More and more we hear this is the Digital Age, but the reality is that more often than not, almost everything we create digitally finds its way into print. For most offices and some homes, laser printers are the most cost-effective way to manage your printing needs. Inkjet printers may carry low upfront price tags, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best printer for your needs over the long term. How do you know if a laser or color laser printer is the right choice for you? Pronto’s Laser Printer Buying Guide explains it all so you can make an informed purchase (see also Inkjet Standard Printer Buying Guide, Inkjet Photo Printer Buying Guide, Multifunction Printer Buying Guide).
Laser printers are the workhorses of the business world and offer users the best quality and speed for the price. Users planning on printing for professional correspondence or prepress should choose a laser printer.
If you’re considering color only for the option to print photos—think again. Inkjet photo print quality is noticeably better than color laser. Most choose monochrome because on the need to cost effectively print lots of text.
The more dots per inch, the sharper the print job. Monochrome printer resolution maxes out at 1200 x 1200 or 600 x 600 but these scales are more than adequate for printing text and graphics. Color laser printer resolution can be as high as 2400 x 1200 which enhances the sharpness and details of the final color print.
Memory helps dictate how quickly the printer prints and the quality of print it produces. More memory allows you to print more complex documents faster and often, at a higher resolution. Memory upgrades are fairly inexpensive, so if you choose a lower end model with less memory, look for one that can accept memory upgrades.
Laser printer trays can hold anywhere from 150 to 500 sheets of paper Most laser printers provide the option of adding extra trays which makes using multiple papers more convenient than single-tray printers.
The more dots of ink thrown per inch, the better the printout or resolution. Monochrome printer resolution maxes out at 1200 x 1200 or 600 x 600 but these scales are more than adequate for printing text and graphics. Color laser printer resolution can be as high as 2400 x 1200 which enhances the sharpness and details of the final color print.
Printing speed is measured in pages per minute (ppm), but don’t be fooled by manufacturers’ claims: advertised printing speeds are faster than what users actually experience. The complexity of the print job—a black-and-white text-only letter versus four color-graphics or even heavy grayscale line art, for example—is what ultimately determines printer speed.
Memory helps dictate how quickly the printer prints and the quality of print it produces. More memory allows you to print better and at a higher resolution.Duplexing. A printer’s ability to print on both sides of the paper. Most printer models today do not have duplexing by default, but offer add-on hardware for duplexing. An add-on like this adds to the upfront cost, however, duplex printing may reduce costs over time by reducing the amount of paper you use.
While Laser printers print by creating an image and throwing powdered ink (toner) to paper that passes over an electrically charged drum, Inkjet printers print by spraying tiny dots of ink through even tinier holes onto the page. Laser printers are the standard in offices around the world. These workhorses of the business world offer users the best quality and speed for the price. Even if you’re a home user or student, laser printers are your best option if you frequently print a lot of text-based documents. If your printing needs lean more toward graphics or photographs with only the occasional document, you’re better off purchasing an inkjet printer. You’ll also want to consider how frequently you’ll be printing. If you’ll be printing at a high volume, what you’ll spend on cartridges for an inkjet will far exceed the cost of laser toner over the lifetime of the printer. Laser printers also generally have more features than inkjets, including larger paper tray capacity and secure printing (aka password-protected jobs).
|Printing Needs||Best Printer||Reasons|
|Text Only||Monochrome Laser||Printing speed; low cost per page|
|Mostly Text, some Color Charts, Graphics, Presentations||Color Laser||Printing speed, adequate print quality for plain-paper documents that mix text, graphics and photos|
|Photos Only||Inkjet||Top quality prints|
|Mostly Graphics and Photos, some Text||Inkjet||Reasonable balance between quality and speed|
With monochrome models starting at as little as $150, these personal laser printers are affordable and less expensive to maintain than inkjet printers. Color laser printers typically show up in offices and as prices drop (we’ve seen them as low as $300), they’re beginning to show up at home too. Keep in mind that the initial investment for color toner cartridges increases the upfront cost, but color printing will ultimately cost less per page than inkjet printers.
While some color lasers are capable of printing photos, the quality is noticeably poorer than inkjet printers. If photo printing is your motivation for considering a color laser printer, we recommend purchasing an inkjet instead (see our Inkjet Printer and Inkjet Photo Printer guides for more information). Interestingly enough, PC World reports that in general, color laser printers can print all documents, whether black-and-white or color, faster than monochrome lasers.
If speed is a key consideration, a color laser may be worth the investment. If you’re not a graphic artist but simply want the option to print color? Purchase an inkjet as an auxilliary printer. There is nothing wrong with owning two printers. You could easily follow the strategy of owning a laser printer for your day to day needs for black and white, and an inkjet for the occasional color print job.
Laser printers are known for sharp text and crisp output of simple graphics (black or grayscale) but that doesn’t mean you should ignore resolution specifications altogether. Printer resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi). The more dots per inch, the sharper the print job. That is, more detail is visible to the naked eye. This is worth consideration if you’ll be printing graphics. Monochrome printer resolution maxes out at 1200 x 1200 or 600 by 600 but these scales are more than adequate for printing text and graphics. Color laser printer resolution can be as high as 2400 x 1200 which enhances the quality of the color print.
Memory helps dictate how quickly the printer prints and the quality of print it produces. Printers store documents in memory. More memory allows you to print better quality, a higher resolution at faster speeds. If you send a high-resolution job to your printer, but don’t have the memory to handle it, the printer automatically adjusts the job’s resolution to match the printer’s capabilities. Memory upgrades are fairly inexpensive, so if you choose a lower end model with less memory, look for one that can accept memory upgrades, especially important if you’ll be networking the printer for multiple users in a small office. Most high-end laser printers come with at least 64MB of memory. If you’re buying for a busy office, look for models that come with or can be upgraded to 128MB. Again, if speed is key, consider purchasing the model with extra memory if possible.
Laser printer trays can hold anywhere from 150 to 500 sheets of paper (models designed for corporate use fall on the high end of this range). Most laser printers provide users with the option of adding extra trays which makes using multiple papers more convenient than single-tray printers. With recycling and eco-friendly practices being top of news today, multiple trays make it easy to re-use printouts and save on paper costs (printers with duplexing or double-sided printing capabilities achieve the same goal).