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Inkjet vs laserjet: a printer comparison. Could colour laser printing be for you?

Updated on October 23, 2011

Most people who use a computer at home will need a printer, and most of them opt for an inkjet printer because they tend to be cheaper to buy than laser printers.  But sometimes what's cheapest up front can work out more expensive in the long run.  This hub will compare the cost of running an inkjet printer with that of running a laserjet, and will help you decide which option is best for you based on cost and what you actually want from your printer.

The first question to ask yourself is "Do I want to print in colour?" I must be one of the rare people who doesn't. I've got a decade-old monochrome laser printer (a Hewlett Packard LaserJet 6L in case you were wondering) and for 99% of the time, it suits my needs perfectly.  So what if it will only let me feed in one page at a time?  Most of my documents are only a few pages long.  (Once it was happy to deal with multiple pages, but now they get stuck.)  Two things it does deliver on are (a) print quality, and (b) ease of use. I only need to change the toner once every six months or so and doing so is easy peasy, with no danger of ruining my clothes with ink. On the very few occasions when I do need to print in colour (e.g. when I've taken some photos), I can copy the files onto a flash memory card or stick, go down to my local print shop or branch of Boots, and have them printed there.

Cats don't care about resolution or monthly duty cycle - they just want to have fun!   Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/faustenator/284938885/
Cats don't care about resolution or monthly duty cycle - they just want to have fun! Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/faustenator/284938885/

What if you print in colour on a regular basis, and would find multiple trips to the print shop to be an inconvenience? Obviously a colour printer is the option for you. But which should it be: laser or inkjet?

I visited amazon.co.uk and did a comparison. Before I go any further, I should apologise to readers from America and other countries outside the UK, because I've made this hub shamelessly anglocentric in its approach. So all prices, part numbers and URLs pertain to the UK or at any rate region 2, i.e. Europe. But even if you're not from the UK, you'll hopefully be able to adapt my approach and do your own comparisons.

While I was on Amazon. I chose two printers: the Dell 1320CN Network Colour Laser Printer (which retails for £104.98 on Amazon at the time of writing), and the HP Deskjet 6940 Color inkjet printer (which costs £109.99). Both printers are almost exactly the same price and sell very well, and have high customer ratings (both around 4.5 stars). Plus there's a high number of reviews for both, so you get a more accurate picture of how good the printer actually is!

So far, so good. But what about the running costs? Two more factors to consider are how much do the toner cartridges cost in the first place, and how many pages on average do they print?

 
 
 
Initial Cost
Dell 1320CN Network Colour Laser Printer
HP Deskjet 6940 Color inkjet printer
Cost of printer
£104.98
£109.99
Two black and two tri-colour cartridges, bought together from Amazon
 
£45.02
One cyan, one magenta, one yellow and one black toner cartridge, all high capacity and all bought from Dell
£255.30
 
Total
£360.28
£155.01

For the HP Deskjet 6940, it was easy to find toner cartridges on Amazon itself.  You can buy a pack of two black cartridges and a pack of two tri-colour cartridges for £45.02.  I couldn't find any toner cartridges for the Dell printer on Amazon, so I went to Dell's own site (click here).  It turns out you need three separate toners for colour printing (cyan, magenta and yellow); the high capacity versions of each cost £68.75.  A high capacity black toner is £51.75.  As you can see from the table, if you go by initial costs alone, the inkjet works out a lot cheaper!  (The low capacity versions aren't worth bothering with because they do half the number of pages but cost far more than half as much.)

There is however another factor to consider, namely how many pages can you reasonably expect to print for each cartridge?  The Dell website helpfully tells you that the high capacity toners can print an average of 2,000 sheets.  Despite extensive searching on the Internet, I couldn't find the same information for the HP Deskjet cartridges.  However I have used other makes of colour inkjet in places I've worked at, and no way are they capable of printing 2,000 sheets.  I would estimate that 500 sheets is more realistic.

