Printers - Laser vs Inkjet

Printers – Laser vs Inkjet


After only two years with my inkjet, I’ve had to shop for another. Electronics aren’t made to last anymore I think they must be made purposefully to break when they’re exactly two years old! So shopping for a printer was a pretty stressful ordeal with all the options available. Some bullet points about my personal printing needs:

  • I never print my own photos. I always send them away.
  • I do print disk labels
  • …and lots of letterhead


So I just needed a general run of the mill home printer. And what’s the first question you get asked when shopping for a printer? Inkjet or Laser. What’s the difference? What’s better for casual use vs. heavy use? Which costs less to maintain? Here’s what I found when doing my research:


Injket – Inkjet printers are probably what you know as the common household printer. Inkjet printers use multiple cartridges (usually a black and a colour) which release ink onto the paper through little jets, hence the name.

Laser – Laser printers are what you would likely see in your office. And their printing method is quite cool. Laser printers use static electricity and a laser to melt the powdered ink (called toner) onto the paper.


Laser printers typically cost a bit more than inkjet, although this cost can be offset by the lower cost of keeping the machine running. Inkjet printers use up more ink while laser printers use toner which doesn’t need to be replaced as often.

{Common problems}

Inkjet – With inkjet printers, it’s not uncommon to get cartridge errors even when there’s nothing wrong. For me, this led to needlessly buying a new cartridge, then spending about an hour going through every step on the printer’s website and, ultimately, buying a new printer. Also, the ink in inkjets can actually dry up and so cartridges may need to be replaced even if they haven’t been used up. But this is a problem for the extremely occasional printer, I would say.

Laser – If you’ve worked in an office, you’re familiar with the inevitable paper jam. They happen more often with laser printers. Laser printers need more frequent maintenance and cleaning than inkjets.

{What you’re printing}

The ultimate decision about what type of printer to buy has everything to do with what you’re printing. Laser printers are know to be excellent with text, while inkjet printers are superior for image printing.

I hope this can offer some help in your decision regarding inkjet vs. laser!

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Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Starlightv74 August 10, 2013 07:31 pm

    What do people think would be the best means of printing both black and white and colour family history photos (or more accurately - scans of photos as I don't have the originals)? I have both ink-jet and laser printing options available to me, but am trying to decide which option is best for long term storage. I see references to 'photolabs' here, but am unclear as to whether they offer a third option for digital prints or do they simply use laser printing too? Any advice as to best print quality and long term reliability (cost aside) would be greatly appreciated.

  • jerome baylon January 24, 2011 08:31 pm

    Both have their future problems, so I'll just stick on photo labs.

  • Pete the dymo man December 21, 2010 12:28 am

    It certainly is the age of throw away, often times it being cheaper to bin the printer than buy new inks. Unless you know where to get them at sensible prices of course.

    All in all though the multifunction printer saves time space money and footprint. there is often a trade off though.

  • Pete the dymo man December 21, 2010 12:22 am

    Most ink jets will print on canvas, as long as you have the proper kit to work with.

  • girish December 3, 2010 09:31 pm

    I want to know if there are any good printers available for home use that can print on canvas media...

  • Erin November 23, 2010 01:53 am

    I have a HP 5150 inkjet printer that I love. I have had it for over 8 years, and it still is going strong. One of the ways I have found to cut the cost of ink is to buy OfficeMax brand replacement cartridges. The actual cartridge is recycled, but the ink is superior to other refilled brands. It is almost as good as HP branded ink; the quality is ever so slightly less than the original. I too send my digi prints to be printed, as it is cheaper. But I would love to purchase a photo printer for myself so I can print how I want.

  • Scott November 19, 2010 10:59 pm

    I've been using recycled paper in my lasers for years without any problems.

  • David November 19, 2010 04:22 pm

    The problem with laser printers jamming is almost always to do wiith inferior paper, such as recycled paper. We run a Xeorx office printer, (which uses those wax toner blocks, [not the usual powder type toner], which saves a heap of recycling worries). We have no problems with virgin paper, but just put any recycled paper in it and we get continual jams. You can nornally get away with recycled paper in an inkjet printer because the paper feed is much slower.

  • MJ November 19, 2010 03:21 pm

    We have a very nice laser/color at work.

    But I would also, like to have one at home.

