Copiers and printers: How do laser printers compare to inkjet printers in 2021?
In the UK, inkjet printers are very gradually being replaced by laser printers in many offices. Steadily falling prices for laser printers and a somewhat better reputation of this technology are certainly pushing that trend. However, prices and reputation do not tell the whole story in the (very old) inkjet printer vs. laser printer debate. This has to do with the fact that if laser printers are evolving, so are inkjet printers.
In 2021, inkjet printers offering better value for money than similarly prices laser printers can be found. In the long run, total cost of ownership all depends on how and for what printing jobs any specific printer will be used. To put it briefly, it has never been so difficult to compare inkjet printer with laser printers as two comprehensive categories.
What’s the state of the inkjet vs. laser debate? What are the differences between inkjet printers and laser printers in 2021 and the advantages of each technology?
The case for inkjet printers
Inkjet printer technologies have evolved dramatically in the last decades, perhaps even more than laser printer technologies. These developments sometimes allow inkjet printers to compare with laser printers in some areas.
How inkjet printers work
Inkjet printers work according to one basic principle: the ink is sprayed in very think droplets onto the paper through thousands of nozzles on the printing head of the ink cartridge. Cartridges and printing heads are moved horizontally along a rail by a belt, while the paper is moving vertically, pushed through drums. There is no actual contact between the printer heads and the paper.
How ink is controlled and sprayed onto the paper to shape graphics depends on the technology used:
- Bubble jet printers heat the ink inside the cartridge until if forms bubbles of different sizes, which are thrown onto the paper through the nozzles,
- Piezo-electric crystal printers (as developed and used by Epson) use electrically charged crystals inside the cartridges; when activated electrically, crystals either move or vibrate to free space for the ink to go out of the nozzle according to precise patterns.
Both these technologies require more ink compared with laser printers, so ink costs are normally higher with inkjet printers. However, some inkjet printers now use ink tanks to greatly lower the price of ink replacement.
Printer heads still have to be changed regularly and these are either part of the cartridge or sold separately.
Benefits of inkjet printers
Inkjet printers traditionally offer many benefits when compared with laser printers:
- The actual size of the printer is generally smaller, at least 20% to 30% smaller than laser printers,
- The price of the printer itself is normally cheaper than the price of a laser printer of comparable performance,
- Printing quality and resolution are normally better for colour prints and image prints, especially photo prints, and not noticeably poorer for fonts of 12 pt size and larger,
- No warm-up time is needed before the first page can be printed,
- Almost every type of paper is supported.
One very significant development is that inkjet printers are no longer necessarily slower as compared with laser printers.
Because inkjet printers are faster, and because laser printers are made cheaper, it’s now no longer unusual to find inkjet printers for small businesses with printing speeds of over 30 pages per minute actually cheaper than slower laser printers.
Prices of inkjet printers
Prices of inkjet printers are traditionally one of their strong points.
This advantage remains while performance keeps improving in terms of features, speed and print quality.
Prices of different categories of inkjet printers start at:
- £40 for a basic, USB, colour inkjet printer,
- £60 for a Wifi connected colour inkjet printer,
- £80 for a black-and-white multifunction printer with scanner, copier and automatic double-sided printing
- £120 for a colour multifunction printer with paper tray holding up to 250 pages, document feeder and printing speeds of over 30 pages per minute,
- £800 for a free-standing office copier supporting A3 printing as well as A4 printing.
Cost-per-page has to be taken into account though. If maintenance costs are lower than with laser printers, ink costs remain more expensive, at about 15 pence per page.
The case for laser printers
Laser printers also have known some significant technological developments and keep an edge over inkjet printers in some areas... mostly for high-end, highly priced models.
How laser printers work
Laser printing involves not liquid ink but powder ink stored in toners.
Drums are charged electrically, then discharged by a laser in areas corresponding to the outline of the image or the text which has to be printed. The laser is directed by a mirror. Paper is then positively charged and fed through drums onto this drum which bears the image pattern. Because the pattern is negatively charged, this pattern forms an image on the positively charged paper as paper is rolled onto that drum. Paper is then directed through other drums to receive the ink, which adheres to the positively charged pattern on the paper. Ink is heated and pressed onto the paper by going through yet more drums before the page is delivered printed.
The heating time needed before the first page can be printed has therefore long been a drawback of laser printing, but this had been reduced to seconds in modern laser printers.
But laser printing technologies also keep evolving. The introduction of LED printers, where LED lights replace laser beams, has greatly reduced this pre-heating time, and managed to push the price of printers even lower. Oki is the most committed adopter of this technology.
Benefits of laser printers
Laser printers are usually (and often correctly) associated with the following benefits:
- Fast printing – although the best inkjet printers can compare with cheap laser printers at printing speeds up to 40 ppm, only laser printers can ever reach printing speeds of over 100 ppm,
- Stable prints – heated and pressed ink does not bleed and comes out of the printer completely dry,
- Perfect print quality for text, especially at fine font sizes,
- Constantly lowering price points, rivalling the best inkjet printers,
- Far cheaper cost per page as ink toners can print far more pages than ink cartridges.
Prices of laser printers
Prices of laser printer have been coming down steadily over the last decades, so much that some laser printers are now cheaper than inkjet printers.
Prices per category of laser printers now start at:
- £60 for a USB-connected monochrome laser printer,
- £80 for a USB-connected black-and-white multifunction laser printer,
- £90 for a Wifi-connected black-and-white multifunction laser printer,
- £130 for a Wifi-connected black-and-white multifunction laser printer with automatic double-sided printing,
- £230 for a Wifi-connected colour multifunction laser printer with automatic double-sided printing,
- £1,000 for a freestanding monochrome, A3 and A4 multifunction laser printer with automatic double-sided printing,
- £1,500 for a colour, A3 and A4 multifunction laser printer with automatic double-sided printing.
Even when taking into account higher maintenance costs, cost-per-page is much more interesting than with inkjet printers at just under 4 pence, which is an average three times less expensive. These savings definitely add up when printing and copying needs exceed 800 to 1,000 pages per month: at such levels, inkjet printers can’t compare with laser printers.
Ultimately the best way to compare laser printers with inkjet printers is to request your free quotes for business printers.
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