What printer should I buy – Laser or Inkjet?

By Sandra Clitter  

We all know that we can buy an inexpensive printer (maybe it is even thrown in with our computer purchase for ‘free’), but we end up spending a fortune on ink. Printers that use a single cartridge with all colors in it are typically more expensive to operate because you end up replacing ALL colors of ink, when the first color runs out. When the colors are stored in separate cartridges, you only need to replace the colors as they run out, thereby assuring that you empty every color before replacing them. So, while one printer might be quite inexpensive to purchase, it might be very expensive to operate over time.

Typically, I have purchased inkjet printers. My primary rule of thumb when purchasing a printer – make sure all the ink cartridges can be replaced separately. Beyond that, I look at the other features (I currently use an all-in-one), and determine if they are worth the money (beyond being a basic printer).

I have never totally understood why I would purchase a laser printer over an inkjet printer. I know that laser printers are typically higher volume, but that was my total understanding (admittedly, not much) of the difference…and that difference I understood only vaguely.

So, I took particular interest in an article in PC World titled “Should your office buy and inkjet or laser printer?“.

You can read the details if you’re interested, but here’s what I took away from the discussion:

Inkjets work well for printing photos, and other items that are not ‘plain paper’.
Inkjets are easier to maintain (for mere mortals!)
Inkjets are s-l-o-w (you don’t need to tell me that!)
Inkjet print quality isn’t the greatest on plain paper
Inkjets don’t handle alot of paper at one time (small tray size)

Laserjets print clear, crisp text on plain paper
Laserjets print quickly
Laserjets print high volume (larger tray sizes)
Laserjets are larger/heavier than their Inkjet brethren
Laserjets don’t print photos well
Laserjets (particularly color ones) tend to have more maintenance costs associated with them

I had always heard that the cost of ink was far more economical in Laserjets than in Inkjets, but apparently, that line is blurring (why not help to further confuse me!?!). Lower-end cost Laserjets may actually have more expensive ink cartridges, making the cost savings on the printer itself less attractive when you have to purchase more expensive ink for the life of the printer.

My take-away from this is that it is best to buy the right printer for the type of printing that you typically do. If you need speed, buy a laserjet. If you like printing up photos of the grandkids, stick to the inkjet. I’m sure that, with time, the line will actually get blurrier with the cost of laserjets and LCD printers coming down, while some lovely, higher-end inkjets appear on the market.

And another note: I ABSOLUTELY recycle every ink cartridge that I empty. It is the right thing to do. That said, Ana Fernandez-Parmet, a friend of mine who owns Parmetech, an office technology provider, says that there are now printers which are ‘green’ and print using cartridge-less ink! As I understand it, these are Laserjets, and the ink simply ‘melts’! Now THAT is a technology that I can get behind :-). I hope that that concept is adopted by some of the lower-volume printers out there.


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  8. reeha smith
    Posted May 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great information. thanks for sharing however buying inkjet or Laser depends upon ones needs.
    anyhow thanks for sharing it with me.

  9. Parmelia
    Posted June 19, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink | Reply

    In awe of that answer! Really cool!

  10. Posted May 25, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink | Reply


    FINALLY you cover a topic where I have some real input. (Oops… don’t really mean I was “faking it” all those other times!)

    Here’s my take on the difference between laser and ink:

    1. In today’s market, I would probably buy an inkjet. I have an HP Laserjet 4+ (heavy, bulky) from a former life it seems, and I use it only when I have LOTS of printing to do and it is all in black and white. But these days, if I didn’t have the laser, I wouldn’t get one.

    2. Lasers use TONER and not ink and generally (at least at the small-business level) are only black. I bought my inkjet because I wanted color, especially when I send letters through where I want my signature preprinted (OK… marketer, here, and sometimes I do 10 – 100 letters at a time and want my ‘signature’ to be in blue.) Sometimes I print reports or special documents when I want a graphic or photograph, so having the color is a benefit. And it’s true what they say: COLOR grabs more attention and for client reports I would ALWAYS use some color.

    3. Both toner and ink are easy to change, so that’s about even. And through a store like Staples, they’re always available. (I don’t recommend knock-off brand ink or toner. I did that once and learned my lesson when the ink faded quickly and the toner cartridge jammed and nearly voided my warranty.)

    4. For my HP Officejet L7780, I have a copier, fax, scanner, and printer – an All-In-One. This is WAY more flexible and useful than my laser printer. And I have two paper drawers, so recycled paper is always loaded for my test printings/copies.

    5. I put my “default” setting for quick (draft) mode in black and white. I USED to have to switch it from color each time I wanted to print something just for me but saw the foolishness of my ways. MOST of my printing is for ME (when I want to edit one of our Information Products, let’s say, I find I edit MUCH better on the printed page, so I really don’t need the color to be on.) Setting it to draft mode is a bit fainter, but just in B+W saves me LOTS of ink – and since the black ink is a larger cartridge (in my 4 separate-color printer), I don’t have to change it very often.

    6. Lasers are only quicker for large quantities. My inkjet is always “on” though using practically no energy (can’t do THAT with a laser since it “melts” the toner onto the page and has to be hot). Once I click “print,” my inkjet jumps into action… my laserjet would still be warming up (literally) by the time I’d finish the 10th page in the inkjet. And by the way – printing large quantities by laser definitely fills the air with a smell of toner (not sure what that air pollution does to me) – I’ve never smelled ink.

    So… my feeling is that for most of us, inkjets are better, more economical, quicker. Now – if I were the purchasing agent for an office of 20+ persons who all shared the same printers (as awkward as that would be), I might go for a laser for at least some of our printing.

    Charlie Seymour Jr

    • Posted May 25, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink | Reply

      LOL!!! Thanks, Charlie. I agree with your statements. That said, for some organizations who are more ‘document driven’, the Laser Printers make more sense – clarity of type and speed (yes, once you get the sucker revved up!). Like you, my HP OfficeJet all-in-one (which is an inkjet) does the trick. I also like the idea of using draft mode when I’m working on preliminary ‘stuff’ (whatever the ‘stuff’ might be).

      All that said, I can’t wait to see the ‘cartridge-less’ printers become more prevalent (and thereby more cost effective) – just because it is so much more eco-friendly.

    • Lorin
      Posted June 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Touchdown! That’s a really cool way of putting it!

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