You require a new printer but you do not know whether to buy an inkjet or a laser printer, as you are not aware of the differences between the two. Each user or organisation is faced with the dilemma while buying a new printer. Most customers operate under strict budgetary constraints and it is only normal to consider initial purchase costs and space limitations. However, it is prudent to take into consideration the long-term operating costs associated with the particular printer.
The choice of printer will, largely, depend on your requirements. Inkjet printers are usually ideal for home users who have limited text and photo printing needs. Laser printers are better suited to larger office environments with high-volume and high-quality printing requirements.
The differences between a laser and an inkjet printer are generally categorised into a few broad segments, namely, cost (initial and maintenance), speed, quality, space and networking facilities. It is also essential to understand the technology behind the manufacturing of the laser toners and ink cartridges as this is a major contributing factor towards the cost.
Difference in Technology & Networking Facilities between Inkjet and Laser Printers –
The technology used for inkjet cartridges is simpler and the parts are less expensive than the laser toners. The black inkjet cartridge has only black ink. The color inkjet printer contains two main ink cartridges, for black and other primary colors respectively. The primary colors are then divided into three compartments for cyan, magenta and yellow ink. The primary colors are consequently mixed to produce all other colors. The cartridge contains a reservoir which has compartments with metal plates and a number of tiny nozzles on the print head of the cartridge. The number of holes or nozzles depends on the resolution of the printer. It is usually 21 – 128 nozzles per color. The ink gets heated, when the current starts flowing through the metal plates, after the print command is given. The heat causes vapor bubbles to form inside the cartridge and make the ink swell up. The ink then flows out in droplets from the nozzles onto the paper in a few milliseconds. A vacuum is created (once the ink droplet flows out) which draws more ink into the nozzles ensuring a steady supply of droplets as required. This common technique is called Thermal Inkjet and the coinage of the name ‘BubbleJets’ by Canon has been due to the bubbling vapors.
The Laser toners use a more elaborate and complex technology. A powder called Toner is used by laser printers, fax machines and photocopiers to print text and images on laser and photo paper. Initially carbon powder was used but now manufacturers use disposable cartridges which can sometimes be refilled. For the laser toners, individual carbon particles are mixed in a polymer which melt in heat. This binds to the fibers in the paper. The laser printers consist of the printer toner and the drum. The positively charged toner gets attracted to the negatively charged drum. The toner is transferred to the paper by the drum. The toner contains special wax that melts and dries in milliseconds. When the toner is transferred, the fuser applies heat and pressure to make a durable image. The fuser system is made up of the hot-roll and the back-up roller.
The high-end laser printers generally come with networking facilities for you to connect to your computer network directly. This cuts down additional costs associated with networking, as is the case with ink printers. The ink printers cannot be linked to a network directly. Networking has to be via a computer, therefore more expensive.
The laser printers are larger in size than the inkjet printers. The latter is, therefore, space saving and ideal for the home and small office users.
Difference of Quality & Color between Laser and Inkjet Printers –
Since Inkjet Printers spill out tiny droplets of ink to print, the resolution is lower than the laser printers. Laser Printers printer better quality text, as their resolution is higher. High resolution also helps the laser printers create precise fonts without fuzzy edges. However, the cost-effective inkjet printers are usually recommended for inexpensive color printing. These can print high quality text, large photo prints, graphics, banners and greeting cards at less than half the price of a color laser printer. Nevertheless, it should also be seen if the cost of ink and paper suits your maintenance budget. Laser printers are capable of producing good quality prints on all kinds of printing paper but the inkjet printers will require inkjet paper to produce good quality prints without any fuzzy edge brought about by ‘bleeding’.
Difference in Speed between Ink and Laser Printers –
If laser printers lose out to their inkjet counterparts on account of price, they are way ahead when it comes to speed of printing. Users who need large volumes of printing also prefer the laser printers. Laser printers are more suited to general office use than the inkjets. The least expensive laser printer can print around 10 to 15 pages per minute. The inkjets are usually rated on the speed of draft or quick printing mode, which is suitable only for proofreading purposes. The HP Deskjet 5650, which is a fast color inkjet printer, prints at a speed of 21 ppm Black, 15 ppm Color in the draft mode. However, the speed drops considerably when high quality black text is printed and it also takes longer to print a letter-sized quality photo.
Difference in Cost between Ink and Laser Printers –
The most important factor governing the choice of a printer is – cost. The cost can have two sub-categories – initial cost and operating cost- – which finally becomes the deciding factors in a purchase of a consumer item. The inkjet printers have a low initial cost but a higher maintenance cost when compared to the high initial purchase cost and low operating cost of a laser printer. The price of a monochrome laser printer can range from $ 130 (e.g. Brother HL2040) to over $ 3,000 (e.g. HP Q3721A Laserjet 9050) and the price range of color laser printers can be from $ 350 (e.g. Samsung CLP 510) to over $ 6,000 (e.g. HP Q3717A Laserjet 5550hdn). Conversely, the cost of color inkjet printers can range from approximately $ 35 (e.g. HP 9067A Deskjet 3930) to $ 2,000 (e.g. HP C7791D Designjet 130NR). However, laser printers are a better option for long-term office use. They are designed to handle high volumes and have a higher capacity of ink or toner. The ink cartridges require to be replaced often if you print a considerable amount regularly. The toner cartridges, though more expensive than the ink cartridges, hardly need to be replaced. This lowers the total cost per page. The out put of laser printers is good even on cheap paper whereas inkjet printers require special inkjet paper for quality output and this also depends on the grade and type of paper being used.
Cheap recycled or third party ink or toner cartridges are readily available in the market, the use of which reduces the maintenance cost to a great extent. However, you have to be careful while buying these when producing high quality photos and also be sure that the use of these does not cancel your warranty. Since ink cartridges of some new inkjet printers contain computer chips, you may not be able to use recycled or third party cartridges for that particular printer.
Keeping the above factors in mind, it is advisable to calculate the total cost of ownership before purchasing a printer. The initial purchase cost of an inkjet printer may be low but the cost as consumables like paper and ink may exceed your budget. The slow speed and variable print quality of the inkjets are also deterrents. Laser printers are definitely a better buy when the requirements are that of high print quality, speed, high volume and low operating cost over a long period of use.