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Laser Vs. Inkjet Printer

Which printer would serve you best? The speedy and precise laser printer or slow but better-at-colors inkjet? A glance through this laser vs. inkjet comparison should help you decide.
Techspirited Staff
A printer is the need of the day for any individual or business. Right from printing documents to color photos, printer technology (which predates even modern computers) has evolved to serve multiple purposes. Laser and Inkjet are the two prime technologies that find widespread applications today.

Both developed independently and have evolved to serve diverse requirements. So which one would be ideal for you? The trick is to know what you want and chose a printing solution that fits your needs, within constraints of the economy-requirement matrix. Let's find out.

Having personally used both types of printers for years, I have found both technologies to be excellent choices in specific domains. To sum it up in one sentence, when it comes to high text quality printing in large volumes, Laser is unbeatable, while inkjet serves well for people who are primarily focused on photo printing.

The head-to-head comparison between laser and inkjet printers presented here, discusses some strong and subtle points of difference between the two. Before diving into a detailed discussion, here's the gist of the argument presented upfront.

Laser Printer
Pros
Laser printers operate very fast, delivering crisp printed pages in huge volumes at a phenomenal rate. Its photoconduction based fusion printing technology enables this. Laser printers set the gold standard of text printing. These printers are perfect for printing primarily textual data with low graphic or color complexity.

Printed text pages are smudge-free with no ink bleed whatsoever. For high volume printing jobs, the cost per page is lesser compared to inkjet printers. Though laser printer toners cost more, they last substantially longer, proving to be much more economical over time. You can save a lot on cartridges, for months after buying one of these.

Laser printers are quiet in their operation, barely raising decibel levels, making them ideal for workplaces that put a premium on silence.

Cons
If you are looking for rich color gradients in your print work, laser printer scores poorly there, compared to an inkjet.

Laser printers are expensive compared to their inkjet counterparts and only break even as investments, for high volume print output.

Owing to the heat applied by laser printers, only very specific types of paper can be used with them. Any kind of paper made up of heat-sensitive material, like photo paper cannot be used with these printers.

If your print jobs come in varying sizes, laser printers may not be the right choice for you.

Though some entry-level models are available in compact form, medium and high-end laser printers are substantially bulky, occupying a lot of space.

Toner leaks can be tough to deal with for large machines.

Due to their dependence on heat for printing, they require a long time to warm up, before work can begin.

Inkjet Printer
Pros
Inkjet printers are ideally suited for printing high quality photographs.

For these printers, there is lesser restriction on the kind of paper used. They can also accommodate a wide spectrum of document dimensions compared to their counterparts.

Inkjets are cheap investments and versatile in handling a wide range of print jobs.

Cons
Text printing is poor quality, compared to laser printers, due to the smudging and bleeding of ink on paper.

Cartridge expenses can be high for large volume printing jobs. Cleaning inkjet cartridges can be quite time-consuming and literally draining in terms of the lost ink.
Summing it Up
Choose a Laser Printer If...

You produce a high volume of printed pages regularly, with primarily textual content.

Choose an Inkjet Printer If...

Print volume per month is low and you need a general purpose machine which can print text as well as photographs.

Laser Printer Vs. Inkjet Printer Comparison
Here's a more detailed analysis, for those who would like to delve deeper.

Difference in Technology: One Sprays, the Other Fuses
In my opinion, laser printing is one of the most brilliant engineering achievements. Here's a short summary of its working. It begins with an inbuilt laser beam projecting an image of the digital copy of a page onto a selenium coated, charged rotating drum. The laser light maps the negative image of the document to be printed, onto the charged drum by the principle of photoconductivity. This is achieved through the use of lenses and mirrors, making the entire machine bulky. The selenium coating becomes photoconductive, that is, it loses charge, in those regions, which are not to be printed. Then the drum rolls and picks up dry ink particles, only from those regions which are still charged. Consequently, the drum imprints ink onto paper, by the effect of heat and direct contact. And presto! Your printed paper is ready. Another technology that has emerged in recent times, which works just as fast as a laser printer, is an LED printer. Identical in functioning to their laser predecessors, they use light emitting diode sources. They are relatively cheaper and possess faster operating speed in some cases.