    This inkjet we have is WAY too much when you consider the initial cost--$459--and the continual outlay for ink.

    Someone, anyone tell me about a good laser for the home.

    Cost? Well, I already paid $450 for a inkjet. I can go up to $500.


  • TSchulz November 19, 2010 10:48 am

    I'm primarily a PC Technician by trade - photographer second. I must say that the comments from Joe Moffett were spot on. He just echoed most of what I was going to say in response to many of the comments here. I must make a couple additions and want to make suggestions to some who have asked.

    To reitterate, inkjets are NOT necessarily more costly to operate than a laser. I have used and supported many different brands of laser and inkjet printers over the years. I recently purchased the aforementioned HP Officejet Pro 8500 Premier Wireless all in one printer. While expensive at regular price, I got a great deal on it on Amazon. It has dual paper trays, auto document feeder, duplexer, fax, copier, touch screen, it's wireless and more. It's the "Cadillac" of the HP line of Officejets. If you use XL cartridges for example, you can get 2200 prints out of a single black cartridge. Normal inkjet printers may do 400-800 or thereabouts. This printer over a period of time tends to outperform and will print more efficiently than most laser printers. You also certainly cannot beat the print quality. This has turned out to be one of the highest quality inkjet printers I've ever seen and prints incredibly fast!

    I do print quite a few photos with this printer instead of using a lab. I've taken 4x6 and 8x10 prints from this printer and got the same print from a local lab and clients couldn't tell the difference. This is using cheap generic photo paper from the local dollar store. I used HP photo paper and the print looked even better than the lab! The paper makes a huge difference as well.

    The key is to make sure you buy original HP cartridges for this printer. DO NOT buy refills or fill your own!! You think you are saving money, but you are not. The inks don't look as good, they don't last nearly as long, and they are NOT the same kind of ink!! The reason this printer is more economical is because HP uses a special new pigment-based ink in the cartridges for this line of printers. It's water resistent. If you print on archival quality photo paper, it won't fade over time like regular photos can. It also spreads thinner on paper making the ink last longer.

    When you buy an inkjet cartridge for a "regular" inkjet printer, the print head is part of the cartridge. Just look on the bottom of your standard ink cartridge. You see that kind of gold foil looking thing? That's your print head. You pay more for those cartrdiges because you are also buying a new print head each time. With the HP 8500, the ink cartridges are separate from the print head cartridges. You get two print head cartridges which are separate and only need to be replaced once every 2-3 years! This keeps the cost of the ink cartridges much lower as well.

    One thing I don't remember seeing mentioned is that with laser printers....many of them will not only need the toner cartridge replaced, but will also need a new drum (ie. developer unit) replaced as well. Now some of those printers put the developer and toner cartridge in one unit. You also spend three times as much for these. Many of them have a separate toner and developer. In reality, you shouldn't have to replace your developer unit every time you change toner. That's just nuts. I owned a Panasonic KX-P4410 laser printer and used it for almost 12 years! In that time, I only had to replace my developer unit twice!! I would still be using that old laser today if my paper tray hadn't broken and I couldn't find a replacement. Otherwise it was still operational.

    Anyway, for those asking for suggestions for printers, I would HIGHLY recommend the HP Officejet Pro 8500 Premier series. It's fast. The print quality is phenomenal. It's very economic to operate. And it works wirelessly with all my computers which consist of Windows XP, Windows Vista, and various versions of Linux.

    You can buy it here and the price is fantastic! Don't forget to sign up for any additional HP rebates!

  • A.Leach November 19, 2010 07:22 am

    Recently got a A3 all in one bostin printer for the money,all A3 print copy scan and fax if need be !!!!
    It's a Brother mdc 6490 cw : inks can be got pretty cheap too: and it's wireless brill !!!!!!!! : Anyone wanting big pikkies you can't go wrong £219 that's not bad I think : I call it the beast ????

    Regards :Ant:

  • Tallulah November 17, 2010 05:39 am

    I take it, by reading the comments here, that few of you actually print your photos yourself using a printer? I was kind of shocked by that as I always thought the cost of taking photos to be printed was rather pricey, especially if you are printing 8x10 or larger. Am I wrong?\

    Also, I am very curious about this Continuous Ink Supply system. Will have to google that for sure.

