Which Printer is Best: Inkjet, Laser or All-In-One?

Category: Printing

Shopping for a new printer? You might be wondering if you should you look for an inkjet or a laser. Or how about a plain old printer versus an all-in-one (AIO) printer, scanner, copier, fax, and toaster? The choice -- inkjet vs. laser, and dedicated printer vs. all-in-one -- depends on what you print and how often you print it. Here's a look at the tradeoffs, and factors to consider when buying a printer...

Buying Your Next Printer

So you're in the market for a new printer. Here are some tips to help you decide. An all-in-one printer seems to be the de facto standard for all but the tightest budgets these days. But it's not the right choice for every one.

Laser technology is ideal for black text or graphics. It uses heat to fuse tiny dots of black toner to paper, creating a crisp and fade-resistant image of an all-black document or greyscale picture. There’s no “bleeding” as there can be with ink. High-volume print jobs are handled better by laser printers. Laser technology is inherently faster than inkjet, and a laser toner cartridge prints ten times more pages than an inkjet cartridge.

Inkjet or Laser printer?

If you print a lot, if speed is important to you, and you don't need color capability, a monochrome laser printer may be your best choice. Color lasers are an option, but tend to be rather pricey. (More on cost considerations later.)

On the other hand, some bleeding is desirable when printing high-quality color images, like family photos. In nature, liquids blend together to form new colors; they do not just trick the eye by juxtapositioning dots of primary colors, as color laser printers do. Inkjet printers also lay down primary colors only, but they bleed and blend just enough to produce more natural-looking colors. Glossy photo paper is designed for ink; color laser prints don’t look as good as inkjet even on the expensive, glossy paper.

That brings us to cost, both upfront and over the printer’s entire lifecycle. A low-end inkjet printer may cost under $60 on sale. Consumer-grade color laser printers run between $250 and $350; the fastest inkjet printers are in the $200 to $300 range. As you can see, the difference in upfront cost is not that great, but it’s easily made up in the long-term costs of supplies and maintenance. (I've noted that printer prices have risen during the pandemic, and this trend may continue as more people work and study from home.)

Don’t Forget To Factor in Supply Costs

An HP-branded black inkjet cartridge for an HP OfficeJet Pro 9025 All-in-One Printer costs avout $45 and yields about 2000 printed pages (about 2.2 cents/page). The color cartridges cost $35 each and yield 1600 pages (2.2 cents/page). But this $110 Brother TN-850 Black Toner Cartridge prints 8,000 pages (about 1.3 cent/page). So over time, your cost for inkjet printing will almost twice as much as laser.

The price gap between toner and ink narrows when you look at remanufactured cartridges, which can cost 25% to 70% less than OEM cartridges. It’s hard to compare cost-per-page in the remanufactured market because prices vary a lot from one recycler to another, and so does the amount of ink or toner supplied. See my article Should You Buy Discount Inkjet Cartridges? for my recommendations on suppliers for discount ink cartridges. And whether you go with laser or inkjet, always look for high capacity cartridges available because that will drive cost per page even lower.

Some printer vendors unfairly try to prevent you from buying third-party or refilled inkjet cartridges. In my article HP Playing Dirty Tricks? I tell the story of my HP printer suddenly telling me that all of my inkjet cartridges appeared to be "damaged," and how I found a solution.

So to summarize the laser vs. inkjet decision:

  • Fast printing of black text and greyscale images: go monochrome laser
  • Lots of black and occasional, mid-quality color: go color laser
  • Low volume printing, upfront cost a major factor: go inkjet
  • Printing color documents or high-quality photos: go inkjet

A few caveats, though... If you live in a very dry area, or you print only on rare occasions, an inkjet may not be a good choice. Ink can dry up in dry, hot climates, and print heads may clog if the printer is not used on a regular basis. Laser toner is powder, so it fares well in a dry place. But in high humidity, pages printed on a laser can stick together. If you manage temperature and humidity in your home or office, these problems will most likely not be an issue.

So what about a single-function printer version an all-in-one? As I said, the decision to buy an all-in-one version of a given printer model is really a no-brainer. Who wants to run to the office store to scan a document, make a few photocopies or send a fax? The price difference is minor, and the joy of digitizing all your paper clutter is immense. You’ll save money by not buying filing cabinets, folders, labels, and hours of time as well.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Which Printer is Best: Inkjet, Laser or All-In-One?"

