and images with a 600 x 2400 dpi color resolution. This model has sturdy and robust construction ensuring that your printer keeps up with demand, and the compact design is perfect for smaller spaces.
Mid-level color multifunction laser printers ($500 to $1000) are ideal for a home office or small business. The HP LaserJet pro 500 Color MFP M570dn costs about $1000 and offers print speeds up to 31 ppm with crisp text detailed images, and a 600 x 600 dpi resolution. This model is Energy Star certified and lets you finish large jobs in minutes.
High-end color multifunction laser printers ($1000 to $3000) provide all the bells and whistles and are ideal for small to mid-size businesses. The HP Color LaserJet Enterprise M577dn costs about $2200 and is built for speed printing up to 40 ppm in color. Its main features include mobile printing, 2-sided printing, management features, and strong security to help detect and stop attacks. This model is perfect for those who need to print professional-quality documents with vivid images.
Upfront printer costs can be deceptive if you only consider sticker price. Many companies offer extremely low prices on their budget printers, knowing that the real money is in ink/toner sales later on. This makes it especially important to know how much you’ll be printing and research supply costs before choosing a printer type and model to purchase.
There is a significant difference in the cost of ink (inkjet) and toner (laser) cartridges.
Generally, upfront costs of inkjet printers/ink cartridges are cheaper than that of laser printers/toner cartridges. However, this is misleading. Budget inkjet printers that use a tri-color cartridge (cyan, magenta, and yellow) tend to have greater ink replacement costs because if any of the three colors run out, you must replace the entire cartridge. Conversely, a monochrome laser printer toner is initially more expensive, but will typically print considerably more pages before running out.
An additional factor to consider is that ink can dry up with minimal printing, which will lead to unnecessary replacement costs. On the other hand, toner is powdered and does not dry up, which may lead to better cost efficiency.
A printer’s true cost comes down to its cost per page.
Cost per page can be measured by cartridge price / cartridge page yield
What is Page Yield
Page yield describes how many pages can be printed with 5% coverage using one full cartridge. Although this is based upon the ISO standard, the actual number of pages a cartridge can print will vary significantly, depending on several factors.
- Text or Images: If you are primarily printing black and white text, you will run out of black ink/toner faster than colored ink/toner. If, however, you predominantly print colored images and photos, you will run through colored ink/toner faster.
- Size and Length: If you are printing long documents containing large blocks of text and high-quality images, you are far surpassing the 5% coverage standard and will have a much lower page yield.
Resolution: Most printers allow you to lower the print resolution, sometimes referred to as draft mode. This will certainly increase your page yield. However, keep in mind, this will lower your print quality
To illustrate the concept of cost per page, we’ll compare two printers (HP Deskjet 3630 vs. HP LaserJet Pro M29W). Please refer to the table below.
Although cartridge cost for these two budget printers have comparable cartridge cost ($45.89 vs. $49.89), there is a significant difference in their page yield (190 vs 1,000) making the HP LaserJet Pro more cost-efficient per page (4.9 cents vs. 24.2 cents).
|HP LaserJet Pro M29W ($128.90)||HP DeskJet 3630 ($89.00)|
|Cartridge||HP 63||HP 48A|
|Page Yield||1,000 pages||190 pages|
|Cost||$49.89 (as of 3/29/2020)||$45.89 (as of 2/29/2020)|
|Cost Per Page||4.9 cents per page||24.2 cents per page|
Printer Coach’s high-quality, non-OEM compatible ink and toner can be purchased at much lower prices.
Summary of Inkjets vs. Laser Printers
- Superior photo quality: Inkjet printers really shine when it comes to printing photos and are especially well suited for those looking to print high-quality photos with wide color range and image-heavy documents.
- Smaller size: Ideal for home offices with limited space.
- Low upfront cost: Inkjet printers have a lower upfront cost compared to laser printers.
- Multiple paper options: Capable of printing on multiple types of paper, including glossy photo paper and textured paper
- Not cost-efficient: Ink is expensive and has a higher cost per page compared to toner, especially for those who print in high volume.
- Smudging: Prints continue to dry after printing, creating the possibility of smudged documents
- Slower printing: Printing a document is much slower.
- Paper supplies expense: Printing on inexpensive standard copier paper may produce images with blurry edges.
- High-quality print: Laser printers excel at printing crisp, sharp text with the occasional image.
- Faster Print: Most laser printers print considerably faster than inkjet printers. This can be especially advantageous for high-volume users.
- Price Comparison: Higher cartridge page yields result in a lower cost per page, making them more cost-efficient.
- No smudging/fading: Since laser printers rely on heat, text and images are fused to paper before exiting the printer.
- Higher upfront cost: Laser printers are pricier upfront than inkjet printers, especially color models.
- Limited paper choices: Cannot print on the same variety of printing materials that inkjet printers can. Anything that is heat-sensitive cannot be printed on.
- Larger in size: Not as well suited to those with limited space as these printers are generally bigger and heavier than inkjet printers.
- Color printing: Although advancements have improved a color laser printer’s capabilities, they have not perfected their ability to print professional high-resolution photos yet.