MAY 23, 2024 /

Laser printer or Inkjet: Which printer is best?

While the quantity of paper I print on has dropped over the years – especially in my own case where far more of my writing these days appears online rather than in printed format – there’s still a solid need for many of us to own a printer of some sort.

While there are some esoteric print technologies out there using things like solid inks or other printable materials – I once got taken through a factory tour by one printer maker where they showed, and I’m not making this up, a printer that could make materials to be cut into handbags, making it effectively a handbag printer – for most of us, the choice falls between laser printers and inkjet printers.

Inkjet printers are pretty easy to explain – the name suggests exactly what they do, using a small jet to squirt ink onto a page as your needs dictate – while laser printers heat up a dried powder – the “toner” in your toner cartridge – to attach it to the printed page.

Historically, the choice was very simple indeed. If you wanted a low quantity of printing, or you wanted to print in colour, your best choice was an inkjet printer. They were cheap to buy, although less so if you did end up printing a lot, because the cost of those inkjet cartridges was quite prohibitive. It absolutely wasn’t uncommon to find that you could grab a new inkjet printer for less than the cost of a set of replacement cartridges, although some makers did take advantage of that by putting lower-capacity “starter” cartridges into boxed printer units.

If you wanted to print a lot, and especially if you were printing text-heavy documents in volume, laser was the way to go.

For some models of laser and injket printer those observations still hold true, but not universally so, and especially if you’re looking at the consumer end of the market.

What we’ve seen in injkets, for example, is the rise of printers that don’t rely specifically on inkjet cartridges, but instead the use of side-mounted ink tanks. Vendors such as Canon and Epson make these under various brands, and they’re quite a good option if you need intermittent colour or photo printing, but you’re not so sure as to when you might need that volume.

I’ve been using an Epson ink tank printer in my home office for the past couple of years, and while the model I have was originally pitched for a small office rather than a sole user, it’s done me very well in terms of lasting ink and quality. While I’m nicely situated for inks right now, a quick online check suggests a full set of inks would set me back around $70. That’s not free, obviously – but then in three or so years, I’ve not needed to change the inks yet at all, so that’s an investment that’s way, way cheaper than those smaller inkjet cartridges, and more environmentally friendly too.

The flipside of that equation is laser printing. At one time, if you wanted a cheap laser, it would be monochrome and the quality would be only average, while toner costs would be quite high. Sure, it was fast, but it wasn’t great.

These days you don’t have to spend thousands to get a very good, highly capable laser printer for both monochrome and colour work. If you don’t need complex colours or photo reproduction in your work, a laser can often outshoot a comparable inkjet, especially on regular paper. If you are in need of lots of photo printing then better stock paper will give you a much more pleasing result – but then again, you’d still generally be better off with a more photo-capable inkjet in that case.

If you only print a very small amount indeed, or have need of larger format printing there are models available that can handle that kind of work, but it could also be a better bet financially to consider using an external print provider – such as the printing solutions available through your local Officeworks store – to meet your printing needs.

Photo of Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more.