This post was most recently updated on June 5th, 2020
Laser printers are fast, efficient, and often misunderstood. There’s a common opinion that every user would be better off with a laser printer than an inkjet. However, like most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all option with printers.
In this guide, we’re going to explain what exactly a laser printer is, how laser printers work, and who laser printers are good for. It’s going to get way deeper than most people care to read, but we have to give the people what they asked for. Let’s get it crackin’.
What Are Laser Printers?
Laser printers are printers that print using a powder called toner. These printers are known for being very fast, efficient, and reliable. They are often the go-to option for offices and business users.
There’s a bunch of different types of laser printers, which we’ll get into later. Some people like to think that all laser printers are the same, which simply is not true. There are laser printers which are less efficient, and slow. There are also laser printers that resemble industrial printing presses, that cost more than your house.
Basically laser printers use toner and heat to print your image. That’s the SparkNotes version.
How Do Laser Printers Work?
The process laser printers use to print your document is a bit more complicated than inkjet printers. I’m going to give you an over-simplified version, because most of this doesn’t matter to laser printer users.
First, the printer uses a small laser to etch your image on a roller. The roller can be etched over and over, because of the material it’s made out of.
Next, that roller spins to where the toner is stored, and the toner sticks to the etched out area.
Finally, the roller continues spinning to paper, where it presses the heated toner onto the page. The roller gets erased and re-etched, and the process starts over.
Again, this is the condensed version, just to give a basic explanation. If you email me with corrections and deeper explanations, an intern will read through your message and immediately proceed to never tell me about it. Because that’s how professionals operate.
Is My Printer a Laser Printer?
Ok, so I know this might sound silly, but sometimes it’s hard to know if your printer is a laser printer or an inkjet printer. The easiest way to find out is to look at the printer cartridges.
If the cartridges are are filled with liquid, and about hand sized, then they are ink cartridges, and you have an inkjet printer. If your cartridge(s) are a little wider than the paper, and has a colored powder coming out of it, then you have a laser printer.
Laser Printer Advantages and Disadvantages
For the most part, laser printers are cheaper in the long run than inkjet printers. There are some options to make inkjet printing cheaper, like HP Instant Ink, supertank printers, and HP PageWide printers. However, for a rule of thumb, laser printers cost less.
The reason you save money with a laser printer is because toner is so efficient. Most toner cartridges will print up to 2,000 pages, and some can print up to 15,000 pages. That’s compared to most ink cartridges, which print around 500-1,000 pages.
Those efficient cartridges bring your cost per page down to about one cent per page, which is almost unheard of for an inkjet printer. That’s why everyone always talks about what a great financial decision buying a laser printer is.
Another big advantage laser printers have over inkjet printers is their printing speed. The reason laser printers tend to be so much faster than inkjet printers is they print the entire width of a page at once.
If you’ve ever used an inkjet printer, you’ve probably heard the print head carrier running from side to side in the printer. That slows the printing process down a lot.
In a laser printer, that roller we talked about is able to roll over the entire page very quickly. It also allows the printer to transition from one page to another really fast. Most laser printers can spit out a page every two seconds or less.
This is one of the reasons why laser printers tend to be the go-to for business users.
Lot’s of inkjet printers include extra business features. However, almost all laser printers are set up for business use. This means they tend to include things like fax and email functionality, multiple user profiles, and security features. Even without an IT professional, these printers are easier to configure and integrate into your existing network.
One last reason laser printers are recommended by most professionals is the reliability they offer.
While all printers are ultimately built to be consumable products, which is a crock, laser printers are built to handle much heavier monthly loads than inkjet printers.
Because they have to be built to handle higher monthly volume, they tend to last longer. In my experience, an inkjet printer will last 2-3 years, like a laser printer will last 5-7 years.
Large and Bulky
Laser printers tend to be larger than inkjet printers. While they also tend to have more paper storage, there’s not really any more reason for them to be so large.
