Laser or Inkjet? … things to consider when buying a new printer

We get several people coming in asking for recommendations about which printer to buy. Whether you buy inkjet or laser depends on several things. If you are looking for speed, quality, volume, long life of the documents you print, and an overall lower cost of ownership, go with laser. If you print in low volume (10-12 pages per day) or you are looking to print photographic images, choose an inkjet.

Inkjet is a water-based wet medium ‘pushed’ onto the paper through little pinholes in the ink cartridge. Inkjet, because it’s wet, takes time to dry. If you handle it too soon, you may end up with blurs, blotches, or smudges on your document – and ink on your fingers. It is susceptible to fading with time or exposure to light.If you drop water on it, the ink will run.You can increase the longevity of your inkjet prints by laminating or spraying them with protective coating. Laser, on the other hand, uses dry powdered pigments (called “toner”) which are ‘fused’ onto the paper using heat. You can touch it as soon as it cools (laser printouts will be warm when they come out of the printer and cool within seconds). Because the toner is fused onto the page, laser printouts are fade resistant and require no protective coating. You can immerse a laser printed page into a bathtub of water and the ink will not run.

Speed Ratings

When choosing a printer (whether inkjet or laser) you’ll want to look at the pages per minute (ppm); but be aware that an inkjet and a laser with the same ppm rating may not actually be the same speed. A laser printer makes one pass to produce your document.An inkjet might make several passes or print considerably slower if you printing at a high resolution.   Laser printers produce the best quality black and white prints.Inkjets are best for photographic prints. If you frequently print photographic images, you’ll want to consider a high-end inkjet. The quality of your document is determined by the resolution used to print it. Resolution is measured in dots-per-inch (dpi); a higher dpi rating will result in higher quality. Be aware, however, that the higher you set the resolution, the longer it will take to print your picture and the more ink an inkjet will use.


Finally, we have paper.You can use most any paper you want with laser. Inkjet printers, however, require that you use paper that allows for absorption of the liquid ink.It’s important that you match the paper to the job.Inkjet has a tendency to bleed and distort when absorbed into regular paper.You can only achieve maximum resolution when you use wax-coated paper for text and photo paper for photos.

If you’re using an inkjet printer buy inkjet paper.If you are using glossy paper, make sure you are printing on the right side of the paper – if you print on the back of glossy paper, the quality will not be as good as you expect and in fact may be smudged or ‘fuzzy’. If you want to print on both sides, use non-glossy photo quality paper – or standard white cardstock.

Overall Cost

At first glance, inkjet is the cheapest.It’s the cheapest printer to buy (quite a few are available for less than $100) and the cartridges also have the lowest price ($15 – $50).In a four-color machine, you might spend $200 each time you buy ink.

A black and white laser printer starts at around $200, a color laser printer is going to start at around $400.Toner can typically range in price from $65 – $150 per cartridge. In a four cartridge (color) machine, this could mean $500 each time you buy toner.

But consider this: The capacity of an inkjet cartridge is minimal compared to a laser.

Most of us print in black and white for the most part.So I’ll use black and white here to keep things simple: You pay $200 for a laser printer and $120 for the toner cartridge.The yield is 8000 pages. Total cost to print 8000 pages is $320. You pay $100 for the inkjet printer and $20 for an inkjet cartridge. The yield of the inkjet cartridge is 200 pages.You’ll have to buy 40 cartridges to print (the same) 8000 pages.Total cost = $900.

If you aren’t using it every day and you typically print 10-12 pages at a time, it would take a long time to print 8000 pages.On the other hand, if you are using it for your business and printing 50 pages per day, 200 days per year, it’s not going to take long to wrack up the expense.

High end laser printers usually have a counter on them that keeps track of the number of pages printed.On a low-end printer, the software utility that comes with the printer might have a counter built into it but more often than not, low end printers do not come with a page counter.If they did, you would be shocked at how much you really do print.


PPM = Pages per Minute; identifies the speed rating of the printer
DPI = Dots per Inch; defines the resolution of your printed document. Higher resolution results in a higher quality document.
PAGE YIELD = The number of pages you can print from one ink cartridge (usually assuming 5% coverage).
DUTY CYCLE = The expected number of pages that can be printed before the machine requires maintenance