Should I Buy an Inkjet or Laser Printer?
This is a question just about every printer purchaser asks themselves at one time or another. Unfortunately there is really no cut and dried answer. It is a matter of weighting your printing habits and requirements to the different printer technologies.
Inkjet vs. Laser Printer Technologies:
Inkjet printers have long been thought of as 'home' or 'small business' printers and laser printers were primarily associated with office use. This was largely based on price. Years ago laser printers were quite expensive compared to inkjet printers so most people looking for a home or small office printer would simply look at inkjet printers.
The lines between Inkjet Printers and Laser Printers has become somewhat blurred as far as price goes. Inkjet printer manufacturers such as HP are marketing high-end inkjet printers (often $800+) as replacements for your office laser printer. See our article here:
Today Mid to High-End Inkjet Printers often are similar price wise to Low and Mid Range Laser Printers. Often a higher-priced printer of either type will not necessarily fit the bill for your particular use. I've always felt that the goal is to find a printer that will do the job, at a reasonable price, with less expensive Compatible Cartridges available AND does not fall victim to a lot of the underhanded tricks some of the printer manufacturers are using to force their customers to buy their expensive cartridges. (more on that later in the article.)
How Frequently Do I Use My Printer?
That may seem like an unusual question to ask first when it comes to buying a printer. The problem is that people just 'expect' a printer to work regardless of how often or not so often it is used.
If your printing habits are sporadic or you head south for 6 months (in a normal, non-pandemic year) then inkjet printers would not be a good choice. Inkjet printers need to be used on a regular basis to keep the ink flowing. When I say 'used regularly' I mean you need to print a few pages of full colour prints every few days, otherwise you risk the liquid ink drying out in the very, very small printhead nozzles and you end up with lines in your print. Very often I receive emails saying that they put in a new inkjet cartridge because the 'old' cartridge wasn't printing right ... the print had lines through it. The 'New' Cartridge must be defective because it prints no better than the last one. The problem is clogged nozzles, which a new cartridge isn't going to solve. That's like saying my car won't start so I filled the gas tank from half full to completely full and my car still doesn't start. If you've got a half full cartridge and it doesn't print properly, sticking in a new one probably won't solve the problem. That just isn't how inkjet printers work, no matter how you think they should. Inkjet printers simply need to be used on a very regular basis. The more you print with them, the less likely you are to have print problems.
On the other hand laser printers use powder toner so it does not dry out. We have a Canon colour laser which is several years old. About the only time we use it is for 2 sided brochures when we go into trade shows. I haven’t used our laser printer for three months or more, but guaranteed it will print perfect next time I need it.
Long Term Purchase or Disposable?
In general, it is my opinion that people looking to buy a printer should consider inkjet printers a disposable device. Why do I say this? Most inkjet printers are replaced because of clogged printhead nozzles, not mechanical failure. It is just the technology ... High speed printing, fast drying liquid ink and incredibly small printhead nozzles ... it's a recipe for failure. Heck, if a person understands how inkjet printers work, you'd have to wonder why they work at all:-) If you have an inkjet printer which is 2 years or older then you have certainly beat the odds. Remember that inkjet printer you bought 15 years ago and it lasted for 5 or 8 years? Well, that was then and this is now. Faster printers, faster drying inks and much much smaller printer nozzles for higher resolution print has meant a shorter life expectancy year after year.
It's pretty much a given that most inkjet printers will be replaced because of clogged nozzles. Inkjet printers don't usually 'live' long enough to wear out rollers, gears or other parts in the course of normal wear and tear.
All inkjet printers use the same technology regardless of the price. Again, see my article below:
If you don't mind spending your money on an inkjet printer which has an expected life span of two years or less, then that's fine as long as you can justify the cost.
On the whole, laser printers have a far longer life expectancy compared to inkjet printers. On the other hand a 4+ year old laser is typical whether it is used daily or once a month. For this reason I would look at the typical laser printer as a long-term purchase, even the lower end models. While clogged printer nozzles doesn't happen with laser printers, they are still quite mechanical in nature and can be susceptible to gears, pinch wheels and paper feeders wearing out over time. This usually happens after thousands of copies whether it be 1 year, 5 years or 10 years. Usually laser printer wear out, not just die from clogged nozzles in a year or two.
Photo Quality Prints or Just Good Quality Graphics:
If you are a semi-professional or professional photographer then the ability to print 'true photo quality prints' will be right on top of your list.
If this is the case then you will probably be looking at a high-end photo inkjet printer with at least 6 colours but probably 8+ colours if your serious. The Canon Pro 100 Inkjet Photo Printer pictured to the right is such a printer aimed at the professional photographer.
This article is not being addressed to such a user as high-end photo printers definitely fall into a specialty category. I discuss this in my article 'Should-I-Buy-a-High-End-Inkjet-Printer'.
For the average person the ability to print your family photos at home is a nice plus. Virtually any inkjet printer with good quality photo paper can create very good quality photos, more than acceptable in most cases. You might also keep in mind that printing photos can be expensive considering the cost of ink and the cost of good quality photo paper. It may be cheaper to just take your camera memory card down to Walmart or Staples if you want a few photo prints periodically.
