Formerly laser printers were dominant in enterprise environments, while inkjet printers were the go-to pick for home users with color printing needs. But, times have changed and consumers a can select the technology that best meets their needs across a range of price points, features and technologies.
Laser printers work by using high heat to fuse powdered ink to paper. There is no bleeding effect, because laser toner does not absorb into paper. Prints are smudge-proof, need no drying time, and rarely require specialized paper. However, the sharp, crisp edges from a laser don’t allow for the same subtle gradients of color that an inkjet can produce. Color lasers must lay down colors one at a time, and toner has a bit of opacity, unlike wet inkjet inks. Although color lasers aren’t the preferred choice for maximum photo-quality prints, they can produce speedy and crisp results with solid image quality and perfect text.
If it seems both types have their advantages, you’re right. To make the best choice, first consider your printing needs, and then dig into the tech specs.
What Will You Be Printing?
The primary factor in choosing a printer is what you’ll be printing on a regular basis.
If you’ll be printing a lot of business documents, consider a crisp and speedy monochrome laser printer. Monochrome laser printers’ sharp text and quick output make them ideal for high-volume document printing when readability is a priority.
If you’ll be printing a wide mix of images and documents in your home or small business, consider a general-purpose inkjet printer. Even the cheapest inkjets can now produce photo-quality color.
High-volume document printing, infrequent color needs, and the need for speed: If that describes you, a color laser printer makes a good choice. A small office without a need for photo-style prints can produce office presentation packets and newsletters that look great and print quickly.
If photos are your focus and you don’t need to print larger documents, consider a specialized inkjet photo printer. Inkjet photo printers typically pack ultra-high resolution into a small package and often allow you to plug your camera directly into them, bypassing your computer entirely.
Surface matters: Do you prefer to print on photo-sized paper? Inkjets and laser printers both have unique paper requirements. Because of the high heat used in fusing laser toner with the page, laser toner will not bond with photo printing paper, and small stock tends to curve with the fusing rollers.
Print size: Many laser printers offer multiple paper size capability. But if you need wide-ranging size capabilities, inkjets are more flexible. If you want to feed in photo-sized paper and collect finished professional-quality prints from the tray, choose either an inkjet with borderless printing capability or a designated photo printer. If you have limited need for unusual paper sizes, a laser printer could work for you.
Printer specifications usually include maximum dots per inch (dpi). This measurement is shown as maximum horizontal resolution by max vertical resolution, as in 1200 × 1200 dpi. Generally speaking, printers with higher dpi numbers can produce higher-quality prints. The minimum dpi guidelines for different applications have increased as printer capabilities improve. A dpi of 300 will suffice for good quality, while 600 dpi might be used for presentations. Photo-quality image resolution starts at 1200 dpi, and 2400 dpi is considered professional photo quality.
Beware Print Speed Claims: Another number that manufacturers might inflate is print speed, which is measured in pages per minute (ppm). No two manufacturers use the same standard print procedure for measuring ppm. Some might print text on the lowest quality setting, while others might print a single small graphic. To speed up graphic-intensive prints, look for printers with lots of internal memory.
Ultimately, start by considering your most frequently-printed items. Don’t be distracted by the dizzying array of options—focus on cost of ownership, resolution, and print speed.