Data Doctors: Today’s Inkjets vs. Laser Printers

Q: I need to replace my old inkjet printer and can’t figure out if a Laser or inkjet makes more sense for me. I don’t really print much, so the cheaper the better.

A: As with most technology decisions, your personal needs will determine what is the best choice, and with printers, there’s the additional factor of the long-term cost of ink or toner.

In general, the cheapest electronic gadget in any given category tends not to be the best overall value, because it’s manufactured with cheaper parts and less sophistication in order to keep the price low.

When it comes to choosing the right printer, understanding what you are most likely to print on a regular basis is helpful.

Monochrome vs Color

If you primarily use the printer to generate text-based documents, a laser printer that only uses black toner can save you money up front and over the long haul, because you’ll only ever replace one cartridge.

Color printers will generally require you to replace at least four different cartridges at varying intervals.

Not only will the laser printer text tend to be sharper than an inkjet printer, but the cost per page can also be drastically cheaper.

If you want to print a lot of high-resolution images, the color blending technology in an inkjet printer allows them to be more precise, resulting in better printed images. Laser printers use halftone dots to represent various colors in most cases, so if precision color is important, stick to an inkjet.

Cartridge vs. Tank vs. Toner

It’s no secret that inkjet printer manufacturers adopted the razor blade business model by selling very cheap printers, knowing that they would make a lot more money through the ongoing purchase of ink.

This calculation is often referred to as TCO (total cost of ownership) and is an important consideration when making your decision.

Inkjet printers are now available with two distinct categories: cartridge or tank.

Traditional cartridge-based inkjet printers use small cartridges that can make the ink among the most expensive liquids in the world, but the up-front cost of the printer is typically much lower.

The newer tank-based inkjet printers incorporate large ink reservoirs that can be refilled with much less expensive ink (per ounce) that comes in bottles. The up-front cost on these printers tends to be much higher, because they don’t generate as much “back-end” profit for the manufacturers.

Expect to pay 50 to 150% more for a comparable tank-based printer, which will also impact TCO for those who don’t print often.

Laser printers, both monochrome and color, use toner cartridges, which helps reduce the cost per page, and they tend to print pages faster.

Another benefit to laser printers for those that rarely print is that toner is a dry powder, so you don’t have to worry about ink drying out or nozzles getting clogged from lack of use.

Tank-based inkjet printers also have an ink-flow design advantage over cartridge inkjet printers that will be more suited to those that don’t print as often.

Laser printers tend to have a larger footprint and can also be much taller, so if you have a small space to work with, you’ll likely have more options to choose from with inkjet printers.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up