Laser printers on the other hand generally do not print actual photo quality prints. For the avid photographer they simply fall short. For business graphics or product photos such as those found in brochures like the ones we use in our trade shows, then the colour laser printer is perfect for this. You don't need high-end, expensive photo paper to have good results. We use a medium-grade brochure bright white paper for our laser printed brochures and are very happy with the results.
Our colour laser will print 10 - 2 sided brochures in the time the average inkjet will do 1 or 2. An important factor if you regularly print off 200+ brochures.
How many Pages Do You Print in an Average Month?
We have many home business or small business customers who print off large quantities of brochures, price lists, product information pages etc. Often this is sporadic as they will print off several hundred pages in a run and not do it again for another month or two. Again, we are back to sporadic printing. If you do large print runs periodically then an inkjet printer is probably not for you on two fronts ... first the problems caused by sporadic printing discussed above ... second, entry-level to mid-level inkjet printers simply aren't made to produce 200+ page runs ... speed wise or endurance wise.
Chances are, if you print 1,000 pages per month or more, then a laser printer is probably for you. Even the low to mid-range lasers will be faster and have far more endurance than the average inkjet printer.
Do You Really Need Colour?
If you can get away without colour, then a mid-range monochrome laser might be the answer. They do generally offer very economical black print. Monochrome laser printers offer excellent quality gray scale graphics on regular paper.
I sold a Brother monochrome multifunction laser printer to my sister, similar to the one pictured to the right, and she couldn’t be happier. She was constantly fighting against clogged nozzles with her inkjet printer because she would let it sit for weeks on end without using it. No problem with her laser and it was just slightly more than $200.
Last, but not least is the budget. While the gap in pricing between inkjet and laser printers has continually closed over the years, I think you'll find that the bottom end monochrome (black only) laser printer is similar or a little higher in price compared to a mid-range inkjet printer. Once you start comparing a mid-range inkjet printer around $150 with a colour laser printer then the gap spreads. Colour laser printers, particularly multi-function lasers, will definitely be more expensive than a mid-range inkjet. There may, however, be little difference if you are looking at a 'business' class inkjet printer. It's a matter of shopping around and looking for the best value for your dollar.
For our Canon Colour Laser Multifunction Printer, I waited until Staples had it on sale for half price ... a $700 colour laser printer for $350. How does it compare to the $200 multifunction inkjet sitting right beside it ... absolutely no comparison. The Canon Laser is built like a tank compared to the inkjet. Again ... disposable or long-term purchase.
Cost of Printing:
What is the cost of printing? That is a loaded question. The cost of printing per page is all over the map. You simply can't say that inkjet printers are cheaper to run than lasers or the opposite. Generally a laser cartridges will print far more pages per cartridge than most inkjet cartridges, but they are usually more expensive. The important thing here is to find out if less-expensive Compatible Cartridges are available for the printer model you are considering. InkMagic International has Compatible Cartridges for most printers which will save you 25% or more compared to using the printer manufacturer's OEM cartridges. Check www.inkmagic.com to see if compatible cartridges are available BEFORE you buy the printer. If you don't see it on our website then email us. We'll be happy to direct you to a similar printer with less expensive cartridges.
Our article 'What Inkjet Printer Should I Buy' is packed with information you need to know BEFORE you go shopping for a printer.
Are There Printer Brands You Recommend Over Others?
We've been recommending the Brother or Canon printers for years. It's not that their printers are that much better than other brands such as HP or Epson but it's the availability of using inexpensive Compatible Cartridges as discussed above. Brother and Canon Compatible Cartridges work very well and without issues.
HP and Epson, on the other hand, use some very underhanded methods to force their printer owners to use the manufacturer's expensive OEM cartridges. They do this by sending printer updates to the printers through the internet, which in turn blocks the use of any cartridges other than the Brand Name Cartridges. HP has already lost 2 Class Action Suites, 1 in Canada and 1 in the U.S. with several million dollars in settlements. Epson is currently fighting against 2 Class Action Lawsuits also.
Get full details in our article 'Compatible Inkjet Toner Cartridges Not Registering or Showing Error Codes'. You will be shocked at the underhanded methods HP and Epson are using to block out the competition's cartridges and give themselves a monopoly on printer supplies.
So there are a lot of considerations when it comes to choosing between purchasing an inkjet printer or laser printer. Disposable or long-term purchase. Regular or sporadic printing. Photos or just good graphics. Your budget.
And you thought buying a printer would be a walk in the park ... maybe think again:-)
This article was written by Dale R. Farrier, president of InkMagic International Ltd.
All opinions stated are those solely of Dale Farrier and are not meant to offend any company or product discussed on this page. The purpose of this article is to introduce the average printer purchaser to another way of thinking when it comes to evaluating which printer to purchase.
All material is copyright InkMagic International Ltd. and my not be copied in part or whole without explicit permission in writing from InkMagic International Ltd. All rights reserved.