Printer Types Comparison Cheat Sheet

Printer Types Comparison Cheat Sheet

Most of us have experienced some sort of printer failure. A paper jam, blotched ink, loose nozzle, complete failure, an unresponsive toner cartridge—whatever it is, it’s likely you’ve seen the “Red X” of doom indicating that something is just not working right. In which case, if you’re in the process of buying a printer, you want to ensure that the horse you choose isn’t going to clunk out. But choosing a new device is not as simple as picking out predetermined cartridges. It’s not that simple and there are many things to consider when buying a printer.

First, you need to understand the functionality of each printer type. By identifying what each type of printer does best, you’ll be able to understand which is going to yield the most optimal performance for the print jobs you require. 

Thus, let’s get on with comparing Inkjet, Laser, and Special Purpose printers. 

Printer Types Comparison

In the world of printers, there are three flagship designs: the Inkjet, the Laser, and the Special Purpose. As to a quick overview of how they function, see below to become an expert on how the printing process works for each:

  • Inkjet – The inkjet printer gets its name because of the way in which it operates. An inkjet is typically an all-in-one printer type, as it allows the user to print, fax, copy and scan various file types. It sprays ink through the “printhead” like a jet, which spatters onto a piece of paper. This means that inkjet cartridges are filled with raw ink colors. 
  • Laser – The biggest difference between inkjet and laser printers begins with what’s in the cartridge. An inkjet uses ink, but a laser printer uses toner. Toner is an electrically charged powder that is melted—by way of a laser—onto a piece of paper. 
  • Special Purpose (LED) – Special purpose printers for example label printers are essentially anything that’s not an inkjet or a laser, with the most common being LED. LED printers are relatives of laser printing. They too use a toner—which passes through a fuser, melting it onto paper through a series of heated rollers and focused light. 

But how exactly do they compare to each other in performance and affordability? 

Print Quality 

When it comes to the quality in which these printers can produce, it’ll usually go to an inkjet. Their pigment- and dye-based inks yield the best digital printing results when it comes to file types containing color pixels, and are usually the go-to when printing an online image or photography. 

Laser and LED printers, however, are fantastic for monochrome printing. And they’re even better with text. If we isolated this conversation to consider text printing only, the laser printer would have the upper-hand due to the fact the toner doesn’t smear or splotch. The text is precise, clean, and crisp, regardless of paper weight or the number of print jobs.  

  • Overall Winner: Inkjet
  • Photo and Color Quality Winner: Inkjet
  • Text Quality Winner: Laser 


When it comes to print speed, laser printers take both special purpose and inkjets by a landslide. By and large, office laser printers are bigger machines than desktop inkjets and are built for efficiency, speed, reliability and cost control. Due to the way in which the laser sends an electrical charge to the toner (rather than having to “force” the ink through a tiny shaft), the printing process itself is quicker and cleaner. 

In which case, for bulk-printing text-heavy material and office units, a laser is generally the better choice. It’s one of the reasons they were engineered—to become a stable and reliable source in the workplace whenever business documents needed to be printed. 

  • Winner: Laser


When speaking on affordability, it’s important that we distinguish two different brackets: upfront costs and long-term costs. 

Upfront Costs

In terms of upfront costs, inkjets will almost always be more affordable in cost. Laser printers, whether you decide on a new or used laser printer, tend to be a bit more expensive upfront and are usually bigger machines, and have been engineered to be effective at higher volume printing. 

  • Winner: Inkjets 

Long-Term Costs 

When ink sits in a cartridge, it’ll dry up over time. Additionally, more ink is used when it’s being “jetted” than toner when it’s heated. This means that a laser or LED printer will ultimately print longer per cartridge. Of course, this isn’t much of a factor for the casual printer, but if you tend to do a lot of printing then know that you’ll have to re-up ink cartridges twice as much as toner. 

Fun fact: Many companies sell inkjet printers at a loss, knowing that the bulk of their profit is going to come from ink cartridges.  

Pro tip: Another factor to consider is toner versus ink costs. While ink goes quicker, it’s cheaper than toner. There are many factors to weigh when considering the costs of digital printing.

  • Winner: Laser and LED

What Printer is Right For You?

This comparison is only scratching the surface of printer differences and specs, but it’s a great framework when you’re first thinking about buying new or used office printers. Ultimately, the exact needs you have for your printer should help as a guide to picking a printer. You want to pick a printer that will fit all of your needs, and maybe even go above and beyond.

  • Do you need astounding photographs for your wedding business? A high-quality inkjet machine is likely your best bet for image printing and can supply the best ink for all types of paper stock.
  • Do you need an absolute workhorse of a machine for your office? An industrial laser should be your first consideration as it can handle higher volumes more inexpensively and reliably. 
  • Are you on a super tight budget and don’t plan to print much? Inkjet.


If you’re curious to learn more, at X-Digital we have three decades of experience working with different types of printers. Our mission is to bring excellent, quality-driven machines to you at affordable prices. Don’t hesitate to reach out and talk to one of our experts today! 

“One print, two print, you print, I print.” 

-Dr. Seuss


Chron. How Does an LED Printer Work? Solomon Protesky. 


How Stuff Works. How Laser Printers Work. Tom Harris. 


Techwalla. Average Cost of Color Copies. Avery Martin. 



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