Choosing a Printer - Inkjet or Laser?

By: Charles Sutton

Choosing a printer - inkjet or laser?

The right printer is an essential part of your home or office computer set up. The buying process can be a confusing one, not least because leading manufacturers seem to release a new model of each type almost every day, and lets not forget the huge range of ink cartridges and laser toner, which seem to change on an hourly basis!

So, what is the best choice? Well, unfortunately there is no definitive answer for this question as it really depends on your individual needs. What you can do however, is clue yourself up on the advantages of each type, and make an informed decision when purchasing.

We've listed the two types of printer below, and included a simple list of the pro's and con's of each. After all, there is no sense in us waffling on when all you're trying to do is buy the right printer!

Inkjet Printers - Pro's

Cheap to buy. Main brand printers retail from as little as ?30 (US$60).

Choice. Wide range available, from specialist photo printers to all in one printer/scanner/copier devices.

Footprint. An inkjet printer generally has smaller dimensions than a laser, often making it more suitable for the home office.

Ease of use. Designed primarily for the home and small office market, inkjets tend to be simple to use and have easily accessible features.

Paper options. Just about every printer manufacturer also offers its own range of printer paper. Depending on the desired finish you can choose anything from standard inkjet copier paper, to matt or gloss photo paper specifically designed for this type of printer.

Inkjet Printers - Con's

Cost per copy. Despite the low initial purchase price of an inkjet printer, the cost per printed page remains high when compared to laser printing due to the higher relative cost of ink cartridges vs. laser toner. This issue however is not particularly serious for home users, who print in low volumes. It becomes more of an issue the more pages you print. Buying your ink cartridges from www.accentyourpc.co.uk could help to minimise this difference even further.

Efficiency. Since inkjet printers spray ink on to the page, the result is that much of the ink cartridge is wasted through absorption when using standard paper. High quality prints often require multiple coats of ink to ensure the correct density and therefore maximum clarity.

Print speed. Inkjet printers are much slower than laser printers in general, especially when printing in colour.

Longevity. Inkjet printers tend to be produced on the cheap in order to keep retail prices down. The quality of components can be much lower than laser printers. The fact that they spray ink to the page also means that they are liable to clogging over time. An inkjet printer will rarely outlast a laser if both are subjected to equal use.

Accuracy. Spraying ink on to a page from ink cartridges is much less accurate than the precise methods of a laser printer. This results in a slight blur effect on most printed pages.

Vibration. The movement of the ink cartridges or print nozzle across the page whilst printing can often lead to a strong vibration effect if the printer is placed on a computer desk. This can prove to be an annoyance for some people.

Ink drying time. It stands to reason that the ink is sprayed on to the page wet. Consequently, pages require a little time to dry before being picked up. Ignoring the drying requirements can see smudges appearing across your printed document. Inkjet prints also do not stand up to rain very well, which whilst not normally a problem, if you print the address on an envelope with an inkjet, postal workers may have a hard time reading it on occasion!

Inkjet Printers - Summary

If you print mainly at home and in lower volumes, consider an inkjet printer. They are versatile thanks to the range of combination devices, and the cost per copy, whilst relatively high, is probably largely irrelevant to you thanks to the low purchase price. A wide choice of paper gives you a good selection of finishes for your photo prints and the quality is likely to be more than satisfactory for framing and display.

Laser Printers - Pro's

Cost per copy. Laser technology makes very efficient use of toner when printing resulting in a low cost per copy. Whilst toner cartridges appear expensive, you can usually print somewhere in the region of 4,000 pages before replacing your laser toner cartridge. Compared to an approximate average yield of 300 pages for a typical ink cartridge costing roughly a third of the price, the long term savings are highly apparent. Laser copier paper is also generally cheaper than the equivalent paper designed for inkjet printers.

Efficiency. These printers work by attracting the laser toner (ink) on to the page using an electronic charge. Since the printer is able to calculate the precise pattern of the print, only the exact amount of laser toner required is applied. This results in very little wastage.

Print speed. Laser printers are able to print at very quick speeds, in some cases up to 35 pages per minute. Compared to approximately 10-15 pages per minute for an inkjet printer, this represents a significant advantage during large print runs, or when production time is critical.

Longevity. A properly maintained laser printer can last for many years and print in excess of a million copies during this time providing you use the recommended original laser toner cartridges.

Accuracy. The electrostatic technology behind laser printers ensures that the ink is applied to the toner in a highly precise manner. Since the ink is not sprayed but attracted to the page via an electronic charge there is little margin for error.

Print quality. Once the toner has been attracted on to the page it is then heated causing it to fuse with the paper. This produces a clean and clear finish which is water resistant and has a natural sheen. Photo paper can be used to give a gloss or matt finish to an image printed on a colour laser printer.

Networking features. Laser printers often have built in networking designed for environments where multiple users require the ability to print over a network.

No ink expiry. Whilst ink cartridges for inkjet printers can dry and be rendered useless if left unused for an extended period, laser toner does not suffer from this issue.

Laser Printers - Con's

Expensive to buy. Traditionally, laser printers cost more to acquire than their inkjet counterparts. However, this trend is now changing with mono laser printers starting to appear on the market for as little as ?100 (US$200). Colour laser printers however, remain relatively expensive, priced at around the ?300 (US$600) for an entry level model.

Footprint. Laser printers tend to be larger in size than inkjet models, which can cause an issue for home users, yet presents less of a problem in the office environment.

Electricity requirement. Laser printers have a higher power requirement than inkjet printers which may be noticeable on your electricity bill over time.

Warm up time. If a laser printer has not been used for a while, it requires time to warm up the printing drum before a print can be output. This time varies considerably, but is extended if the printer has been switched completely off to save power.

Laser Printers - Summary

For home users who print mainly text documents a mono laser printer may be an economical choice. The initial purchase price aside, you are likely to see a better return on your investment over time. Until colour lasers reduce significantly in price, users wishing to undertake colour printing at home may be better served with an inkjet printer for the time being.

In terms of office users, the increase in print volume seen in any typical office justifies the purchase of a laser printer, colour or mono, from the outset. Choosing an inkjet for business would almost certainly be false economy unless it is required for a special task such as large format printing on paper of A3 size or above.

Don't forget, when your cartridges do run out, visit www.accentyourpc.co.uk for the best deals on ink cartridges and laser toner.

Stay tuned for our next article!

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