Inkjet printer or laser printer: these are the differences

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Printers can be roughly divided into two categories, namely inkjet and laser. What exactly are the pros and cons? How do they work? And if you have to choose, inkjet printer or laser printer, which one is best to buy?

Printers used to make a lot of noise. These dot-matrix printers literally hammered the ink onto the paper. Printers no longer make contact with the surface. Both inkjet and laser printers deposit the ink (or toner) from a distance. This works quieter and faster.

An inkjet print head contains very thin ‘nozzles’ that shoot tiny drops of ink (less than a third the width of a human hair) onto the paper. Modern printers are very accurate in this regard: they can print up to 1,200 dots per 2.54 centimeters (1200 dots per inch, dpi) on paper. That’s great for such a compact printer. But it can be even more detailed.

Next inkjet printers because they also exist laser printers, and these work very differently. The printer contains a drum that is magnetized. A laser beam then ‘draws’ the desired letters and images on it, and the charge is reversed wherever the beam hits the drum.

This means that a special powder, called ‘toner’, then sticks to the spot where the jet hit the drum. The rest remains empty. Then the drum is rolled over the paper and the toner is placed on it. The powder ink would just fall off again if the page didn’t run through two hot press rollers after this. This fixes the toner. This is also the reason that a page feels warm when it comes out of a laser printer.

Pros and cons

Inkjet and laser printers have their own advantages and disadvantages. A laser printer prints text at a much higher speed and quality than an inkjet printer. Lasers can print at a higher resolution because they are not hindered by ink thickness. There is also less chance of smudging because the toner is dry and sets quickly.

With an inkjet print, the ink is often still wet when it comes out of the printer, so you have to handle it with care. If you are using thinner paper or printing a page very heavily, the wet ink can also cause the page to curl.

Furthermore, the cost per page with a laser printer is lower. On the other hand, a laser printer is not suitable for printing photos. You can’t put photo paper in this either: the toner doesn’t adhere well to a smooth surface.

If you want to print a lot of photos, an inkjet printer is therefore the only choice. A laser printer can do it, and with a higher dpi, but the image will be faded and the print quality will never be as vibrant as an ink print.

Printing a photo on A4 paper usually takes between one and a half and three minutes on an inkjet, which is of course much longer than the few seconds of even a color laser print. This is due to the much higher throughput of the laser system.

Color or black/white

You may think that a laser printer can only print monochrome (i.e. black and white). That is not the case, although color laser printers are considerably more expensive. These are really only interesting for the business market. For example, they are used for internal reports with graphics or illustrations, not glossy full color brochures.

If you expect to print a lot of text (for example a thick thesis, a book or a lot of correspondence), a laser printer could be cheaper in the long run.

Incidentally, a color inkjet printer is also able to print only black and white, so you only use the cheaper black ink reservoirs. Remember to select this in the settings of your computer or smartphone. This also saves a lot of money in the end.

Price difference inkjet and laser

After all, inkjet printers are generally cheaper to purchase than laser printers. This is because the manufacturer makes money from the ink. Therefore, inkjet cartridges are relatively expensive and the print price per page is relatively high. Laser printers, on the other hand, are expensive to purchase. Although a toner cartridge in itself is not cheap, it lasts much longer with a much lower price per print.

It will sometimes be difficult to estimate exactly how much a print will cost, because there are cartridges with different ink capacities on the market. To compare this properly, there is the ISO-IEC 24711 standard. On the websites of manufacturers you can see exactly how many prints you get from an inkjet cartridge.


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