Inkjet, Laser, or All-In-One Printer?

When shopping for a new printer, should you look for an inkjet or a laser? How about a plain old printer versus an all-in-one printer, scanner, copier, and fax? The inkjet vs. laser choice depends on what you print and how often you print it. An AIO printer is the de facto standard for all but the tightest budgets these days.

Laser technology is ideal for black text or graphics. It uses heat to fuse tiny dots of black toner to paper, creating a crisp and fade-resistant image of an all-black document or greyscale picture. There’s no “bleeding” as there can be with ink.

On the other hand, some bleeding is desirable when printing high-quality color images, like family photos. In nature, liquids blend together to form new colors; they do not just trick the eye by juxtapositioning dots of primary colors, as color laser printers do. Inkjet printers also lay down primary colors only, but they bleed and blend just enough to produce more natural-looking colors. Glossy photo paper is designed for ink; color laser prints don’t look as good as inkjet even on the expensive, glossy paper.

Color laser all-in-one printer

High-volume print jobs are handled better by laser printers. Laser technology is inherently faster than inkjet, and a laser toner cartridge prints ten times more pages than an inkjet cartridge.

Which brings us to cost, both upfront and over the printer’s entire lifecycle. A modest inkjet printer costs $50; a refurbished monochrome laser printer costs $50. Consumer-grade color laser printers run between $150 and $300; the fastest inkjet printers are in the $100 to $250 range. The difference in upfront cost is not that great, and it’s easily made up in the long-term costs of supplies and maintenance.

Don’t Forget To Factor in Supply Costs

At Office Depot, an HP-branded cyan toner cartridge for an HP 507A laser printer costs $223; a cyan ink cartridge for an HP 82 costs $36. But the laser cartridge prints 6,000 typical pages ($0.04 each) while the inkjet cartridge prints 200 ($0.18 each). Cost-per-page aside, some people just hate changing cartridges.

The price gap between toner and ink narrows when you look at remanufactured cartridges, which can cost 25% to 70% less than OEM cartridges. It’s hard to compare cost-per-page in the remanufactured market because prices vary a lot from one recycler to another, and so does the amount of ink or toner supplied.

So to summarize the laser vs. inkjet decision:
Only black text and greyscale images: go monochrome laser
Lots of black and occasional, mid-quality color: go color laser
Low volume, lots of photos: go inkjet

So what about a single-function printer version an all-in-one? As I said, the decision to buy an all-in-one version of a given printer model is really a no-brainer. Who wants to run to the office store to scan a document, make a few photocopies or send a fax? The price difference is minor, and the joy of digitizing all your paper clutter is immense. You’ll save money by not buying filing cabinets, folders, labels, and hours of time as well.

More Posts about Printing:

  • 400 Free Tools For Business Building

  • Inkjet, Laser, or All-In-One Printer?

  • Business Printer Buying Guide


  1. I have largely gone paperless, so I rarely print. Any paper that I get, I scan the document and then recycle the paper, shred if necessary and take to recycling center. A few months back I bought a wireless AIO inkjet and it will print and scan wirelessly. If I change to a wireless laser AIO, the initial cost is much higher than my wireless AIO inkjet particularly since it was on sale for about $40. It also prints in duplex. To get all the same features like wireless scanning as well as printing in color and duplex in a laser version, decent ones are 10x what I paid. Yes, a laser would, in the long run, be cheaper but the initial hit as well as higher priced (compared to inkjet cartridges) toner hits $100+ it is easier to stomach $70 more often, Also, you did not mention it, but every so often you need to change the fuser; toner is not the only consumable. Also, you need to be careful that with model changes, your fuser might be harder to get. You could short-life your printer.

    That said, I do believe that paperless will finally happen. With tablets and large screen smartphones, if you need to show someone a document, you can call it up and show it. You can also send or share with others. There are more Document Management Systems compared to a few years back. The courts have proven that the electronic copy is still a legal document, and if contract, is still contractually binding. I just sold one of my houses and the whole process was done with Docusign and only the final escrow required me to be in person, since some documents need to be notarized and thus the only paper I dealt with in the whole process. If they can figure out how to make the notary function electronically. I’ll gradually use the AIO as a scanner.

  2. I’ll add the following:
    Look for printers that have high capacity cartridges available because CPP will go even lower. Printing in draft mode saves toner or ink. With inkjets, look for printers that either the printing heads on the cartridges, or that have replaceable heads. If the heads clog, you’ll be glad you did. Watch out for lasers with poor toner control. They’ll blow toner all over the place and inexpensive color lasers are often the worst. With lasers, room temp can be an issue because the room top added to the internal temp will prematurely harden feed rollers on the hot side(s) of the laser. If you need a multifunction with a doc feeder, be sure it has a rep for reliability because feeders tend to fail first. Feeders also tend to receive paper clips, staples, rubber bands, thumbtacks, pushpins, and all sorts of other junk, so it helps to look at how easy or hard it’ll be to get stuff out of the feeder.

