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Inkjet vs. Laser Jet: 6 Key Differences and Full Comparison

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Inkjet vs. Laser Jet: 6 Key Differences and Full Comparison

If you have ever gone shopping for a new printer, you know that you often need to choose the best available option as far as price, size, and paper capacity. Well, here’s one more question that you should be asking, and that’s whether you should go with an inkjet or laser printer for your needs.

The answer used to be a lot more cut-and-dry a decade ago when inkjet was the better option for photos and laser was less expensive, but as technology has caught up to both methods, the decision for a new printer has become a little more difficult.  

The good news is that neither option is a bad one, but there is a good chance one of these methods is better for your needs. Let’s take a look at the differences between inkjet and laser printing to see which one is better overall for you. 

Inkjet vs. Laser Jet: Side-by-Side Comparison

Inkjet Printing vs Laser Jet Printing
InkjetLaser Jet
Print Cost5-10 cents for black and white, 15-25 cents for color2-5 cents for black and white, 15 cents for color
Cartridge TypeInkToner
Cartridge Cost$19-25 black and white, $33-64 for color$20-$70 
Lifespan3 years+5 years
Photo Dots Per Inch1,200-5,0001,200 (maximum)
Use CasesFamilies, home offices, photographersSmall to medium businesses, schools

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

Technology

Before diving into the deeper differences between inkjet and laser, it’s important to know how each of these two options works. 

Inkjet printers take liquid black or color ink/dye directly from a printer cartridge and it makes direct contact with the paper. Using dozens of really small (think micro) nozzles, these microscopic drops of ink are placed onto the paper and form together in the shape of whatever you are printing. This might be a photo, chart, word document, or something else. Historically, the biggest downside with inkjet printing was that as soon as a print was completed, if not carefully handled, it ran or bled through the paper. 

Laser printers rely on toner which is originally a powder, and when a laser printer starts printing, it uses static electricity to imprint the powder into toner and then onto the paper using heat. The laser printing process is definitely more elaborate but the result is faster print speeds and better overall print quality with sharper text. If speed counts at home or in an office, laser printing is likely what you will find already in place.  

Print Speed

While print speed will undoubtedly vary based on specific printer models, it’s widely accepted that laser printers work faster. The prevailing school of thought is that a laser printer can print anywhere between 15 and 100 papers per minute while inkjet printers, on average, hover somewhere closer to around 16 pages per minute. These numbers are pretty generalized and there are, no doubt, inkjet printers that can outpace a laser machine every now and then. However, there is no hiding that, by and large, laser printing is definitely the faster choice between the two printing technologies. 

Another potential example is to take a single A4 document with just plain black and white text, likely the most common type of print around, and compare print speed. On a standard laser printer, this A4 document is going to print within a few seconds while an inkjet may take as long as 20 seconds for a single print. If you are just printing single documents at a time, this probably isn’t a big concern, but if you’re printing presentations or legal reports, print speed can become a very big deal. 

Photo Printing

When it comes to photo printing, inkjet printers have been the go-to for some time and the right answer for anyone who doesn’t want to compromise on photo quality. While there are multiple factors that contribute to why photos are better on inkjet, the most critical piece of information is around dots per inch.

On a traditional inkjet printer, you’ll find, at a minimum, 1,200 dots per inch (DPI) with a maximum of 5,000 DPI. On a laser printer at maximum, you’ll find around 1,200 DPI and, while the differences are mostly invisible to the naked eye, it’s still a factor worth considering as inkjet photos will look better for longer. 

What does work in the favor of laser printing is that its dry toner won’t run, bleed, or smear, so it’s easy to grab a photo right off the printer and show it off. An inkjet photo print often needs to dry as soon as it’s printed so it takes 30 seconds or so before you’re able to really handle it well. Handling a photo isn’t likely to be a major factor in an inkjet versus laser printer decision, but it’s another factor that needs to be weighed as part of any decision. 

home printer
Inkjet printers offer better photo quality than laser printers

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Upfront Costs

Printers

As soon as you start to look for a printer with all of the features you need, the biggest potential hurdle is going to be price. The good news is that printer costs vary significantly, ranging from $50 to $500 if not more for more professional grade options. Given that, you have to make some assumptions about what a mid-level printer will cost in order to best determine whether inkjet or laser is the right option. 

Overall, inkjet printers do tend to be less expensive than laser printers as they don’t have the same technology costs, so it’s cheaper to mass produce for consumers.

