What is the difference between inkjet and laser printers?

Printer Services Newsletter 7.4

What is the difference between inkjet and laser printers?


What is the difference between inkjet and laser printers

So which printer do I buy - a laser printer or an inkjet printer?  Here we will cover the main differences between inkjet printers and laser printers.  We will also cover the basics of each printer and then compare them for you.


Inkjet Printers

In a nutshell, the term “inkjet” is an apt description of the process these printers go through. An inkjet printer uses ink, which it sprays onto a piece of paper (or other media) in a series of tiny dots.

If non-inkjet paper is used in an inkjet printer, the paper may absorb too much of the ink and cause it to feather out, making images appear blurry. Proper inkjet paper is smoother and coated so it produces sharper images because just enough ink soaks in to dry while some still remains on the surface.

Contrast is a key element between the ink and the paper. The whiter the paper the better your copies will look. The brightness of a piece of paper is typically expressed on a scale of 1 to 100 with 100 being the brightest. The multipurpose bond paper used in copy machines and desktop printers generally has a paper brightness in the 80s. Photo papers are normally in the mid to high 90s.

Successful printing requires the inkjet paper to have exactly the right degree of absorbency to accept the ink but prevent its sideways spread. And for whichever type of printer paper you select, the settings in the printer driver must be adjusted to suit the paper, so that the right amount of ink is delivered.

So for best results in inkjet printing use inkjet paper.


Laser Printers 

The most obvious difference between inkjet and laser printers is that while inkjets use ink, laser printers use toner to produce an image.

Toner is an electrically charged powder that is fused to paper fibers using heat during the printing process. How the toner gets to the paper, however, is a little involved.

Imagine you have a paint roller with an embossed pattern. If you rolled that roller through paint, and then rolled it on a wall, the raised pattern would be transferred onto the wall. That is essentially what happens in laser printers, but with static electricity and a “drum.”

A printer drum looks like a thick rolling pin. A laser uses electric charges to draw an image on the drum, which is then coated in toner. The toner sticks to the charges, and as paper passes through below, the image is transferred. The paper then passes through heated rollers called “fusers,” which fuse the toner to the paper fibres.

The fusing process is what makes laser printing so advantageous; the image will not smudge or blur and does not need to dry.


A Quick Comparison of an Inkjet Printer vs Laser Printer

I use the word "generally" as there are exceptions to the rules.

Inkjets printers are generally less expensive to buy than laser printers, especially when it comes to printing colour.
Inkjets printers are generally more expensive to run than laser printers and inkjet paper is more expensive than laser or copier paper.  If laser paper is used in an inkjet printer images have a possibility of appearing blurry due to absorption into the paper.  Laser images do not have this risk, because the toner is fused with heat into the fibres of the paper.
Inkjet printers are a better choice for printing labels as they do not have the heat process that laser printers have.  The glue on the labels melt in laser printers making the labels more likely to come off when refed in a laser printer.
Laser printers are generally faster than an inkjet printer especially if there is a lot of detail on the page being printed.
Laser printers can handle higher volumes so are better in a workgroup situation.
Inkjet printers can block up due to the ink drying out where laser printers can stand dormant for long periods with little effect.
Even though laser printers generally have a lower cost per page if you are not printing a high enough volume the laser printer can be a more expensive option.