Running costs for first 2,000 sheets
Dell 1320CN Network Colour Laser Printer
HP Deskjet 6940 Color inkjet printer
Cost of printer
£104.98
£109.99
Cost of above toner times 4 (i.e. 2000/500 x £45.02)
 
£180.08
Cost of above toner
£255.30
 
Total
£360.28
£290.07

So to make the comparison fairer, it would be useful to work out total running costs for printing the first 2,000 sheets. The second table does just that. As you can see, this evens things up quite a bit although the inkjet is still cheaper by about £70.00. Furthermore, you might find that when using a colour laser printer, you don't actually need to replace the colour cartridges until well past the 2,000 sheet point. This will of course mean that the difference in running costs between colour laser and inkjet is even smaller than £70.00. This is even more true if the colour laserjet that you buy comes with free starter cartridges! Unless you think you're going to be printing a LOT of colour pages, here's my personal recommendation for anyone buying a new colour laser printer: if it comes with free starter cartridges, don't be tempted to buy spare cartridges in all four colours. Just buy a spare black one, 'cos you'll be using a lot more black than cyan, magenta or yellow.

While we're on the subject of colour cartridges: here's another thing worth considering when choosing a printer. If you have a colour inkjet but don't print in colour very often, you may find that the colour cartridges dry up, making it necessary to replace them when you finally do need to print something in colour! This isn't a problem with colour laser printers - you can go for weeks or even months without printing in colour, but the colour cartridges still remain useable.

At this point, you'll probably want to factor other things into your decision like resolution (I was surprised to find that the Deskjet printer had a far higher resolution than the Dell printer) printing speed and monthly duty cycle. It's on these last two factors that a laser printer will win hands down; the Dell has a MDC of 35,000 while the Deskjet's is 5,000! (In case you were wondering, the MDC is the number of pages per month that a printer can reasonably be expected to print without dying on you.)

Something to watch out for on both types of printer: planned obsolescence

Some printer manufacturers introduce so-called planned obsolescence into the equation by discontinuing a particular model after less than a year, so that when you need to repair it, it's impossible to find parts. Other manufacturers actually install chips that count how many pages you print and when you reach the "magic number", a key component stops working so that you have to buy another one, or buy a new printer! In the case of the Samsung CLP-315 colour laser printer (see below), the component in question is the imaging unit/drum. After 24,000 pages, it simply dies, and a new one costs nearly as much as the printer! The lesson to take away from this is don't use your colour laser printer unless you really need to print something. Unlike inkjets you can afford to leave a laser printer unused for days or weeks at a time, because the ink won't dry out or clog up.

So there you have it. Hopefully this hub will help you make an informed decision when it comes to buying a new colour printer. In the end, it's not just the cost that will determine your choice, but the way in which you plan to use the printer as well.

© Empress Felicity October 2009; updated September and again in November 2010 and October 2011

This page generates income for the author based on affiliate relationships with Amazon and eBay.

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    • EmpressFelicity profile imageAUTHOR

      EmpressFelicity 

      7 years ago from Kent, England, UK

      @ GregGP - you are totally right about the drying out thing - that's something I really need to emphasise in my hub.

      @ Brian - my experience of inkjet cartridges is that they print quite a bit more than 150 pages. For example, the Epson inkjet I had in a place I once worked at would happily print 500 pages. However, I do realise that the story might be different for other makes of printer! Also you have to consider the type of use to which your printer's being put. In an office environment, the main application is often for things like letters and invoices which don't use as much ink (whether black or colour) as - say - full colour photos.

    • profile image

      Brian 

      7 years ago

      You can't simply put toner/ink times four. Toner lasts far longer than ink. The average toner cartridge prints over 500 pages whereas the average ink cartridge only prints 150 pages. A little more research will help you discover the truth about ACTUAL

    • profile image

      GregGP 

      7 years ago

      What finally brings the laser printer out ahead is the fact that both the ink jet's ink, and heads, will dry up over time. Even if the machine is used often to avoid that, the ink is used to clean the print heads. Many printers routinely run self-cleaning maintenance.

      The laser printer's toner isn't liquid. It'll be there when you need it.

      So a cartridge of toner isn't more expensive than one of ink when the toner is completely used -- and on your pages.

      Ink Jet Printers: Lead fillings, gold tooth paste.

    • profile image

      David 

      8 years ago

      Very clear comparison.

      Thanks

    • euheide profile image

      euheide 

      8 years ago

      useful article :) Thanks!

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