    I have a photo exhibit running right now and printed my own 8x10s.... 40 of them for the exhibit. I went through two lots of cartridges for my Epsom Workhorse. It's a good printer, quality wise, but wow, ink is expensive! If I can find a way save money on ink, that would be fabulous. As it stands, I need more ink to print off the post cards I wanted to sell at the exhibit. That might not happen this time around.

    Thanks everyone for the great info... am glad I found this site!

  • Andrew November 16, 2010 01:14 pm

    I used to use a Canon Bubblejet and what I loved most about it was the fact that you could buy the black, and colour cartridges separate, and you could also buy a replacement print head along with the cartridges. BUT! I tend to go months without printing anything at all but still definitely need one from time to time. I found with an ink jet I was often paying the $10-30 for ink, printing 5 pages, and then letting it dry out again.

    Then about 5 years ago I bought an HP Laserjet 1012. It was one the first low-cost laser printers on the market. Since then I've printed about 2,000 pages, never had a paper jam, I've installed it and networked it on Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows 7, and I've never replaced the toner cartridge. I paid about $150 for the printer.

  • Morsm November 16, 2010 05:54 am

    I switched from two successive inkjets (HP Color Deskjet and Canon bubblejet) to a laser two years ago. I use it as an all-round printer for everything from shopping lists (yes, when I go crazy on cooking I sometimes print them) and airplane boarding passes to photos, on glossy paper. I use a LaserJet 1518 with Ethernet port.
    Everything you heard about printing photos on lasers is true: the output is not as bright or vibrant as that of inkjets. Using Photoshop to manage colours (rather than the printer driver) helps, though, but I don't get near photolab quality.

    A set of 4 toners (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) cost almost as much as the printer, but they last a year and a half in my use. And I haven't regretted the move to laser once. The printer always delivers good quality, on any paper, whether I just printed 20 full-page photos or that I haven't used the printer for a month. For pictures that I intend to frame or put in a portfolio, for example, I go to the photolab. For everything else, the LaserJet.

  • David November 16, 2010 01:31 am

    I second the notion of going with an after market CIS system. I did this 3 years ago with my Epson R1800 and have been really impressed to date. A 4oz bottle of ink for $12 is far more economical than the less the $11 cartridge that contains a few mL of ink.

    Another point worth mentioning is color correction. I spend a lot of time calibrating my monitor and printer with custom ICC profiles. I don't know that laser printers have a wide enough gamut or the same level of control as ink jets do, but only because I've never considered printing to laser. Anyone else know?

  • Martin November 15, 2010 10:10 am

    I've run both colour laser and inkjets on the home network. The biggest lesson I've learnt, is if either stay dormant for 2 weeks, look forward to toner and inks drying wherever you don't want it to. (The yellow clogged up a feeding belt, it left nice streaks across pages after that.)

    The bottom line is that you get what you pay for and frequent use is the best maintenance for any printer.

  • Rick November 15, 2010 10:07 am

    If you're going with inkjet and don't want to go broke paying the "hurt me" prices changed for OEM cartridges, looking into a CIS (Continuous Ink Supply) System. I have one hooked to my Epson Artisan 710 printer and couldn't be happier. You will have hundreds, if not thousands of dollar in ink costs by being able to simply refill your ink tanks when needed. If you do large photo prints it's the only way to go!

  • NotYourAvgJoe November 15, 2010 08:45 am

    I'm looking for recommendations on laser all in ones, any suggestions?

  • Joe Moffett November 15, 2010 08:41 am

    A word about cost:

    While it was true that laser jets used to be automatically cheaper than ink jets with regards to running costs (cost of toner / ink per page) this is no longer a given. It also used to automatically true that lasers were for mass printing, while ink jets were for smaller runs; again this is not so clear any more. The Epson B500 will out-perform any laser in its price range, and a fair way upwards to, as will printers like the HP OfficeJet8500. The office jet series of HP (for example) and the newer Epson printers are definitely cheaper to buy and run than laser (in their output range) - so much so that if you do a lot of printing you will pay back the printer in terms of the money saved within a few months. Admittedly, these are slightly more expensive than the entry level printers, but not horribly so.

    The only reason I see of going laser is if you want to print obscene (30,000 to 40,000 pages upwards a month) amounts on one printer, and you insist on limiting your staff to black and white. Otherwise, you really have to do your homework and make your choice based on your personal preferences.

