In 2020, people around the world printed a collective 2.8 trillion pages. By 2025, researchers predict that number will decrease only slightly with the rise of automated machines, averaging around 2.3 trillion pages per year.
Even with that decrease, the reality is that print services will always be in high demand. If 2.3 trillion pages are printed each year, that’s 4.4 million pages printed globally every minute, enough to cover 39 football fields.
If your office is in the market for a new printer, you naturally want to choose one that’s up to the task. While there are many different manufacturers and models to consider, most of them fall under one of two categories: inkjet or laser.
Each type of printer has its own features and characteristics, and one isn’t decidedly better than the other. To make an informed decision, it helps to know as much about each kind as possible.
Today, we’re breaking down the inkjet vs. laser printer debate so you can decide for yourself which one best fits your buying needs.
An inkjet printer recreates a digital image by spraying thousands of ink droplets onto paper. The result is a smooth rendering of the original display, similar to how a television or computer screen creates complete images by combining thousands of small pixels.
Inkjet printers use ink cartridges, available in both color and black-and-white. Colored ink cartridges are usually sold as the following hues:
Together, these three colors are combined into a single unit called a tri-color cartridge. In addition, you can also purchase individual ink cartridges that only contain one specific color. The printer can mix these three primary colors together to create any type of color necessary for your print job.
If you’re eyeing an inkjet printer, it helps to understand the basics behind how these machines operate. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of how the inkjet printing process works.
First, the printer processes an image from a connected device. This sends a signal to the machine that it’s time to initiate the printing process.
Next, thousands of ink droplets are sprayed onto the paper located inside the printer. This ink is released from hundreds of small nozzles or jets that are located throughout the printer. As the paper passes by the jets, they distribute the precise amount of ink necessary to recreate the image on the screen.
Before it can release ink, each jet has to be heated via electricity. As the nozzle heats up, the ink expands into a bubble. This bubble is forced through the nozzle and eventually makes its way onto the paper.
When the ink is fully discharged, the bubble in the nozzle will collapse. This creates a vacuum that draws even more ink into the nozzle from the corresponding cartridge. Then, it’s ready to release the next droplet.
While the printing process is completed relatively quickly, it is more intensive than you might think. It takes multiple droplets to form even a single character on the paper, so you can only imagine the quantities required for a complex, colorful graphic.
Inside the printer, the ink nozzles are attached to a printhead. As this printhead moves back and forth across the paper, it sprays the ink to create new characters and images.
There are certain environments in which an inkjet printer can be ideal. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you might lean toward this option.
Inkjet printers can offer users a great degree of tonal variety. The three primary colors can blend seamlessly to create rich, visually stunning images with bright, bold colors.
In addition, these types of printers are excellent at blending colors, creating custom shades that perfectly match what you see on-screen. If you work in a visual or graphics-based field, then you may prefer the sharp quality that an inkjet printer can provide.
They’re also great for printing fine, intricate details at a high resolution. You can even find photographic-quality inkjet printers that can recreate a digital image to its original quality.
An inkjet printer can print on many different types of paper, including heat-sensitive kinds. This sets it apart from a laser printer, which cannot accept heat-sensitive paper.
Why should you invest in an inkjet printer? Here are some of the benefits you can expect if you go this route.
In general, inkjet printers tend to cost less than their laser counterparts. If you are working on a tight business budget, they can be more affordable and accessible than some of the higher-end models on the market.
Yet, a lower price point doesn’t have to mean lesser quality. Today, you can find many inkjet printers that are capable of performing at ultra-high levels. Some industrial machines can accommodate high speeds, wide formats, and a variety of applications, such as:
Research any model before you buy to make sure it fits you financial and operational constraints.
Most inkjet printers are user-friendly and easy to learn. While you can find advanced ones that include more controls, a basic model will be simple and straightforward enough for you to set up on your own. Plus, there’s very little warm-up time with an inkjet printer, so you can get started right away.
If you’re used to the telltale hum of a dot matrix printer, then you’ll appreciate that inkjet printers have a low operating noise.
This can be a major advantage, especially in busy office environments where noise levels need to be kept at a minimum.