Recently, HP has been manufacturing smaller laser printers, especially color laser printers. However, on the whole, laser printers are usually larger than inkjet printers.
Laser printers are almost always more expensive than inkjet printers. Printer manufacturers know you are looking for something to save you money, so the printers cost more up front, to make back some of the money they are “losing”.
Sure, there may be a slightly higher cost to manufacture these printers, but it’s marginal at best.
Don’t let anyone sweet-talk you here. Laser printers can be twice the price of inkjet printers because the manufacturer wants to make as much money from you as possible.
Lower Image Quality
Laser printers are not photo printers. Again, laser printers are not photo printers. No matter what, customers will ask me if laser printers can print good photos.
It is theoretically possible for laser printers to print photos. You can buy extremely expensive photo paper for laser printers and print mediocre, flat photos. Does that sound fun?
If you print a lot of photos, buy an inkjet photo printer.
Slower First Page Out
Because laser printers need heat to print, they need to warm up. Sometimes it can take a few minutes, if the office is cold. Once they are warmed up, they are cookin’. But the first page usually comes out faster with an inkjet printer.
Types of Laser Printers
Single-Function Monochrome Laser Printers
A monochrome laser printer is a printer that only has a black toner cartridge. That means it only prints in black and white or greyscale.
A single-function laser printer is a printer that only prints. There is no copy, scan, or fax options. That means these printers are dedicated to only printing black and white or greyscale documents. They tend to be smaller and less expensive than other laser printers.
Single-Function Color Laser Printers
These printers are simply the color version of the previous option. They are slightly more expensive, because they allow you to print in color. They also have higher operating costs, because they use three additional toner cartridges. Other than that, they offer the same dedicated operation as the monochrome version.
Multi-Function Monochrome Laser Printers
A multi-function monochrome laser printer is a monochrome printer that prints, scans, copies, and faxes. These are the laser printers that tend to have additional business features and higher volume allotments. These printers can get much more expensive, because they tend to be absolute workhorses.
Multi-Function Color Laser Printers
These are the laser printers that do everything. If you are looking for the best laser printers available, here they are. They print, scan, copy, fax, all in full and vibrant color. What more could you ask for?
Laser Printer Uses
First of all, laser printers are great at printing documents. Because of the way the technology works, the text prints the same darkness across each letter in a text document. With an inkjet printer, there is a little ring of darker black around each letter. While that doesn’t sound like it matters, it’s actually easier for your eyes to read text printed on a laser printer.
Graphics and Charts
Because toner prints so consistently, laser printers tend to print large fields of color better than inkjet printers. That doesn’t help with photo printing, but it does help with graphics and charts.
I love printing colored charts and adverts on a laser printer. The colors pop and are vibrant, and it makes whatever I’m printing stand apart.
If you print large batches of things even every now and then, you should be considering a laser printer. They are fast enough to get your booklets done in a reasonable timeframe, and efficient enough that you don’t feel guilty printing a few manuals.
Laser Printers Vs Inkjets
If you want a full breakdown of laser printers vs inkjets, check out our full guide on the subject.
What it ultimately comes down to is inkjet printers are better for photo printing, and are a cheaper option to get into printing. Laser printers are better for document printing and save more money in the long run.
People who says laser printers are better for everyone are either disingenuous or misinformed. Inkjets and laser printers are built for different uses and different people.
If you want a more in depth conversation about the differences between inkjets and laser printers, check out our full laser vs inkjet printer guide.
Who are Laser Printers Best For?
Business and Office Users
Because of their heavy document printing, offices and businesses tend to opt for laser printers. Also, because of the lower operating costs, it just makes good sense from a professional standpoint.
Infrequent Home Users
It’s not who you’d first think of, but customers who go months at a time without printing are usually great candidates for laser printers. Because their ink cartridges tend to dry out, toner works much better for them.
I’ve used laser printers to print off small runs of comic books, and it’s by far the most economical way to self publish books. Print shops simply cost too much. With the speed and efficiency of consumer laser printers, they are the best option for self publishers.