Ink

There is also a belief that inkjet printers might be sold at a loss by the manufacturers in order to make up costs down the road with new ink cartridges and sales over time. The current cost for a new black ink cartridge is anywhere between $19 and $25, while a color ink cartridge is more expensive and sits between $33 and $64. Given these costs, it’s easy to see why a budget inkjet printer available for $100 is available on Amazon knowing the manufacturer will make up for a potential hardware loss after selling two to three ink refills. 

Laser printers tend to cost more because of their better-performing technology and they are generally larger overall in terms of how much space they occupy. At the bare minimum, you can expect to pay around $200 starting for a laser printer and only really go below that number in the event of a really great holiday sale. Looking at the cost of toner for a laser printer is a little more difficult than inkjet which tends to have fairly stable costs. It’s easy to find toner one day for around $75 for a 3,000-page black and white refill, and the next day find the same exact toner for less than $20 as part of a promotion. 

Reliability 

Regardless of whether you are running a business with 100 employees or it’s just you printing out a vacation itinerary, reliability with printers matters. Nobody loves the sound of a paper jam but, to be fair, with both inkjet and laser printers, this is hardly a concern anymore. Overall improvements to both types of printers and their loading trays have helped make this a much less common experience. 

The same goes for wet pages as inkjet used to come off the printer and feel wet for a few minutes, hence the impression that it tends to bleed or run more than laser prints. The bottom line is that for both printer types, you should be confident that most of the long-standing printer issues you may have dealt with in the past are just that — a thing of the past. Wet inkjet prints aren’t truly gone, but current technology has minimized the effect dramatically. 

Printer Size

This has been hinted at earlier but printer size is a definite consideration for many when it comes to choosing between inkjet and laser printers. Printers unsurprisingly vary in size but there is also the reality that inkjet printers are often much smaller and take up less room. If you work in a small office or have a small desk, this is a big factor that will likely help sway your decision in one direction or another. Given that inkjet cartridges can be miniaturized (at the expense of paper capacity), you can find some printers as small as 15 inches wide and 10 inches deep. For a printer, that’s pretty compact compared to where printers were 10 or 15 years ago. 

In the case of a laser printer, size matters and there is a good chance you’ll find that a laser printer requires its own space. This could be a small stand or a separate desk altogether. In the case of a medium-sized office, this might require a standalone printer that comes to waist height. The latter might not be practical for home businesses or printing out schoolwork, but the extra bulk of a laser printer to help accommodate the larger printer drum and toner cartridges is worth considering. 

Inkjet vs. Laser Jet: 6 Must-Know Facts

  • A laser printer is going to print significantly faster than an inkjet printer and, in some real-world cases, can print up to 5x faster than inkjet. 
  • Inkjet printers traditionally only have the capacity for 50-100 sheets while laserjet printers can hold much more. 
  • Toner costs can vary pretty considerably depending on where you purchase online while inkjet costs are higher and often fairly standardized whether you purchase online, in-store, or direct from the manufacturer. 
  • Laser printers are frequently much larger and take up more space while an inkjet printer can be small enough to fit in a backpack or sit on a small desk. 
  • Inkjet printers can start as low as $50 with the mid-range likely being closer to $100, while laser prints generally start around $150 to $200 and up. 
  • Inkjet printer cartridges use only four colors: black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. 

Inkjet vs. Laser Jet: Which One Should You Use? 

At the end of the day, there are definitely arguments to be made for both inkjet and laser printers. For most homeowners or anyone who runs a small business on their own, inkjet printers are the better option. They are less costly upfront, print photos and require less maintenance if they have any sort of trouble. 

The biggest downside to inkjet is the cost of ink, but companies like Brother and Epson are now selling inkjet printers with refillable ink cartridges that reduce ink costs significantly. Laser printers are a great idea for businesses that require faster printing, big volumes, and need more professional features.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much is a replacement ink cartridge for an inkjet printer? Laser printer?

Replacement cartridges for black inkjet cartridges start at around $20 with color starting at around $35 and up. Laser printers generally start around $70 but you can find them for less if you look for discounts. 

What should I expect to pay for an inkjet printer? Laser printer?

An inkjet printer will start at around $50 and go up from there while a laser printer is generally around $200 and above.

Do both inkjet and laser printers have scanners and print photos?

When it comes to photo printing, inkjet is really the only way to go given the type of printing inkjet uses. Both inkjet and laser will include extras like a scanner and potentially a fax machine as well. 

Are wet pages still a concern with either inkjet or laser printers?

No, this is really a thing of the past and not a concern with most modern-day printers. 

Do you still have to worry about paper jams with inkjet or laser printers?

Thankfully, you do not have to worry about this anymore. Like wet pages, paper jams are not as frequent as they were years ago. 

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