If you're in the market for a new printer, one choice you're likely to be faced with is whether you should buy a laser printer or inkjet printer. Laser printers use toner cartridges that are filled with fine powder, while inkjet printers use liquid ink cartridges.
Choosing the right printer really depends on what you need: the volume you plan on printing, the content, the size of paper you need, etc. There are other types of technologies and printers that could be useful for your needs, but this discussion focuses on the pros and cons of buying a laser or inkjet printer.
Inkjet printers spray small amounts of quick-drying ink through a nozzle onto a sheet of paper. They use disposable ink cartridges - the number of cartridges can range from the basic CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and keystone black) to a 5- to 10-color ink system (adding in light cyan, light magenta, etc.).
- Great for printing photos and other visually-intense documents
- Can print onto many types of paper
- Short warm-up time
- Large selection in each buying tiers
- Low initial costs.
- Inkjet inks are typically water-based; will be susceptible to water damage
- Ink cartridges require frequent cleaning which is performed automatically by most printers. Much of this ink goes to waste.
- Small ink cartridges require frequent replacements - higher consumables costs.
- Ink can smear easily when freshly printed.
- Slow print speeds.
Laser printers focus lasers to a photoconductive drum, which causes toner particles to cling to the rotating cylinder forming a shape or text. Those particles are then transferred over to the printer page with heat and pressure. Multi-pass color laser printers repeatedly use one drum for each CMYK color, but a single-pass (or inline) color laser printer contains four drums, one for each color which drastically increases print speeds.
- Print speeds are faster.
- Can be more economic in the long run with documents that are not graphically complex - the cost per page is lower.
- The electrophotography process they use results in high quality of output.
- Cheaper consumables.
- Better suited to networking.
- Wide range of paper sizes accepted.
- High upfront costs.
- Toner will stick to most anything through an electrostatic charge - leaks and mishaps are harder to clean.
- Many do not have color printing capabilities.
- Color laser are more expensive than color ink jets.
- Inferior photo output when compared to Inkjet.
So which type is better? Ultimately, it depends on what you want it for. Be sure to realistically plan what you're going to use it for, and then buy the type that will work best.