When choosing a printer for a home or small office, there are a lot of options. The first step is to decide if you are going to buy a laser or inkjet printer. Both offer great quality prints when used appropriately, but it is best if you are aware of their strengths and weaknesses before you decide which one to purchase. This article will explore how inkjet and laser printers work, and when to choose one over the other.
Inkjet printers were the only option for home use for the first few decades of computing due to the high cost of laser printers when the technology was new, and inkjets still tend to be the cheaper printers since the technology is older and simpler. An inkjet printer works by having a page of paper slowly scroll through the printer assembly in steps while a print head squirts microscopic dots of ink onto the paper. It is a fairly simple process, and most of the technology behind the printing is concentrated onto the print head itself and the cartridges of ink that are installed. This keeps the actual printer cheap and small, making them a great choice for home offices where space is at a premium. However, if budget is a concern, low-end cheap inkjet printers will tend to cost you more than the equivalent budget laser printer. The cheapest inkjet printers are typically sold at a loss, with the understanding that the manufacturer will make their money back through ink purchases, meaning that you may be saving money initially but the cost per page will be quite high. Budget inkjets may also have their ink dry up or clog nozzles more often, requiring time (and ink) consuming cleanings, further eroding the price savings of a cheap inkjet. That being said, even cheaper inkjets tend to be more feature rich than budget laser printers. A cheap inkjet may include scanning, copying and faxing capabilities, while the lowest cost laser printer may not even print in color!
Laser printers operate in a much more complex way. Basically, a laser charges a photoelectric drum with a positive charge, allowing it to have toner cling onto it through static. This toner is then transferred over to the paper, where a fuser melts the toner to the paper to seal it. Toner is a dry pigmented dust instead of the liquid ink used by inkjet printers. This means that laser printers are immune to the issues that cause inkjet cartridges to run out quicker than they should – ink drying out and nozzles getting clogged. This complexity also includes maintenance and repair. With an inkjet printer, all of the work is concentrated into the printhead – there is only one part involved in the printing itself. With a laser printer, you have the drum, the toner cartridge, and the fuser all working in tandem, and all three can degrade and need replacement. Even factoring that in however, laser printers tend to cost less than inkjet printers when owned for a long enough time. Budget laser printers beat out inkjet printers when you print very infrequently, since the cheaper inkjets tend to have their nozzles clog between print jobs, and higher-end laser printers tend to beat out inkjet printers on cost-per-page. When it comes to speed, laser printers are both faster and slower than inkjet printers, depending on how you measure it. Once a laser printer is warmed up, it can output a ton of pages very quickly – much quicker than an inkjet. However, it does have to heat up first. If you are printing one small page, an inkjet will print it quicker than a laser printer, since there is less overhead.
Picking between a laser printer and an inkjet printer will depend primarily on two things – budget and usage. If you are looking for a low-price printer for occasional printing, and don’t need to print in color, a monotone laser printer would work best for you. They tend to be reliable and print clearly and cheaply since the toner will rarely need to be replaced. If you occasionally need to print in color, but the image quality doesn’t need to be high (for example, if you are a teacher who sometimes prints full-color hand outs for your class) then a color laser printer would be best. While the initial expenditure will be higher than a cheap inkjet, the reliability of a laser printer will make it more desirable, and the price per page will eventually catch up and make it cheaper in the long run. If you need to print high-quality images like photographs, stickers or model transfers, then an inkjet is the way to go. Laser printers have gotten better at producing sharper images over the years, but actually having ink going onto paper leads to better color blending and color image quality. If you care less about the actual printing itself, and need an all-in-one for scanning on a budget, then a cheap inkjet would work well for you, just be prepared to not have quality prints ready at a moment’s notice.