For all of the benefits they offer, inkjet printers do have a few drawbacks to note. Before making a purchase, it helps to be prepared for these potential cons.
The printhead on a standard inkjet printer isn’t always durable enough to handle large volumes of work on a regular basis. Over time, it can become clogged and damaged, which can reduce print quality.
If the printhead breaks on your at-home inkjet printer, then it is usually more economical to simply buy a new model to replace the existing one. However, if it breaks on a commercial inkjet printer, then you can purchase a replacement printhead without replacing the entire machine.
If you routinely have large-volume print jobs that you need completed quickly, then an inkjet printer might not be the best fit.
These machines are best-suited for low-volume environments that prioritize quality over quantity. While the colors will be sharp and richly hued, this level of performance isn’t sustainable across hundreds or thousands of pages.
Inkjet printers tend to operate at lower speeds than laser ones, which can slow office teams down if they’re working against a tight deadline. Most of the time, their paper trays don’t hold as much paper so you’ll need to replenish them more frequently.
Once an ink cartridge runs out, you have to replace it before you can print in that color again. While these aren’t astronomically priced, they can be cost-prohibitive for some users depending on the size and quantity you need.
It’s important to budget for these future costs when calculating the total lifetime expense of an inkjet printer.
Any time you print with ink, there’s the risk that it could bleed. This occurs when the ink is carried sideways across the paper, which can create a blurred effect.
In addition, the ink is also sensitive to water and can blur when even a small amount of water touches it.
Next, let’s talk about the other type of machine. A laser printer uses non-impact photocopier technology to create a digital image on paper.
Unlike an inkjet printer, it does not require the use of ink cartridges. Instead, it uses a type of powdered ink called laser toner. When performing a print job, the laser printer uses static electricity to attach the toner to the paper.
Laser printers will use either black-and-white or colored toner cartridges. While you can purchase tri-color cartridges for an inkjet printer, you have to purchase each color of toner in its own individual cartridge. The standard options include:
As mentioned, these colors can create almost any shade on the spectrum when they are combined in unique ways.
Let’s briefly review what happens behind the scenes once you press “print” and send a job to your laser printer.
Like an inkjet printer, a laser printer will first process the job by receiving the signal from your connected device. Once that signal comes in, the machine will start sending electrical charges to its primary components.
Inside of each laser printer, there’s a component called the photoreceptor drum. This is a revolving mechanism that carries a positive electric charge.
As the print job activates, a laser inside the printer will beam against a small mirror. The mirror reflects the laser, and in turn, it hits the photoreceptor drum. At each touchpoint, the laser changes the drum’s positive charge to a negative one.
As the laser continues to beam, the mirror starts to move. This motion essentially recreates the digital image, drawing it out on the drum. The result is a negatively-charged image that’s been outlined onto a positively charged surface.
Once the basic outline of the image is ready, the printer will release positively-charged toner onto the drum.
Due to the law of opposites attracting, the toner will only adhere to the negatively-charged parts of the drum, which is where the laser has moved to create the outline. As a result, the only parts of the image that will be “colored” are those within the lines.
When the outlining process is complete, the laser printer will send a sheet of paper through the machine. This paper will carry a negative charge.
As the paper hits the drum, its negative charge pulls the powdered toner from the drum. Each grain will sit on the surface of the paper, joining together to create the image at hand.
Once all the toner is on the paper, the machine removes the electric charge altogether. Then, the paper passes through special hot rollers that apply heat and pressure to the grains of toner, permanently infusing them onto the paper.
Whether you need a laser printer for professional or personal use, there are certain users who will benefit from this type of machine over an inkjet version. These include:
Laser printers are better equipped at handling large print jobs than inkjet ones. For this reason, it’s common to see them in industrial and commercial offices.
Their paper trays are designed to be bigger, so they can produce greater quantities without requiring employees to stop and refill them.
If you’re primarily printing text-based documents, the speed of a laser printer is ideal. While these can produce rich graphics, most models are not designed to replicate photographs or produce ultra-sharp, gallery-esque images.
