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Laser vs. Inkjet

Laser vs. Inkjet: What You Need To Know Before Buying Another Printer

Setting the stage for this battle royal. 

Most people grow up dealing with, buying and replacing inkjet printers. Let's face it, very few households have a high enough print volume to justify the investment in a laser printer. However, step out of the average household and into the office environment - even the small ones - and you'd be surprised at how many people still don't understand the variable pricing associated with picking the perfect printer for their office. Read our article on understanding the total cost of printer ownership for a detailed overview of all the different expenses associated with buying a new printer. 

The truth about inkjet printers

Most inkjet printers are sold at or below their production costs, meaning that the consumer can purchase a new printer at a relatively inexpensive price, sometimes even at a net loss for the producer. Unfortunately, such a bargain demands a high recurring fee: the ink. Consider a popular black inkjet cartridge that serves up a 190 page yield – the cartridge’s life expectancy measured in pages – at fifteen dollars a cartridge. If you just printed the page yield each month you would spend more than $180 in a year, excluding taxes, travel, or any possible discounts. That’s enough cash to go out and purchase the average printer that uses this specific ink cartridge twice. If the owner were only using the printer for domestic projects – printing family photos, preparing school projects, or scrapbooking, for example – the inkjet printers are probably more affordable at a cost of .09-.15 cents per page, as the ink cartridges would be expended less quickly and therefore purchased considerably less often than those of the laser printers. Don't get me wrong, inkjet printers have come a long way since the bubble jet days, but it's a long time coming before they can really keep up with the laser machines. That being said, using an inkjet does not necessarily mean a drop in print quality. Although inkjet printers are considerably less expensive, the sleeker, more matured models offer quality comparable to that of some laser printers.

Comparing inkjets to laser printers

Buying a laser printer, on the other hand, can be a considerably larger initial investment. When you look at it at the surface, the decision seems fairly black-and-white: the inkjet is less expensive, so why pony up the extra dough? For a commercial setting, a laser printer will definitely reduce your long term print expenses as the cost of toner and maintenance overtime far outweighs the difference in initial outlay on equipment. Laser printers, when compared with inkjet printers, demonstrate that the more you print, the more you save. For example: a popular laser printer uses a toner cartridge that sells for about $125, but delivers an impressive page yield of 3,500 pages and a per-page value of approximately six cents. A person printing out two hundred pages a month would have to wait almost a year and a half before purchasing a new cartridge. Scale the math to larger print volumes and you can see how the cost of laser printing can quickly separate itself from the world of inkjet printing. 

Is print quality an issue? 

There is definitely a visible difference in average print quality between laser and inkjet printers but to compare all of the differences would keep both of us here all day and I promise, the research is quite boring. What you need to consider instead is the drying time, accuracy of the colors, affect on the integrity of the paper and more. Inkjets are actually applying liquid ink -regardless of how small the droplets might be- the accumulation of liquid on paper causes changes in the structure of the paper, increased drying time and less than stellar image results. This is not to say that laser printers are immune from reduced print quality and negative effects on paper. Due to the process of laser printing, it is common for paper to curl after coming out of a laser printer and on occasion if the fuser is not working properly, for the toner to smudge after printing. Of course, most of these issues could be overcome or at least minimized by using the right paper for the print job but there is no doubt that laser printers will more often than not, deliver a higher print quality than your standard inkjet printer. Couple this with the fact that you can often get a great printer, scheduled maintenance and even roll in the cost of toner to a complete managed print solution. 

The verdict? 

It depends! If you are looking for a low volume residential set up, then inkjet might just be the right pick for you. If you are in a commercial setting, even a small one, it might make sense for you to at least consider a laser printer for your next printer. The true value of a printer lies both in its potential page turnout and whether or not its other attributes – size, time consumption, and initial cost, for example – are appropriate for your environment. Be sure to keep the complete cost of printer ownership in mind before you pull the trigger on another "deal" of a printer! Find out how a managed print solution can help you save on overall printing expenses.