Technology (How It Works)

Inkjet printers spray liquid ink through microscopic nozzles onto paper as pictured below.

Laser printers, on the other hand, have a drum unit that fuses (or melts) toner powder onto paper with heat.

So, one printer type uses ink, the other uses powder. Inkjet printers sprays ink droplets while laser printers melt toner powder onto paper.

With this difference in application between the two inkjet and laser printer types, it’s a common belief that smudging is more common with inkjet printers than laser. That’s not to say all inkjet printers do. Inkjet printers that use pigment based ink aren’t likely to smudge whereas dye-based ink require a longer drying time for the ink to set. And this can also largely depend on what paper you’re printing on. Some paper types absorb ink better while some don’t.

Print Quality (Print Resolution)

Print quality, more formally referred to as print resolution, depends on the output you need.

In a nutshell, if you need to print super detailed, high-resolution photos, look for a good professional photo inkjet printer that produces high-resolution images. If what you need is a reliable printer that can keep printing sharp documents and satisfactory colored reports or images, a laser printer fits the bill.

A laser printer for printing in color?

Absolutely. A common perception is that inkjet printers are simply better for printing anything in color, and laser printers are exclusively best for black and white text.

Although inkjet printers still win over laser when it comes to high resolution photos boasting incredible color tones and depth, color laser printers are now an option to consider for those looking to print medium-quality colored images while enjoying the reliability, endurance, and economic benefits of a laser printer.

The technology behind the two printer types mainly determine the limitations when it comes to the quality of print results. But advancements in laser printer technology have allowed color laser printers to now produce pretty impressive colored photos as well.

Print Resolution Comparison

Resolution is measured in DPI which stands for “dots per inch”. The more dots there are in an inch of paper, the sharper the result.  You only really need a printer with a resolution of 600 dpi in order to create high resolution documents and 1200 dpi in order to print good colored images.

Though it’s said that the higher the dpi, the sharper the details will be in a printed image, you can hardly notice the difference after 1200 dpi. You only really need to worry about higher resolutions if you’re looking to print sharp photographs.

When looking at printer specifications, you will see that print resolution is always a set of two numbers as in 4800 x 1200 dpi. This means the max resolution of that printer is 4800 multiplied by 1200 dpi. And yes, there is such a thing as too much dpi.

Inkjet Printer Resolutions

Most inkjet printers now have a maximum of around 5,000 dpi. Most Canon PIXMA printers have a maximum resolution of 4800 x 1200 dpi (dots per inch). Epson photo printers have maximum print resolution of 5760 x 1440 dpi. The Canon iP110 printer has a dpi of 9600 x 2400 dpi, twice that of regular PIXMAs.

Laser Printer Resolutions

Most laser printers have print resolutions of up to 2,400 x 600 dpi but newer models can now optimize their dpi in order to provide an enhanced print resolution of 38,400 x 600 dpi such as the HP Color LaserJet Pro M479fdw.

In a nutshell:

  • Monochrome Laser printers:Excellent for text and documents
  • Color Laser Printers:Excellent for text, documents, and can print medium-quality color images (ie. family photos for personal use).
  • Photo Inkjet Printers:Great for printing high quality photos with wide color range and tonal depth. Best when printing photo gallery prints.

Print Speed

Laser printers are built to accommodate the demands of a workplace so they are engineered to print faster (between 15 to 100 pages per minute, or ppm), while inkjet printers print slower at about 16 ppm. Since laser printers are faster, they are able to produce more documents compared to inkjet printers and therefore have a higher monthly print volume.

  • Laser Printers: 15 to 100 pages/minute
  • Inkjet Printers: 16 pages/minute

Print Volume

Print volume refers to how much your printer can print at a given time. A laser printer is considered to be the workhorse of the office because of its capability to quickly print large amounts of documents. Given that inkjet printers are meant for home use, it’s print volume is significantly smaller. For comparison, let’s take a look at the HP LaserJet Pro M401n’s print volume and speed alongside the Canon’s inkjet PIXMA TR8620.

HP LaserJet Pro M401n Canon PIXMA TR8620
Printer type Laser Inkjet
Pages per minute 35 ppm 15 ppm
Monthly print volume 750-3,000 pages Less than 1,000 pages