The Great Debate: Inkjet vs. LaserJet

Fast, crisp, high-capacity printing at an affordable price

By Rick Telberg
for Hewlett Packard

Everyone knows the mantra-laser printers are for business, inkjet printers are for home. Many accounting and finance firms were just waiting for the day when they could replace the inkjet printers they used for color graphics with affordable color laser printers.

If you've been hanging on until color laser printers get even cheaper, you may have made the right decision. The tide seems to be turning, making inkjet the printing method of choice.
How has this happened? After all, everyone knows that the cost-per-color-page is less with a color laser printer. And that print quality is better with a laser printer than with an inkjet.

What "everyone" knows, however, isn't necessarily right. Let's take cost-per-page first. Much of the argument about inkjet printing costing more per color page than laser printing comes from using different measuring sticks for each mode of printing.

In many of the comparisons, printing a photo on special photo paper on the inkjet is compared to standard color business graphics on the color laser. This is like comparing oranges to grapefruit. They are similar, but hardly the same.

Another problem in the past in comparing inkjet to laser printing costs is that inkjet printers often used small ink cartridges and all three colors of ink were in the same cartridge. Run out of one color and you threw away whatever was left of the other two.

A number of things have changed regarding inkjet printing that make it worth reconsidering this technology in the business environment. One of these is that some vendors are designing inkjet specifically for business printing, with very high-capacity ink cartridges and separate cartridges for the different colors. Run out of yellow, and you replace only the yellow cartridge. Today's business inkjets also have cartridges with page yields in the thousands of pages, similar to many laser printers, as well as duplexers, so you can automatically print on both sides of the page.

Another inkjet characteristic, which kept the technology from being considered in many offices, is wicking. This is the natural tendency of a liquid ink/toner to sink into the surface of the paper, spreading as it goes. Think of the way a paper towel picks up a spill. When ink wicks, it makes the edges of text and characters less sharp.
Wicking is addressed in business inkjet printers in several ways. Some vendors put a chemical in the pulp when they are making paper. This chemical binds to the ink, so it doesn't wick. Others use fast drying ink which doesn't stay liquid on the paper's surface long enough to wick. Still another method is to spray the paper with a sealant undercoat, which prevents the ink from wicking.

One last factor that portends a return of the inkjet in business printing is speed. Printer vendors are really cranking up the speed with wider print heads, such as HP's Scalable Print Technology, and moving the paper, rather than the print head. This fixed head technology is already being used in HP's "Edgeline" high-end MFP, which can hit 71 pages per minute output in monochrome mode! An Australian firm, Silverbrook Research, is licensing its memjet technology, could possibly allow printer vendors to offer a 60 ppm color inkjet for about $300.

This certainly won't sound the death knell for laser printers, but these new advances do promise to be disruptive to the printer market. We'll just have to wait and see if waiting to switch to color laser printing has been the best policy.

One Response to “The Great Debate: Inkjet vs. LaserJet”

  1. Valerie B

    Question…do the new inkjets/laserjets allow you to use a highlighter without smearing? This has always been a problem in my business.