  3. My lexmark….black ink…500 copies…$5.00

    That is $.01 per copy…beats $.04

    My hp printer cartridge is factory set to cut off at 500 copies.
    At better than $40.00+ tax…comes to almost $.10 per copy.

  4. Here in Australia, I use a continuous ink system (CISS) for Brother printer. Easiest to set up. Cost approx. $150 for initial set up but first delivery comes with approx. 100ml of ink for each colour. Replacement inks at approx. $7 per 100ml or if you do a lot of printing a litre costs approx. $25. Costs for printing work out at less than 1 cent. Note that quality is just as good as with the original Brother cartridges
    Most ink jet inks are solutions of direct dyes with maybe a wetting agent added and few minor bits and pieces. True value of the ink in a cartridge would be less than 20 cents.

  5. Bob Deloyd says

    I live in the desert and Ink dries out and is worthless whereas toner lasts forever out here where it is dry 🙂

    • Hi, I do not do a lot of printing with often months between printing activities. Always when I need to print I use a lot of ink cleaning the print head (Inbuilt mode on printer) and sometimes have to physically clean the head.
      Ink cartridges do not store well once opened and for this reason I would be going laser next printer.

    • excellent point not many would consider

  6. Steve Wohl says

    Could you write about what an ink sublimation printer is and the differences with an inkjet printer is? Particularly in regards to permanence and should a photographer only use an ink sublimation printer.

  7. Bob, Thanks much for a very informative article. I have had my HP printer for several years and have become very confused at all the different printer options that are now available. You have cleared up the situation for me. Love your articles.

  8. Bob, thanks for the article. Very informative. I issue not covered is on my HP printer and the recycled ink cartridges or refilled cartridges at my Costco Store, I get message that I need to install a new cartridge. Seems there is a chip in the cartridge that tells my HP printer this is not a new cartridge. I contacted my local office supply store and was advised the manufactures are going to this so we would have to purchase new cartridges to get the printer to work. Anyone else see this happening?

    • John, what happens is the person who had the cartridge before you ran it out but kept shaking it and reinstalling it, if it gets too dry it burns out the ink detector chip and the cartridge is no good after that.

    • Canon does the same. And, unfortunately, the cartridges are NOT resettable…

  9. Art Frailey says

    Thanks Bob
    This article has helped me out immensely, as I am looking for a new printer. I was going to buy an HP wide format that also printed short roll stuff. I found out my print shop can handle this better, and at less cost most of the time, and I don’t have the fuss and bother of ink outages, etc.
    A very good and informative article as usual !

  10. Rick Hodgens says

    I got an HP Inkjet AIO that was sitting at the door in my local OfficeMAX years and years ago. The cartridges started that nagging “worn out cartridge” messaging which I ignored as long as possible. Its original cost was $84 and the refill cartridges have probably added up to north of $300. About a year ago, even my unopened cartridge gave an error code as soon as installed and that’s when I pulled the plug! No more HP stuff for me. CISS sounds more practical if its not too troublesome.

  11. Don’t know if this was mentioned by someone but what ticks me off is trying to use re-manu cartridges for my HP8600 Office Jet the unit won’t let me. Had to buy OEM.

  12. PS, this was after using the re-manu for a while. Then I got a message of incompatability.

  13. Gave up on inkjet long ago. Will never look back. I print so little in color that it’s easier to take a file to the office store to print in color rather than waste the money on personal systems. Have a Brother AIO and HP laserjet p4014. The HP requires a new toner cartridge once every three years! That’s a whopping $60 per year. The AIO requires a bit more because of its smaller capacity, but it still beats inkjet hands down. So much faster, as well. Inkjet is old news that I can easily do without.

  14. The inkjet cartridges are so expensive that I have actually purchased a new printer on sale twice rather than replace the ink cartridge .. I do not print often, so they dry up. Also, when I bought cheap ones, they wouldn’t work, so it seems there is no getting around spending a lot for the ink. I used to have (still do) a plain old b&w laser printer and only had to replace that once in about five years. Wish it was wireless. Also, it wasn’t an AIO and I do use the scanner and fax on the inkjet AIO.

  15. Very interesting article.
    Can add some things.
    Inkjet- Buy one that has separate colour cartridges ie. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and black, then you can buy dodgy brothers cartridges with chips ,from China if you’re just printing bits and pieces ( leaflets. labels, CD covers etc ).for about $3 each online
    If you’re silly enough to want to print photos then maybe you should buy original.
    Now, most ink jet prints will run if wetted, so not the best for addressing envelopes to post

    Laser (Monochrome) – as many have said is quick, easy and doesn’t run in the rain.
    I have bought dodgy brothers cartridges and I have bought Toner and re-filled my own very successfully over the years.
    Colour Laser ? Probably a bit expensive for individuals, but good for businesses.

    NB. There is evidence out there that Laser printers can affect health, so if you’re going to use them a lot, put them in a well ventilated room away from your work area.

  16. Bob,
    In the last paragraph, it states ‘So what about a single-function printer version an all-in-one?’
    Did you mean to type : ‘So what about a single-function printer VERSUS an all-in-one?’
    (CAPS for clarity only)

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