A compact laser printer for home use.
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If you’ve been on the market for a printer recently, choosing between laser and inkjet might be challenging. The solution is pretty clear: It all depends on the type of printing you do. We’ll explain.

Laser Printer vs. Inkjet: What’s the Difference?

While it’s not necessarily paramount to know which is better, it’s a good idea to understand how each technology works and why it’s called what it’s called.

Inkjet printers do what they sound like they do: they have a little nozzle that drops a tiny drop of ink onto a page. Depending on the printer, this might be one color in the case of monochrome printers or up to six with really high-end multi-color printers.

Laser printers, on the other hand, are slightly more complicated. Instead of ink, they use a powder layered onto the paper and melted together using a heated drum. Again, much like Inkjet printers, you can have both monochrome and multi-color laser printers, depending on your need.

Many modern printers are all-in-ones (AIOs) regardless of whether they are inkjet or laser. This means that they can often scan, copy, and send faxes along with their normal printing function.

Laser Printer vs. Inkjet: Quality

For the most part, both types of printers have a relatively good print quality, even if you go down to the lower-priced versions of printers. If you aren’t printing high-quality photo pages constantly or relying on it for your income, the quality shouldn’t be a huge factor to you. That being said, there are some key things to keep in mind.

Inkjet printers are usually better suited to high-quality photo work, and that’s primarily due to their use of ink. They can achieve a much broader color profile, especially as they begin to use more color cartridges. For example, the Epson Expression XP-970 uses six different cartridges, the only printer to do so, and therefore can get unparalleled photo quality at the consumer level.

One downside to Inkjet printers is that they can sometimes be prone to smudging, depending on the type of ink they use. If you’re buying ink, try and avoid dye-based ink since that’s the type that smudges, whereas pigment-based ink usually dries quickly and therefore don’t have the issue of smudginess.

Laser printers, on the other hand, are incredibly well-suited to printing text. Not only is there no chance of smudging, but the text itself also tends to be much crisper and clearer compared to inkjet. Laser printers can often print in a smaller font while maintaining clarity, too.

Laser Printer vs. Inkjet: Cost

Where the real question comes in when buying either laser or inkjet is the cost, but in a different way than you might expect.

While Inkjet printers are pretty cheap to buy upfront compared to laser, their actual cost comes from buying the ink. Printer ink is famously expensive, and the cost per printed page can be surprisingly high.

To give you an idea, a monochrome page of text can easily cost you 10 to 12 cents per page on some printers. With color, you’re looking at 20 cents or even, in some cases, 30 cents per page, which adds up if you do a lot of color printing.

Note: A new technology that has started to gain traction is printers with ink tanks that don’t require ink cartridges. These can be refilled at home by you and can bring down the cost of a page to a few cents or sometimes even less. The only downside is that you will have to deal with ink and refilling, which might not suit those who aren’t very comfortable with tech.

Laser printers, on the other hand, cost a lot more to buy upfront, sometimes even double the price in the lower-budget range, but their cartridge yield is several times larger than ink. So, for example, monochrome printing can go as low as 3 to 4 cents on average, and color printing can go for about 10 to 15 cents per page on average. But, as you can see, that’s half or even a third of the cost of ink.

In addition to being cheaper, laser printers are generally much faster than inkjet printers and sometimes can print up to two times as fast.

Laser Printer vs. Inkjet: Final Takeaways

So, which of the two technologies should you pick? While each person’s case can vary, there are some general starting points.

For the most part, you’re better off going with a laser printer if you don’t do much color printing. While the initial cost of buying a laser printer is more expensive compared to inkjet, the long-term costs of printing a lot of black-and-white documents are low. Similarly, if you plan on printing a lot of pages, a laser printer is a better deal.

On the other hand, if you do a lot of color printing, then inkjet is the better option. While the cost per page (CPP) is pretty high, you aren’t likely to get better color quality with a laser printer unless you go to a high-end grade which isn’t available to most consumers. Also, if you’re brave enough, you can look at buying an ink-tank printer which can absolutely help with the astronomical CPP of inkjet printing.

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Albert Bassili is a freelance writer at How-to-Geek with eight years of experience in both commerce and tech writing. He's been a life-long lover of all sorts of tech and gadgets and has been building his own PCs for just under two decades now and he has more gadgets than he actually needs. He's written for a variety of sites from SFGate to GameGavel.
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