Choosing a printer back in the day was a much easier job, but today you have more options to consider. Thanks to advances in printing technology, there’s a range of innovative features such as wireless connectivity and cloud printing to look out for. But, when it comes to buying a new printer, one of the first questions you might ask yourself to narrow down your selection is whether to go for an inkjet or laser printer. These two types of printers both have their differences and benefits in terms of cost, performance, and quality. While there is no clear winner, we’ve compiled a helpful guide of what to bear in mind when choosing your next printer.
As the name suggests, inkjet printers use ink cartridges and is a format most households and businesses are familiar with. The ink that fills the cartridge contains a liquid and a colouring agent, which is either a pigment or dye. Similar to how a pen works, the ink will eventually run out and the cartridge will need to be refilled, which is often cheaper than buying a new one. Or you can choose to throw out and replace the empty cartridge.
Inkjet printers are equipped with hundreds of tiny nozzles that spatter and distribute microdroplets of fast-drying ink across sheets of paper to create prints. The dots of ink can be as small as 50 micrometers in diameter (that’s even smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper) and are placed very precisely on the paper to create quality prints and images.
As printers evolved, the basic inkjet that came with only two cartridges expanded to four and up to eight printer cartridges for some models. If a printer has two cartridges, one is reserved for black ink and the other a single tri-colour cartridge containing the colours cyan, magenta, and yellow. More sophisticated inkjet printers can hold multiple cartridges, one for each colour. Two-cartridge printers are more efficient in printing text documents as they only use black ink. Whilst these printers have the ability to print colour images and photographs, the quality isn’t great and the printing process is slower as the machine needs more time to produce the right composition. Multiple cartridge printers do a much better job at printing graphics and photographs than those that use two colour systems.
Laser printers are dependent on toner, which is a type of polyester powder filling the cartridge. The laser in the printer draws an electrostatic image of the printout on a rotating metal drum, which is then magnetically charged with toner. The paper is heated, then passes over the charged drum, which causes the toner to melt and stick on an electrostatic outline to form the image that is printed out.
You get monochrome laser printers that require black toner and can only be loaded with black toner cartridges when it’s time to refill. But there are also colour laser printers. These come with four printer cartridges, each holding the four basic colors; cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Toner tends to last longer than ink and is known to better handle large volumes of black and white and coloured documents.
Toner cartridges cost more upfront but since they are more durable than ink cartridges, you’ll save money in the long run. On the other hand, whilst ink cartridges are cheaper and easier to install, they need to be replaced more frequently, as they run out quicker and clog up and dry out more easily.
If you need to print a large amount of documents in a short time, a laser printer is your best bet. Even with a cheaper monochrome laser model, you can expect print speeds of up to 15 – 100 pages per minute. Inkjets are much slower, offering around 16 pages per minute in black text.
There’s not much of a difference in text quality for normal print fonts (of around 12pt and larger) in both laser and inkjet printers. However, if you’re printing smaller text, you’ll get excellent results with toner as the fusing technology works with precision to create crisp text. On the downside, toner is not really suitable for printing colourful, high-resolution images.
Naturally, as with choosing between a single- function printer and multifunction printer, the decision to buy an inkjet or laser printer depends on your specific business needs and budget. Do you regularly print large volumes of text documents or need to produce high-quality images? Is colour a requirement or not? In the end, it comes down to what you are going to print, and whether you’re printing low volume or in bulk.