Laser vs. Inkjet: Choosing the Wrong Printer Could Cost You

by Ryan Lynch on 20 June 2014 1 comment

Costing more than luxury perfumes and high-end alcohol, printer ink is probably the most expensive liquid per volume that you buy. Consumers deride the high cost of printer ink yet accept it as a necessary evil. It seems as though we have no other choice but to plunk down big bucks on cartridges that seem to evaporate overnight, right? However, you'll be happy to know that with a little bit of research and some basic math skills, you can substantially decrease your printing costs by choosing the right printer for your needs. (See also: 11 Ways to Save Big on Ink)

First and foremost, there are two types of printers available to the average consumer — inkjet and laser. By recognizing and understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each type, you will be able to determine which printer will best suit you. Traditionally, inkjet printers have dominated the home printer market, while laser machines were associated with offices and businesses. The differences between the two are complex, however for the layperson they can be summarised in a few key points.

Functionality

Inkjets take the lead in versatility, as they are often "multi-function" machines that can copy, scan, and fax in addition to delivering quality color printing. Many inkjet printers on the market today have the entire kitchen sink thrown in them, offering wireless networking, document feeders, automatic double-sided printing, and mobile printing capabilities with Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud compatibility. In addition, inkjet printers are more likely to be compatible with various types of media including iron-on transfers, adhesive labels, and thicker paper.

While laser printers are also available with a wide variety of features, inkjet machines are offered at a cheaper, more attractive price than comparable laser printers. However the initial high cost of lasers is usually offset by a cheaper running costs, detailed later in this article.

Color

Inkjet color printing is superior because of the viscous liquid ink used in image production. Not only are the colors more vibrant, but the Dots Per Inch (DPI) or resolution is much higher when compared to a laser printer. Because of this, inkjets are able to produce images with superior color blending. One caveat is that black text can be fuzzy due to the ink "bleeding" into the paper.

Laser printers are known for crisp, perfect text production, which is why they are normally associated with monochrome (black & white) printing. However, laser printers can be found with color printing capabilities. While satisfactory for text and basic graphics, laser color printing is grainy due to a lower DPI.

Running Costs

Since printers themselves are relatively affordable, the true cost of home printing comes from the operating cost. On average, laser printers have a lower cost per page than inkjet printers. The consumables in laser printers, called toners, have a much higher page yield than inkjet cartridges. These high yield toners, coupled with the lower DPI of laser printers, often equates to lower operating costs. Because of their efficiency, printer manufacturers know they will generate less profit from their consumables, and as a result the price of laser machines often increases significantly based on their available features.

This doesn't mean that all inkjet printers are inefficient, in fact many "office" inkjet printers are quickly bridging the page yield gap, however they tend to be fewer and farther between. Unfortunately, the running cost of lasers and inkjets is not as cut and dry as it once was. This is why it is imperative to…

Do the Math

When shopping for a printer, most folks make the mistake of comparing the face value of ink cartridges, and many base their decisions on the perceived value of the ink. The old assumption that laser printers are cheaper to run than inkjets isn't always true, with some bargain basement lasers using toners that are just as expensive as the much maligned inkjets.

With so many different printer models and cartridges it is nearly impossible to say what the "average" cost of printing with an inkjet or laser machine will be. Luckily, with some basic math skills you can get a pretty good estimate of the overall running cost of a machine. Not all printer cartridges have the same page yield, nor do they have the same price. In order to figure out the running cost of a printer one has to divide the cost of the cartridge by the estimated page yield. Most printer manufacturers like HP and Epson make these estimates available to consumers, however many people who deride their choice in printer often fail to do the math that is necessary to determine the printing per page cost.

While determining the cost per page of your printer will certainly give you a better idea of the ongoing expenses you will incur over the lifespan of your printer, it is still oversimplifying the method of determining the true cost.

Don't Rule Out Buying Both

So you've figured out what your printing needs entail and you've made a shortlist. You've consulted the estimated page yields of the consumables and you're still on the fence. Unfortunately it is a scenario that many people face, making everything even more frustrating than it already is. While it may not seem entirely practical, investing in both an inkjet and a laser printer might actually make the most sense.

If you need to produce high quality photos but you also need to print high volumes of text, no one machine is going to cut it. In order to get the best of both worlds without compromise, you should consider making space on your desk for both machines.

Otherwise, decide what your primary use will be, and choose based on that.

Having a printer in the home can be both a blessing and curse. You don't have to choose between the convenience of printing at home versus the potential cost of ink. Instead, take the time to ask yourself what the printer will be used for. There are numerous websites and guides that can help you navigate the staggering number of printer models available. By weighing the pros and cons of both inkjet and laser printers and doing a little number crunching, you can determine the balance of features and running cost that makes financial sense to you.

Have you purchased a printer for your home or business lately? How did you choose?

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Anon

Buy (aftermarket) refillable ink cartridges and you can potentially save a lot more. Bulk ink is typically cheaper.