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Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: Photo inkjet printers vs. color laser printers

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) October 18, 2007 11:19 PM PDT

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Photo inkjet printers vs. color laser printers

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 10/18/07 11:19 PM


My question for you is photo inkjet printers vs. color laser printers. I use a ton of ink in my inkjet printers, and as you know, ink cartridges aren't cheap. Since color laser printers have come down in price quite a bit these past years, I'm interested in picking up one to see if over time (while initially it will cost more upfront for the laser printer) I can start to reap the benefit from switching to a color laser. However, I do have a few questions and hope you can help me out.

How do color laser printer fare as compared to inkjet printers when it comes to printing photos?

Will color laser give me the quality of an inkjet printer?

How about cost per page for color laser over inkjet?

What are some of the tradeoffs going to a color laser printer for photos? And are their any downsides to laser?

Thank you for your help.

--Submitted by Edward H.

Answer voted most helpful by the CNET Community newsletter readers:

Inkjet or Laser

Isnt technology wonderful, inkjet printers are truly amazing examples of what can be accomplished when there is a buck to be made. And what is even more amazing is that manufacturers have come up with ways to package ink into small plastic containers that we are willing to pay up to $40 a piece for. If my calculations are correct, that $35.99 ink cartridge I purchased just yesterday with 21ml of ink in it, would come out to about $6,487 per gallon. Some cartridges work out to more that $11,000 per gallon of ink. And you thought gasoline prices were ridiculous. This is why they can afford to give you some printers for free when you purchase a computer. Ok, you get the idea that replacement Ink is expensive. I understand your dilemma, but a color laser may not be the answer especially when it comes to printing color photos. Yes, Color Laser printers can be less expensive, per page. But the print quality is just not there when it comes to photographs. Dont get me wrong, Color Lasers are great for printing color documents, spec sheets and brochures but not for high quality photos. Dont be fooled by the lowering prices of these units. A set of replacement toner cartridges for my color laser is almost $400. So, with that said, how do you lower your overall printing costs? In many cases the least expensive way to go is to have more than one printer but the first thing to do is step back and evaluate your total printing needs.
1. How much total printing do you do?
2. How much of it needs to be printed in color?
3. What kind of color printing? Are these Photos or just general purpose printing?
4. Are you printing a lot of letters and other black and white documents to an inkjet printer?

If you divide up your printing so that you use the most economical printer for that specific type of job, you will save a fortune in the long run. Here is a look at the different types of print jobs and which printers to use for what.

* Photographs *
Printing high quality photos is the most difficult and costly type of printing. Not only do you have the high cost of ink, film or cartridges but high quality photo paper can also be very expensive.

1. LIGHTJET This is one of the processes that the big guys use and is as close to real photographic printing that you can get. It actually is the same developing process as normal photographs accept for the way that the photo paper is exposed. You are not likely to be purchasing any of this technology for home use, but you can certainly take advantage of it by simply sending your digital images out to be printed. Many people believe that this type of process produces renders the best quality images and will not fade with time as much as inkjet and other processes.

2. DYE-SUBLIMATION This type of printer probably produces the best quality photographic prints out of the printers that are normally available for home or small business use and is one of the few printers that can actually print true continuous tones. The cost per print is a little higher and you are locked into special paper and supplies. You would not normally use this printer for anything other than printing photographs. Both Sony and Kodak makes a nice little units for printing 3x5 and 4x6 prints. These units typically run about 29 to 50 cents per 4x6 photo, so double check the price of the supplies before deciding on a specific model.

3. INKJET - Inkjet printers have become very popular mainly because of their excellent color printing capability as well as there low initial cost. Even though you may even get one for free, the cost of ownership is very high due to high ink replacement costs. In many cases just purchasing a NEWER model printer can save you a bundle. Printer manufacturers are constantly improving the print quality and lowering the cost per page to keep their printers competitive with sending your photos out to be printed. For the best photo reproduction, select a 6 color version.

4. OUTSOURCING - In the long run after you add up the cost of ink, photo paper and factor in for waste, printing errors and paper jams and if you are printing mostly standard 4x6 and 5x7 photos then your best bet may be to send them out to be printed. You can get standard 4x6 prints for under 20 cents each just about anywhere and I have seen them advertised as low as 6 cents (with a coupon) delivered to your door. That is less than the price of the photo paper alone. If you would like to see some reviews and prices for off-site photo printing, check out . The nice thing about outsourcing your photo printing is you dont even have to leave home. Just sign up online, download your photos and they are delivered to your door. If you prefer, you can take you camera memory card down to Walgreens, Walmart or your local photo store and get them printing, usually in less than an hour.