Posted by:

Louise F Smith
12 Oct 2020

You don't mention the "tank" inkjet printers. I have friends who say this really cuts the ink cost.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2020

fwiw dept: nobody told me that these things wear out. I have a HP AIO 7740, and the automatic document feeder has decided it doesn't want to work anymore. also the door will not stay up between scans. tiring, however I am such a low-level user that I just have to put up with it.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2020

Years ago, I had inkjet printers. Over time, I found I really didn’t need to print too often. The ink would regularly dry up. I also noticed that when I did print, it was typically a document that only required black and white.

For the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve used the same b&w laser AIO. It perfectly fits my needs. I still don’t print all that frequently, but I do scan documents to avoid a build up of paper piles. And, sometimes I need to make a copy of a document.

However, there are plenty of other options for users such as I , though, that I don’t necessarily find myself using the AIO as much as I did in the beginning, either. My phone does a good job of scanning small documents. (The AIO still gets used for the occasional lengthy ones since I can set them on the feeder.)

Most online documents can be easily converted to PDF, then stored, right from my phone, tablet or computer. No need for for a separate device to handle any part of that.

So, really, my need for a printer device has really declined over time, much because of improvements in technologies that have allowed me to handle my saving and storing needs via other methods. My old AIO laser does well to take care of anything beyond that.

Posted by:

Paul R
12 Oct 2020

My son and I both have an Epson ET 2550 Tank-type printer and have spent only about $30 per year for black ink refills per year and about the same $30 total for three years of all three colors. We both print up to at least 1000 pages per year.

Posted by:

Tom Campbell
14 Oct 2020

Like Laurie, I've moved to laser printing for everything because all of my inkjets eventually end up clogging no matter how many times or ways I run the head cleaning process. With laser printers I never worry about dried out ink, and most (like my Brother and Canon lasers) let me change the drum separately which saves costs yet still lets me replace the 2nd most used up feature (behind the toner cartridges themselves.
I've also found that aftermarket toner is VERY reliable, while aftermarket inks are not - in fact I've never found one that didn't clump or contribute to the heads drying out.

Posted by:

Tom Campbell
14 Oct 2020

One feature that I didn't see referenced is scanning with all-in-one printers. Almost all can scan to a thumb drive or even your computer, but the feature that I love, and the only reason I keep an Epson inkjet on hand, is scanning to profiled email addresses. Epson is by far the best at this. Walk up, plop a stack of documents on the Epson, press 2 buttons, and 2-3 minutes later I have a PDF in my email inbox that I can forward to anyone.
Most brands have something similar these days, but Epson's interface is the best. My Canon and Brother both required I set up a mail server of my own or do some other weird programming in the user panel to get it to work - and only occasionally. Epson's works quickly and easily every time.

Posted by:

14 Oct 2020

My AIO keeps burning one side of the toast. Any suggestions?

Posted by:

Monte Crooks
15 Oct 2020

Yeah, Bob. I keep looking for info on Epson's TANK systems. What gives? Is it a good investment or is all that ink at one time a waste?

Posted by:

21 Oct 2020

I'll just say this--businesses all use lasers. You know why? Because they are the most reliable and the cheapest. Even a barebone laser with a starter cartridge will last you longer than most cheap garbage inkjets. Inkjets were the replacement for dot matrix--who is still using dot matrix? They were just a stop gap to lasers because lasers used to be expensive. But they aren't any more, even the color ones. Laser it and be done with it.

Posted by:

Dave Leippe
22 Oct 2020

I have recently purchased a tank printer, Epson ET3760. I have made a spreadsheet comparing cartridge printers and tank printers by cartridge price, milliliters per cartridge, page yield etc, vs tank printer metrics.
The current crop of Canon and Epson tank printers typically come with an initial set of bottles of ink. The color inks are 70ml per bottle. The black is usually around 130ml. By using the oems' posted yields you would have to by approximately 15 sets of cartridges to print the same page yield you get from the bottles out of the box.
My wife recently bought a complete set of ink cartridges for her Canon inkjet for $67 at Staples. She could have refilled the set at Costco for about $40. However, I can buy a full set of bottles for $53. The cartridges might have 7ml of ink. The bottles are 70ml each. An individual bottle is about $15.
Epson sells a mono color tank printer if you just want black.
The published page yield on black toner cartridges is about 3.75cents per page. The price per page from black tank printers is $0.003 cents per page.

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