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Inkjet Vs. Laser: An End To Stereotypes

Color Laser Printers: Fast and Affordable!
By

Comparisons between laser and inkjet technologies invariably mention advantages in terms of speed and cost per page with laser and higher quality with inkjet. But the reality is quite different, so it's important to take a closer look in order to distinguish the specific characteristics of each technology - and dispel some common myths.

- Laser printers are always faster than inkjet printers: FALSE

When it comes to printing complex color documents like photos or graphs with a high rate of coverage, lasers printers are significantly faster. That's because the complexity of the document makes little difference in calculating printing time - the work done by the laser beam inside the printer is about the same. With inkjets, on the other hand, performance depends a lot on the rate of coverage of the page to be printed. Speed can vary from 20 ppm for text in draft quality - faster than most entry-level and midrange lasers - to several minutes for one page when printing a photo. Color laser printers have the advantage of more or less constant performance. The figures we measured were closer to the manufacturers' claims than is the case for inkjet models.

- The cost per page is always lower with laser printers: FALSE

This is another preconception that's hard to kill. Though it was still quite true a few years ago, the development of inkjets with separate tanks, by Canon, Epson, and HP among others, brought printing costs down significantly. A page of text printed on an inkjet costs between one and five cents depending on the model, which is equivalent to what a laser offers. That's because even though the capacity of laser toner cartridges is much larger, their cost is a lot higher as well. More or less the same is also true for color printing, and ultimately there's not a lot of difference in cost per page between the two technologies, even if it varies greatly from one model to the next.

- Inkjets always produce better-quality prints: FALSE

It's true that inkjet printers boast better quality when printing photographs, but this is because they use ink that's better suited to photos, and especially because they can use coated paper, which produces "photo quality" results. Laser models have made progress, though, and can now put out text and color graphics that are almost identical to the quality of inkjets - at least on plain paper.

- Inkjet printers last longer: FALSE

Even though laser printers have more moving parts, and therefore can be more prone to breakdowns, inkjet models wear out more quickly - especially the printing heads - and the quality of their output can decrease over time. On a laser, it's much simpler (though much more expensive) to replace certain parts, such as the drum or fuser, and restore the printer to its original performance.

- Color laser printers are bulkier: TRUE

It's no contest in this department. Despite some progress on certain models that really have slimmed down, the lightest laser printers still weigh around 40 pounds, compared to less than 11 pounds for some inkjets.

How We Tested

We focused our tests on performance and quality:

  • To measure cost per page, we used a test pattern with 25% coverage for each of the four primary colors. We printed the pattern until each toner cartridge was used up, always using high-capacity cartridges when available.
  • To test the printer's ability to render detail, we printed an A4 Illustrator document at 300 dpi, several files combining text and graphics, and an Excel graph with a black background and very fine colored lines. We also printed color masses in different colors.
  • To assess speed, we measured the printing time for a 20-page black text page (1,500 characters per page) and a fairly complex 13-page color document combining text and graphics. We also measured other important parameters like warm-up time and time to print the first page, and noted significant differences from one model to the next.
  • Other points of comparison among the six models have to do with additional functions (such as duplex printing and connectivity), overall ergonomics, noise level and the page-description languages supported.
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  • 0 Hide
    gorbehnare , August 12, 2008 2:37 AM
    This is a good comparison. I found this information very much more useful.
  • 0 Hide
    wahaha , August 28, 2009 2:30 AM
    You're also forgetting one thing, LOWER DPI.

    You do NOT need to print random obtuse documents at 300DPI. That's a waste of ink/toner, and speed. Is it even worth it to save half of 1 cent though? Who knows.

    And I bet they base the speed claims of these lasers off of 150 DPI settings. You only use 300+ DPI for business appropriate letter head.
  • 0 Hide
    alfredjr18 , January 11, 2010 11:44 PM
    Yup. Nice Post. Try to see this one too

    Best Cost Per Page HP Color Laser Printers


  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 7, 2011 1:24 AM
    Inkjets will dry up if not used for months: TRUE. Lasers are the best choice if you rarely print stuff.

    Inkjets try to waste as much ink as possible: TRUE. They love to spray a LOT of ink when running very frequent cleaning cycles.

    All printer companies try to rip you off: TRUE. Chipping should be illegal from the environmental perspective. I've seen HP printers expire an entire set of 90% full color toner cartridges because they were too old, printers that refuse to print using a refilled cartridge. Some OEMs for medium-heavy duty printers require that you give them the used cartridges to get preferred pricing. That's to keep used cartridges from getting to re-manufacturers.

    Printing photos at home is a waste of money: True. They cost like a dollar for 4x6, and if you botch one, it's now $2. Photo lab is under $0.25, they pay for their mistakes, and the print is much more durable and fade / water resistant.

    For most economical, trouble free printing for a home user, get an old HP 4/5. Built like a tank, tones of re-manufactured cartridges available (if you ever need one)
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 2, 2011 10:47 PM
    Do you own a laser or inkjet?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 28, 2011 11:09 AM
    Its time to end the stereotype of THIS article, cause its BS.

    1) Inkjets have alternative ink, that cuts down printing costs to less than that of lasers. Example: 1L color from Inktec - over 10k pages at 5% - cost 20$. ONE liter. UV resistance included.
    2) It is possible to buy as little as 20ml of ink if you dont print often
    3) Inkjet head can be rinsed with distilled hot water and vacuumed for 10 years period, if you donĀ“t print.
    4) Inkjets do produce better quality photo. 4800x4800 vs 600x600, go try it out. The only paper where they are on parity is normal 80g which makes no difference.
    5) Printing costs: The only laser capable of at least 1200x1200 is lexmark 5xx series, with supplies costing 300$, drum 200$, drying element 250$. All this comes to page costs, somehow everyone forgets that and calculates only toner cost, which is WRONG.
    6) Inkjet consumes only 50W at printing, where lasers are up to 2KW. But thats not a major factor.

    So inkjets weight less, cost less, running costs are less, prints better. What is real problem with inkjets?
    1) You have to use alternative ink, but not just some, but special for your model. Forget about original ink - it costs more than parfume.
    2) It can get messy - if you set wrong settings - because printer dries and stores excessive ink INSIDE of itself, it can pretty much mess everything. You will need lots of paper and/or Q-tips to clean.
    3) Remember 15 minute max on air time for printing heads and catridges. A head which is dried up ins near impossible to recover if it uses pigment ink.
    4) Hardly a photo is water resistant. Due to nature of ink, its impossible. It will not dissolve from water drops, but merging a photo in water - and you can forget it. There are printers which are better here - the sublimation printers. But they are ONLY good for photo and printing costs are high, but thats labor quality.
    5) Unlike laser, you will sometimes need to clean your inkjet. It is a very messy process, and remember never to use alcohol cause it can dry ink up an you can forget the printing head.

    All in one, inkjets are ideal for less than 1000 prints in a month, or in situation where photo printing is needed, but not on large scale. Starting from 1000 prints pro year you should get CISS system on your inkjet, but still laser will be a bit more efficient, because of raw printing speed (1pass laser) and outage times(cleaning head etc).

    Overall inkjet costs way way less with alternative ink, alone the cost of supplies for laser (toner set+drum+fixer) can overweight cost of laser printer itself by factor 200%. This is why you find empty laser printers on sale at ebay for 20$.