If your company routinely prints graphics, signs, or other types of colorful images, then you may benefit more from an inkjet printer.
Due to their capabilities, most laser printers tend to be larger, heavier, and bulkier than inkjet ones. This might make them slightly infeasible for a home office, but most corporate spaces have enough room to store at least one laser printer for company use.
There are many features that set laser printers apart and make them attractive to potential buyers. Let’s review some of the top features to note.
If your office needs to print a large number of jobs quickly, you’ll want to invest in a laser printer. These machines can hold more paper and operate at a faster speed than inkjet models. This is because the laser itself works at a rapid speed, enabling it to “write” at a faster pace.
For this reason, many offices use laser printers for their most high-volume work areas. They’re especially useful for printing long text documents.
You’ll never have to worry about ink smearing with a laser printer. This makes these jobs neater and more precise. The laser beam doesn’t vary in diameter, so there's no risk of distortion or smudging.
While you may pay a little more up-front for a laser printer, the long-term costs of operation are lower. Toner powder is relatively inexpensive and will last a long time. On the other hand, ink cartridges can be costly and tend to run out faster.
When they first debuted on the market, laser printers were considered too oversized and expensive for everyday, home office use. However, it’s now possible to find an economical laser printer for just a little more than you’d pay for an inkjet printer.
Laser printers aren’t immune to breakdowns. However, these machines do tend to be both reliable and durable. This is because many of the issues that plague inkjet printers do not apply to them. For instance, while an ink cartridge might dry out and become unusable, laser toner never will.
As long as you properly maintain your laser printer, you can be confident that it will last for years.
Before purchasing a laser printer, it helps to know both the pros and the cons. Let's look at a few drawbacks of these types of machines.
When you first purchase a laser printer, you’ll notice that the price is higher than a comparable inkjet model. In fact, most will cost around three times as much, though this will vary by the specific model.
If you need a printer for home or personal use only, then an inkjet model is usually the most affordable. This is especially the case if you don’t require a significant amount of high-volume printing.
Most laser printers are large and designed to take up a substantial amount of space. This is because they contain the photoreceptor drum, as well as other essential components. While this might not be an issue in a large office, it can be cumbersome in a smaller home setting.
Measure the size of the machine before you purchase it to make sure it will fit comfortably in the space you’ve allocated for it. Once it’s in place, it can be difficult to move so don’t plan to use it as a portable device.
There are certain types of paper that are incompatible with a laser printer. For instance, heat-sensitive papers that work fine on inkjet printers are not suitable for laser printers.
For optimal results, it’s best to only use premium paper that’s specifically designed for use with a laser printer. Otherwise, a lower-quality paper could become jammed or stuck in your printer, which could lead to more extensive damage.
While laser printers are capable of handling large-volume print jobs, they aren’t the first choice for graphic-rich projects and should not be used to print photographs. For the highest-quality graphics and images, it’s best to use an inkjet toner that can deliver the sharp, gallery-quality results you need.
However, laser printers are fine for simple color prints that don’t require a great degree of intricacy.
Even when you aren’t using your laser printer, it can still draw a substantial amount of power if it’s plugged in or left on an idle setting. Much of this is due to the fuser element that’s inside of the machine. When this element stays activated, it can get hot and release heat.
Not only does this cause the printer to work overtime, it can also make the space around your printer feel warm. Be sure to install yours in a well-ventilated area and avoid using one in a humid environment.
To conserve energy, look for a Power Save function that will allow your printer to operate at a lesser capacity when not in use.
As you can see, there are both advantages and disadvantages to each type of printer. When you’re ready to buy a new one, ask yourself following questions:
There isn’t a right or wrong choice, and your answer to the questions above can help you decide which type of printer is the best fit for you.
When you’re ready to buy a new printer, it's important to have the right accessories. This includes stocking up on plenty of cartridges to make sure your machine is always ready to print on demand.
Looking for high-quality consumables at an affordable price point? We’re here to help. We’re dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes find the inkjet and laser cartridges they need. In addition, we also offer managed print services to remotely manage all aspects of your printing environment.
Feel free to check out our full selection of products and services online, and contact us if you have any questions!