Inkjet versus laser printers: how to decide

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The clichés “inkjet printers vs. laser printers” are becoming increasingly imprecise. Once home-oriented, inkjet printers now include models that are fast and powerful enough to keep up with the demands of an office. For the same reason, the laser and LED printers of yore have spawned a new generation of machines that are small enough to fit in a home office.

Which one is best for you? How to choose between an inkjet and a laser printer to get the work done around your workplace.

Before you start shopping, take some time to think about your printing habits — the types of things you print (just text, graphics, and photos, or a mix), how much you print (say, in pages per week) and whether you need to share the printer with your family or colleagues. If your prints include external communication or promotional materials, consider the content and print quality you need.

Inkjet printers keep it simple, excel at great photos

The basic inkjet method of squirting liquid onto a page through microscopic nozzles hasn’t changed, but advances in ink and hardware have made inkjet printers worth considering, even for business users. You can find models whose pigment-based black ink creates crisp text, or whose additional photo ink creates subtly shaded images. Multifunction models are so versatile that they quickly overshadow single-function models.

Consider an inkjet printer if you:

print photos. Inkjet printers still do a better job than lasers at blending colors smoothly. Some have special photo inks that help create more subtle shading and outlines, and of course special photo paper produces the best results. You don’t have to be a photo enthusiast or a snapping family to want this level of quality. Visually oriented businesses like real estate and design, or any business looking to create photo-heavy promotional materials, should also consider an inkjet printer.

Print on a variety of media. Inkjet printers can print on fancy cotton or textured letterhead; specially coated fabric, canvas or iron-on transfers; or on banner-sized sheets. Some can also print onto specially coated CDs and DVDs.

keep it simple Inkjet printers tend to be smaller and lighter in form factor and also easier to maintain than laser/LED printers. Check out our top picks for standalone inkjet printers and multifunction inkjet models.

Speed ​​and paper remain inkjet issues

Time was when all inkjet printers were slow and printed horrible looking results on plain paper. Many current models have improved significantly in these areas, but some challenges remain.

Speed: Most inkjet printers still offer slow to average performance, but a number of business-oriented models are now competitive with lower-end color laser and LED models. Unfortunately, the two-digit engine speeds promised by the providers are more likely to be achieved under artificial conditions. For the best indication of real-world speed, look for a laser-quality print speed specification based on ISO/IEC 24734 testing, or see our printer ratings.

Print quality plain paper: Inkjet printers have gotten much better at printing on regular office paper over the years, but some models still produce gray, fuzzy text or grainy, oddly colored graphics on such paper. For the best-looking text on plain paper, look for an inklet model that uses pigment-based black ink rather than dye-based. Color images on plain paper may look better if you choose a higher quality setting in the driver. You can also see our printer reviews for details on the output quality that specific printers have shown in our tests.

paper guide: Most inkjet printers are designed for the small office or home user, with smaller capacity input trays ranging from 50 to 150 sheets. Output trays may be absent or may consist of a plastic token extension. For office use, look for a model with a 150- to 250-sheet main tray—and a standard or optional second tray if you print a lot—as well as a dedicated output bin. Automatic duplex printing (printing on both sides) is always a plus.

Laser and LED printers are still business basics

Laser and LED printers use their respective light sources – either a fast-moving laser or an array of LEDs – to project an image onto a rotating drum. The image attracts toner and the toner is transferred from the drum to the paper by a rapid burn-in process. Laser and LED printers – even color models – are now available at prices and sizes suitable for a home or small office, but they’re not inkjet killers just yet.

Consider a laser or LED printer if you…

Print perfect text. Laser and LED printers produce precisely drawn black text, and their colored text is usually either as good or nearly as good. If you’re primarily printing text with the occasional simple graphic, a laser or LED printer is the easiest route.

Print only on plain paper. Laser and LED printers work well with any laser-compatible paper: smooth-surfaced sheets designed to withstand the high heat of the fusing mechanism. In principle, any standard office paper meets this requirement. While laser and LED printers can handle some thicker and banner-sized media, they cannot handle heat-sensitive media.

Print fast. Most laser and LED printers are faster than most inkjet printers; but some low-end laser and LED printers have no speed advantage. Take vendor claims of double digit engine speeds with caution as the numbers are often derived under artificial conditions. Our tests show that most printers achieve 50 percent or more of their advertised top speed. Our printer ratings describe the results of real print speed tests we run on specific models.

Print a lot. Laser and LED printers are designed to handle high print volumes with ease. Most come with 150-sheet or 250-sheet main input trays, and many models offer two or more trays. As with inkjet printers, automatic duplex printing is a useful feature. Don’t miss our monochrome laser printer vs color laser printer ranking.

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