    Also (on the flip side), entry level lasers no longer cost more than ink-jets when buying the machine. So please check the specs and prices before buying. (The downside with this is that these are definitely not as sturdy as the image we have grown up with of lasers),

    One comment mentions water-fastness being an advantage with lasers. The new HP and Epson (and I assume the Cannon as well) inks are all water fast. You can't submerge the print in the bath or shower, but drops of rain, splashes of water will not cause the inks to run. If you're using clone inks or refills then the bets are off. I know that Epson uses a special oil that coats each droplet of ink to stop bleeding, and the added benefits of this are the color-fastness and the water-fastness of the print.

    Color lasers are (in my opinion) simply not worth the cost, given the quality of the higher end ink jets. I use the Epson 1400 (A3plus) printer - entry level photo printing for the serious amateur. The quality is indistinguishable from the print shop, the cost (including original ink and Epson photo paper) is the same as the print shop for everything up to A4, after that it is significantly cheaper. The printer has been running now for about 3 years and performs well on Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Linux, and Mac.

    As for color lasers, to get a color laser that offers what I would call photo-quality your looking at serious holes in the pocket, and you are not getting any real benefit over any of the mid-high range ink jets (certainly not cost per page!!!).

    Next: the paper-jam is not the sole prerogative of the laser. Far from it. Paper-jams are 90% caused by incorrect handling of the paper (maybe even 99%).

    to avoid paper jams, do the following _religiously_ every time you put paper into the tray:

    1) fan the paper on ALL four sides of the pile. It is not enough to simply fan one side. This is often a problem caused by cost-cutting on the paper-cutting. Less often changed/sharpened blades cause the paper to pinch together and stick along the cut. Fanning in only one or two sides does not release this pinched paper, and you end up with a jam.

    2) keep your paper dry. In humid environments, you may even need to invest in a dehumidifier (or some other device that will serve as an alternative) to keep your paper dry. If you leave the paper a long time in the printer then keep the whole printer in a dehumidified environment or take out the paper and store dry until you need it.

    FINALLY on the subject of paper jams: if you do have one, make sure you are very careful about reading the removal instructions. Many printers have a special removable bay at the back for clearing paper jams. By not taking the paper out in the correct manner you can (and probably will) damage some of the more fragile parts of the paper feed mechanism. This will almost certainly result in a purchase of a new printer (damage due to a paper jam is rarely treated as a warranty issue, simply because it is almost always a function of incorrect paper handling prior to loading).

  • John Bokma November 15, 2010 06:25 am

    later = laser, so a comparison between an inkjet color printer and a laser color printer. Anyone?

  • John Bokma November 15, 2010 06:25 am

    I do have a laser printer in my office: it's faster, more silent, and the end result looks better, and stays good even if a drop of water falls on it.

    I do have paper jams, but very, very rarely. And most of the time when I print on non-standard paper that's not straight and flat. And fixing a paper jam takes less than a minute.

    If you are OK with b/w most of the time, buy a laser printer, especially if you have photos etc. printed at a shop.

    (BTW what's with the {} around headings?)

    I was somewhat hoping to see a comparison between inkjet and color later...

  • Ed November 15, 2010 05:26 am

    Some what simplistic review.

    My basic view these days is using an inkjet printer is some what like the old Einstein saying, “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the first sign of insanity”.

    They are very expensive, there is usually no need to print color anyway because do you really need color or colour prints of web pages? If you are using a inkjet printer to print pictures you have to much $ and not enough sense. Average cost (which is very suspect, see more below) is like $.80 per 4x6 print? Any number of places will give you photographic 4x6 for under $.20. It will be a better print (if you do your home work) and last longer. The cost per print for inkjet printers is skewed because it doesn’t take into account the practice by many inkjet vendors of having cartridges which stop working with as much as ? of the ink still in the cartridge. It also doesn’t take into account the cost of failures. Worst is that most inkjet printers fail to work if you don't use them often. Any of the ones like Epson which use a separate printhead are especially prone to this and it means buying a new printer as the cost of fixing is higher than buying a new machine. Printers like HP which use a cartridge which has the printhead on it are less prone but still have issues.

    So if you aren't going to print color then why use an inkjet printer when a laser printer prints better quality b&w pages for far less $. And are more reliable. And are faster.