Here is the inkjet printer technology explained in a nutshell. Most inkjet printers use a piezoelectric material which has an ink filled cartridge behind the spraying nozzles. When electric voltage is applied to that piezoelectric material, it vibrates, changing shape and size. This generates a pressure pulse in the ink fluid filled chamber, which makes the nozzle spurt out droplets of ink. That's why it's named the 'inkjet', as it prints with jets of ink produced by voltage pulses.
Printing Speed & Quality Comparison: Laser is Speedy,
Inkjet's Better with Photo Prints
Laser printers are substantially faster in printing pages. The reason of course is the difference in technology that drives the two. To a laser printer, it does not matter whether a text or an image is being printed, as its speed of printing stays the same in both cases. Whereas, the inkjet has to spray ink for each pixel of the image. So its speed slows down with textual or image complexity.

When it comes to printing black and white pages, with complex textual details and fonts, laser printers do it best and do it real fast. While the laser printer scores when it comes to textual details and monochrome printing, color photo printing is accomplished best, with an inkjet printer, though speed is not its forte.
Cartridge: Inkjets require frequent refills, Laser printers don't
The laser printer uses a large single cartridge of toner as its ink, while the inkjet printer needs multiple cartridges of colored ink. These inkjet cartridges generally run out faster than the toner cartridges and therefore, need to be replaced or refilled often, by large volume users. With an inkjet printer, you will spend several times more than the cost of the printer, on cartridges. It is no wonder that printer hardware manufacturing companies earn a lot more through cartridge sales, than the printers themselves! If you have a large volume printing load, mostly in black and white text, a laser printer is the most sensible choice as it costs lesser per page, compared to inkjet printers that need a frequent cartridge change.
Size: Laser Printers are Bulky; Inkjets are Compact
Laser printers and especially color printers are huge compared to inkjet printers, but they are certainly worth the space. The large size of laser printers is attributed to the space needed by toner cartridges. Laser printers can weigh a hefty 40 pounds whereas the heavyweight among inkjet printers can weigh up to 11 pounds. Inkjet printers are comparatively a lot more compact and easily fit in small spaces. If you have a very low volume of printing and don't want a bulky machine, inkjets are perfect for you.
Cost: Lasers Printers Are Comparatively Expensive
Inkjet is cheaper than a laser printer, but the difference between prices of entry-level models is rapidly reducing. Inkjets come with an added later cost of cartridges, which need to be replaced often. With the cost of replaced cartridges (USD 12 to USD 60 each), added over the years, you could pay more for an inkjet than a laser printer, if your printing volume is high.

Laser printers cost more initially, but they do not require a change of cartridge for a long time. The toner cartridges in these printers can print 2,500 - 10,000 pages, before they require a replacement. The cost of both printers varies according to cartridge quality, brand and features. Inkjet cost ranges from USD 50 to USD 200+, while laser printers cost may range from USD 100 to USD 500+. Laser printers have an average life of five years compared to an average life of 3 years for inkjet printers.
Performance: You want volume - it's laser, you need photo prints, it's inkjet
In a head-to-head comparison, if we keep the speed and cost considerations aside, both printers deliver quality images and printed texts. As discussed before, the laser print quality, is a notch better than the inkjet, when it comes to text printing, but even in image printing, they have better resolution and detailing. While inkjet printers are better at printing images and photos, when it comes to providing brightness and rich color.
A Bit of History: How it all Began
Remington Rand was the first person to develop a modern printer for the Univac Computer in 1953. Contrary to popular belief, laser printer technology predates the inkjet one. Laser printers made their market debut in 1976, courtesy IBM and were invented five years earlier, by a scientist named Gary Starkweather in 1971, who worked at Xerox. They have been around since then. With improvements in technology, these printers are now affordable and more compact, which was not the case earlier.

If the credit for introducing this laser technology, goes to IBM, the inkjet printers technology owes its development to many companies like Canon, HP and Epson. These were first introduced in the market in 1979 and are the popular workhorse printers, used widely around the world. With the entry of 3D printers today, the whole domain of printing has once again been revolutionized.
To sum up this inkjet printers vs. laser printers debate, if you are a high print volume user and don't need a lot of color printing, buying laser printers is the right way to go. Conversely, if you have a low volume of print work and are more into intricate color printing, an inkjet printer is a smart choice. For photography enthusiasts, the best choice would be special photo printers. Weigh in on all the above discussed factors, before making your choice. Happy printing!