In-depth

Inkjet vs Laser printers: Which is best for the workplace?

You should always use a laser printer for business, right? Not necessarily

Despite living in the age of the paperless office, inkjet and laser printers are still the centre of a big office debate that has no easy answer.

Which one you use in the office is dependent on a number of factors, such as the initial cost, price per page, speed, longevity, and so on. There's a lot to get wrong, so it needs to be thoroughly considered before making the final call.

Back in the day, inkjet was often recommended for home use, while laser printers were more popular in enterprises and offices, but this isn't necessarily the case anymore. Laser printers used to be known for being faster and more durable, but inkjet technology has slowly narrowed that gap. However, laser printers are still known for being much quieter and with a smoother finish, with no warm-up time required before printing.

Inkjet vs laser: Speed

Although you may assume laser printers to be faster, the reality isn’t as simple. Inkjet printers once maxed out at roughly 30ppm in black-and-white and 10ppm in colour, whereas many laser printers reached 40ppm in both black-and-white and colour.

Now that laser printers have reached speeds of 60ppm and even 70ppm, surely the inkjet is left eating dust? Surprisingly, not. A new generation of Office-ready inkjet printers has emerged with revolutionary print heads that span the width of an A4 page. These can also reach speeds of up to 75ppm, matching and even beating the fastest performance laser can come up with.

Where lasers pull ahead, however, is on the time to print the first page. Even the fastest inkjets take upwards of 9.5 seconds to wake from sleep or standby and output the first page, but the fastest lasers can manage it in 7.5 seconds or faster.

Inkjet vs laser: Quality

Laser printers still have the edge when it comes to clean, crisp black text and colour graphics. If you're printing professional quality materials for external use or producing your own marketing materials, then a good laser printer is in most cases a better choice.

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However, inkjets have improved dramatically on the text front, to the extent that quality is easily good enough for all internal and most external use. What's more, inkjets still tend to produce more natural results when printing photos, which is why professional photo printers are nearly always inkjets. An office inkjet won't give you gallery-quality photos, but it should give you great results.

Inkjet vs laser: Workloads

Lasers are built to handle massive monthly workloads, with monthly duty cycles of anywhere between 2,000 and 20,000 pages, depending on the model. Even the toughest inkjets can't match that, with monthly workloads more in the 1500 to 5,000 pages range. That's going to be perfectly adequate for most teams or small departments, but if you need a printer capable of serving larger teams or applications where there's likely to be a higher workload, then a laser printer is still the best way to go.

Inkjet vs laser: Cost

Again, conventional wisdom states that lasers are expensive to buy but cheap to run, while inkjets are cheap upfront but cost you more long-term. What's more, where a laser toner cartridge will see you through thousands of prints, an inkjet will need its cartridges replacing far more frequently. 

Of course, conventional wisdom is no longer reliable. Look at real laser vs inkjet costs, and you may be surprised. On the one hand, lasers are getting cheaper, and the budget models are coming with smaller starter cartridges that run out fairly quickly, though the standard or super-sized cartridges will still have impressive lifespans. In toner alone, expect the cost per page to come in at around 2p for a black-and-white page and 5p to 10p for a colour page. On the other hand, business inkjets are getting their own costs per page right down, to the extent that some models can now produce prints for around 1p per page for black-and-white to 5p per page for colour. Meanwhile, the extra-large cartridges are able to print over 9000 pages (black) or 6,500 pages (colour).

There are other costs to consider, though. Laser printers deliver excellent results even on plain paper, so there's no need to splash out on speciality media.  On the inkjet's side, inkjet-ready office paper is no longer much more expensive, and inkjets usually consume less power in operation than their laser brethren. As a result, running costs can be lower for some inkjets than for comparable lasers. Combine that with a lower purchase cost, and there's definite scope to save your business money.

Inkjet vs laser: Networking, management and security

Historically, lasers have been the mainstay of workgroup printing, and you'll still find that enterprise-grade laser printers offer more management tools plus support for more high-end technologies such as Gigabit Ethernet and IPSec, not to mention upgrade options like expandable memory or a secure, plug-in hard disk.

All the same, an increasing number of office inkjet printers have the same embedded management features as their laser cousins, plus features like secure pull-printing, where jobs are held in a queue until released at the printer with a PIN code, or wireless, touch-to-print and cloud-printing features that enable the printer to work with a wider range of devices or take print jobs from remote locations. While a laser might offer more management and security features, a business inkjet can still give you all the tools you need.

Inkjet vs laser: The conclusion

Today, there is no catch-all answer to the question of inkjet vs laser for the office. It's more a question of scale, workloads and the kind of tasks you need your printer to handle.

Lasers definitely win through when it comes to heavy workloads, networking and management features, professional quality prints and the ability to scale up to serve large teams, but office-focused inkjets aren't far behind in many of these areas and can beat lasers on purchase cost, running costs and everyday performance. Be realistic about your needs, and you should be able to make the right choice. 

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