Inkjet or Laser? Picking a Printer for Home Use

Inkjet printers are a common choice for home printing, but laser printers that serve the more demanding business market are also big sellers for home use. Which is the printer for you?

What type of printer do you need?

The best printer for your home depends on your printing needs and the relative cost of the two options.

Inkjet printers spray the ink onto the page through pinhole ports in cartridges. Often less expensive than laser printers, inkjet printers are lighter and smaller than lasers and are built to last only a few years. Inkjet printers are better for light-duty usage and situations where the ability to print high-quality color photos is important.

Laser printers use a laser beam to bond powdered toner to the page. Laser printers are faster workhorses designed with business in mind and are able to handle much bigger workloads.  Lasers are bigger, more robust and designed to last five or more years. When it comes to printing high-definition photos, however, they cannot provide the same clarity as inkjets.

Laser printers must warm up before use but inkjets do not. Lasers typically have much higher-capacity paper trays than inkjet printers. Inkjets have a reputation for smudged ink, but this risk can be eliminated by using pigment-based ink rather than dye-based.

Cost comparison

The expense of owning either type of printer depends on both the initial outlay for the machine and the cost of ink and toner. Although you’ll likely spend more up front for a laser printer, in the long run, these printers may be more economical to operate.

Inkjet printers can cost less than $50, but better quality home models run around $250 or more. Because laser printers are built to be durable, home models begin at about $125 and can cost as much as several hundred dollars.

Keeping your printer running costs money too. Inkjet printers require replacement ink cartridges, typically bought from the printer manufacturer. (Many manufacturers price their inkjet printers low and make money on cartridge replacements.) Though these are less expensive than the toner cartridges laser printers use, they must be replaced more frequently, leading eventually to a higher cost per printed page. After replacing inkjet cartridges several times, consumers have usually paid more for ink than for the printer itself. You can buy third-party ink cartridges for less than those from the manufacturer. These cartridges receive mixed reviews, however, because they can clog printer heads. Read reviews before purchasing third-party cartridges and be aware that if one damages your printer, it could void your warranty. Refillable cartridges are also an option for inkjet printers.

Toner cartridges are typically more expensive than inkjet cartridges, but they produce more than 10 times the number of printed pages.

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