* General Purpose Color Documents *
This category of printing includes any color documents such as newsletters, brochures, spec sheets or even just printing a web page in color. These documents may include photos but is not the main focus and photo quality is not the most important requirement.

1. INKJET PRINTER Virtually any model inkjet printer can print general purpose color documents on standard paper. However, the cost of the ink can be very costly if you print a lot of pages. NOTE: If your specific printing needs consists of printing more of one color than another such as a color logo on every page, then purchasing a color printer that has individual ink tanks for each color can save you money in the long run.

2. COLOR LASER The color laser printer is ideally suited for general purpose color printing and typically has a lower cost per page then the inkjet printers. Color Toner cartridges generally last between 2500 and 5000 pages instead of a few hundred pages for an inkjet cartridge. NOTE: Some color laser printers can be rather noisy and may take up to a few minutes to warm up to print the first page. Keep in mind that even though you can purchase a new color laser printer for under $400, replacement toner can run you another $300 or more.

* Black and White Documents *
This is just your normal black and white printed page such as a document from Microsoft Word, spread sheet or could even be printed pages from the internet or other sources that are actually in color but do not need to be printed in color.

1. BLACK AND WHITE LASER The Black and White (monochrome) laser printer is one of the best deals you can get when it comes to printing. The cost per page is roughly 1/10 that of an inkjet printer and the printing speed is equally impressive. You can get a monochrome laser for under $200 now and I have seen some units on sale for under $100.

2. INKJET Any inkjet printer will print black and white documents, well, accept maybe the small dedicated 4x6 photo printers. Although, if you dont mind your documents on a 4x6 inch piece of glossy paper, I suppose you could even use one of these. If you print a lot of documents, inkjet is not the most economical way to do this and you will find that you are constantly replacing ink cartridges.

3. DOT MATRIX These are not used that much anymore, especially in the home, but still have a place where impact printing is required. Applications that require printing multi-part forms or printing through special mailing envelopes still use this type of printer. Some business users still prefer printing reports on a dot matrix or line printers.

**Notes on AOI (All-IN-ONE) Printers** Both Laser and InkJet printing technology come in the very popular All-In-One format. These units combine Printing, Copying, Scanning and sometimes Faxing in one unit. If you have the need for any of these features you may want to include one of these in your printer wish list. Due to common conflict problems, avoid installing more than one All-In-One printer on a single computer.

**Notes on Networked Printers** Many printers are now available with built-in networking and some even with built-in wireless networking capabilities. This feature can add anywhere from $50 to $100 to the price of the printer, but may be well worth the investment. If you have a network, either wired or wireless, a printer with networking would allow any user in the home or office to print to this printer without having to connect to it directly. Great for those of you who are roaming around with that wireless laptop.

No one printer is ideal for all types of printing and there are many other types of printers that were not discussed here such as thermal label printers and solid ink printers. In most cases, the most cost effective way to handle all your printing needs is to have multiple printers installed on your computer or network. For example: I personally have 8 different printers on my Network.
1. Black and White Laser for Documents and spread sheets.
2. Color Laser for color Spec sheets, flyers and printing color letterheads.
3. All-In-One Inkjet for scanning, copying and the occasional color photo.
4. Large WIDE Format Inkjet Printer for printing large items.
5. 2nd Inkjet printer preset with roll stock photo paper (Just for 4x6 photos)
6. Thermal Label Printer for printing rolls of labels only
7. 2nd Black and White laser for backup printer.
8. Thermal CD/DVD Printer for printing directly onto disks.

Now most of you will not need this many printers but probably the most cost effective thing you can do is purchase one black and white laser printer to be used for all your general printing needs for when you can get away without color. Many of you might ask, why not use the color laser for the black and white printing too? And the answer is you could, but if you ever looked at the inner workings of a color laser printer, you would quickly come to the conclusion that it is amazing that this thing even works at all. I would prefer to wear out the cheaper B&W laser and if you happen to like to print labels or on other unusual paper stocks, the paper path on a color laser is just too complex. Save it for the color jobs.

Wayland Computer

Submitted by CNET member waytron

If you have any additional advice or recommendations for Edward, click on the reply link and share. Please do check out all the additional and very helpful advice below. Thanks!

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