    At my house we have 4 computers on network. All of them network to an old HP Multifunction Laser printer (3015) which always works and has for over six years and thousands of pages printed. No inkjet printer I have had in last ten years has lasted longer than 2 years before a major failure and a 20th of the pages printed.

  • danfoy November 15, 2010 05:16 am

    +1 both above. Laser printers are designed for mass printing, so they are (generally) vastly hardier than inkjets, much faster, and generally cheaper to run, too. They are decidedly an office-function device, you wouldn't want to buy one for producing prints for clients.

  • Lon November 15, 2010 05:10 am

    As this is a photography site, there should be atleast some mention of photo printing... From my antiquated understanding of the two technologies, laser printers can't come close to the print quality of a mid-to-high end inkjet photo print. For a business that prints invoices, receipts and typical business documents a laser printer makes sense, but for any other use it seems the average consumer or someone starting in the photo bus a good inkjet printer may be of more use - though for finished product it always makes sense to use a good print house.

  • Dave Bachman November 15, 2010 03:36 am

    The jamming thing about laser printers is not an issue. My home laser printers have hardly ever jammed, while my inkjets did jam a little more often.

    Most of the jamming issues have been down to problems with poor quality media or media that has not been looked after properly.

    For me, I never print photos at home, so the laser was the obvious choice. The cost of running an inkjet really put me off.

  • MSunflower November 15, 2010 03:01 am

    I received a nice basic inkjet printer about a year ago as a birthday present and I am in LOVE with it! I've been experimenting with all sorts of alternative papers and having arty/crafty goodness. Magnet paper, cotton cloth paper, canvas paper, decal transfer paper, sticker paper, temporary tattoo paper, hell there's even WOOD you can put through a printer now!! I'm saving up for that one :P

    In any case, photo-nerds and gadget hounds might be interested in my playtime with a third type of printer - the Polaroid Pogo THERMAL printer! I've been playing with a borrowed one, check out my lil "emulsion lift" and receipt paper portrait trials! It has many many drawbacks but it's a neat lil gadget nonetheless.

  • Sean Donnelly November 15, 2010 01:53 am


    I am not sure how much ink used by InkJet printers is really the issue. The issue is that the cartridges only hold a tiny amount of ink at a price that borders on ludicrous. Those cartridges only hold a few milliliters of ink and are capable of only printing a few hundred pages. Prices for InkJet ink runs between $3,000 and $5,000 a gallon if you extrapolate out the cost per milliliter you pay. That borders on criminal, but we pay it because they *do* perform better for printing images, CD labels and some of the other tasks you mention.

    Toner cartridges cost more initially, but they hold more material and page yield tend to be several thousand vs. several hundred. The cost per page for printing with a laser printer is far and away lower over time.


    In ever office environment I have worked in, it is the InkJet printers which are by far the least reliable. Not even a close comparison. They have ink problems as you mention, the rollers fail, they grab several pages at one. We are always shipping out inkjet printers for refurb, we pretty much have a standing replacement schedule for them. The LaserJet's just keep plugging along like the workhorse machines they are. Some are 10-12 years old and still perform flawlessly.

  • Dorian November 15, 2010 01:29 am

    Ink jet is also essential if you want to "manually" transfer image from a paper print using
    art/collage techniques, for example, acrylic medium. No can do with laser :-D

  • Scott November 15, 2010 01:06 am

    Well, the description of how a laser printer works is inexact. Neither static electricity nor a laser are used to melt the toner to the paper. The part that melts the toner onto the paper is called the fuser assembly, and consists of a pair of heated rollers.

    I don't know that a laser jams more frequently or needs more maintenance/cleaning; a laser printer tends to do a LOT more printing than an inkjet--if a business prints lots of long documents, which do you think they'll have, a inkjet or a laser?

  • Frank T November 15, 2010 12:25 am

    Two additions:

    Inkjet: most are water based, so the slightest bit of moisture will make the ink run (not good for mailing labels or when printing directly on envelopes). Price per page for printing is generally higher than laser.

    Laser: I've never seen one that will print directly on a CD/DVD - I don't use labels due to the possibility of it coming off in a client's computer. Also, labels on DVDs can cause them to wobble when playing (not a good thing) if they are off-center.