Inkjet vs laser printers: which is right for you?

Discover the differences between Canon's inkjet and laser printers and find out which type of printer best suits your needs and your budget.
On the left, a Canon MegaTank inkjet printer sits on a wooden desk, and on the right a Canon i-SENSYS multi-function laser printer.

What is the perfect printer? The answer will be different for different people. We all need to print documents from time to time, but many of us also like to get creative with crafts or to print photographs, children's homework and student projects. Many of us have set up businesses at home or a small office, working from there at least some of the time, so also need the ability to create professional-looking mono or colour business documents.

Which printer type is the right choice for you depends largely on what printing tasks you most commonly require. It will differ based on whether you print text-heavy business documents, photo prints, or a balance of both; on plain paper, glossy photo paper, or even fine art papers; mainly monochrome or full-colour; and single prints or larger runs. Other factors to consider might include printing speed, the physical size of the printer, the biggest print size it can produce, and the total cost per print including ink/toner and paper.

Canon makes a broad range of inkjet and laser printers to suit every need and budget. Let's take a closer look at the main differences between the two types, and some of the leading models in each range, to help you pick your perfect printer.

A Canon PIXMA printer is printing a colourful photograph of tomatoes, which a hand is reaching in and picking up.

Perfect for photo enthusiasts, the 3-in-1 Canon PIXMA G650 inkjet printer uses six dye-based inks for enhanced tonal range and colour gamut, and has a high-resolution scanner. With refillable MegaTank ink tanks rather than cartridges, a full set of inks is sufficient for 3,800 4x6-inch photos and it can output borderless photo prints at sizes up to A4. For document printing, there's enough ink for 3,700 mono or 8,000 colour A4 pages.

Inkjet and laser printers: how they work

The most fundamental difference between inkjet and laser printers is that they're based on wet and dry processes respectively. Inkjet printers lay liquid ink onto paper, whereas laser printers use dry toner which is fused to the page by a high-temperature roller.

But there's more. Inkjet printers generally use dye-based inks, but some use pigment-based inks, which interact differently with different types of paper – they tend to be absorbed less, so prints may appear crisper but colours less vibrant. In addition, depending on the model, Canon inkjet printers use anything from three to ten different colours of ink. In theory, the more ink colours, the greater the gamut of colours the printer can reproduce – but in practice the differences can be subtle and are likely to matter only to dedicated photographers who want to produce photo prints with complete colour fidelity.

Comparing ink durability

Broadly speaking, the pigment-based inks used in inkjet printers are more robust and smudge-resistant on plain paper than dye-based inks, as well as giving blacker, crisper-looking text. They're therefore ideal for document printing. By comparison, dye-based inks are better suited to printing photos on glossy paper. The smaller molecules of dye-based inks can be fully absorbed beneath the protective top layer of glossy photo paper, giving a smoother gloss finish. Some of Canon's PIXMA range of inkjet printers combine pigment-based black ink for text output, along with dye-based cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks for high-quality photo output, while the Canon MAXIFY range of business printers are equipped with all-pigment ink for high durability and sharp document printing.

For the ultimate in durability and resistance to smudging when creating both mono and colour prints on plain paper, laser printers are still hard to beat for printing business documents. What's more, these documents can be archived for long periods of time in protected environments, such as libraries office storage facilities.

Inkjet printers offer similar archival properties, thanks to pigment-based inks and Canon's ChromaLife 100 technology. When used with selected Canon photo paper, the combination of paper and ink using this technology forms a bond that ensures colour-fastness under archival storage conditions for up to 100 years.1

A close-up of a Canon i-SENSYS printer and its touchscreen control panel.

The fast Canon i-SENSYS MF754Cdw multi-function laser printer can scan double-sided A4 documents at up to 100ipm (impressions per minute), fed by a 50-sheet ADF. As well as single-sided and auto duplex copying, it can scan direct to email, USB memory stick, FTP, cloud services and fax.

High-efficiency printing

If you print in high volumes, a high-yield printer such as a laser printer may be the best choice. Toner cartridges used in laser printers tend to have a much higher page yield than ink cartridges for inkjet printers. Even so, to suit different printing volume requirements and budgets, Canon offers standard and high-yield options for its laser printers. High-yield cartridges for the i-SENSYS MF750 series of printers contain sufficient toner for 7,600 mono pages and 5,500 colour documents,2 and for the i-SENSYS MF650 series it's up to 3,100 mono pages and 2,300 colour documents.

Don't rule out inkjets, though. Canon's MAXIFY GX series MegaTank inkjet printers typically print up to 9,000 mono pages or up to 21,000 colour documents in economy mode before you need to top up the refillable ink tanks.3 Refilling the tanks from bottles of ink is also a quick, easy and mess-free process that's much more efficient and cost-effective than using cartridges or toner.

A man scans a sheet of paper on a Canon MAXIFY printer.

With print, copy, scan and fax facilities, the Canon MAXIFY GX7050 features Wi-Fi, Ethernet and Cloud Link connectivity and has dual paper input trays with a combined 600-sheet capacity. Single-pass scanning for double-sided documents is fed by a 50-sheet D-ADF.

Maximum versatility

Inkjet printers can be particularly versatile, with excellent vibrancy for colour photos and graphics along with solid performance for document printing, especially in models with pigment-based black ink. Inkjets can also print on a range of media, including glossy, matte and semi-gloss photo papers, decorations and craft media. Because laser printers use heat, they cannot print on nearly as wide a range of media, coated photo papers in particular. However, if you're not interested in printing photos, one of Canon's i-SENSYS MF series laser printers will do a superb job of printing mono and colour documents and will be very effective for graphics.

What's more, if mono is all you need, Canon has an extensive range of black and white laser printers, including the i-SENSYS MF450 Series multi-function printers and the i-SENSYS LBP230 Series of fast, efficient single-function printers. These offer super-fast print speeds up to 38ppm, with double-sided printing as standard and easy wireless connectivity. In the MegaTank inkjet printer range, black and white choices include the PIXMA GM2050 single-function printer and the PIXMA GM4050 multi-function printer.

Both Canon's MAXIFY GX inkjet printer and i-SENSYS MF laser printer ranges feature models with a built-in scanner, typically with an auto document feeder for effortless scanning and photocopying of multi-page documents. Some models can even scan both sides of double-sided documents in one pass, effectively halving the scanning time. This teams with auto duplex double-sided printing and photocopying, while top-of-the-range models, like the MAXIFY GX7050 multi-function inkjet printer and the i-SENSYS MF754Cdw multi-function laser printer, also add standalone fax facilities.

Again, though, if you don't need extra functions, single-function printers such as the compact colour laser i-SENSYS LBP673Cdw and i-SENSYS LBP630 Series or the MAXIFY GX5050 inkjet offer intuitive controls and fast print speeds at lower purchase costs.

Photo enthusiasts needn't feel left out. The Canon PIXMA G550 single-function inkjet printer and PIXMA G650 multi-function inkjet printer offer the full range of MegaTank advantages but use six dye-based inks for rich photo quality.

A Canon MAXIFY printer sits on a white desk surrounded by various business printouts.

The Canon MAXIFY GX6050 has identical print speeds and page yields to the GX7050, with sufficient ink tank capacity for 9,000 mono pages or up to 21,000 colour pages in economy mode.4 It's a more cost-effective option if you don't need built-in fax, single-pass double-sided scanning and a secondary paper input tray.

Premium productivity

When you need to print a lot of pages in a hurry, the speed of a printer can make a huge difference. It can also be a surprisingly big factor if you're printing just a single page. Some laser printers on the market are notoriously slow at outputting a page just after switch-on or when waking up from standby mode. That's because the fuser unit can take a long time to heat up to operating temperature. The good news here is that the Canon i-SENSYS series of laser printers have a warm-up time of just 13 to 14 seconds from power-on. That can actually be much faster than some inkjet printers, which often run an automatic nozzle check and cleaning cycle for the print heads after switch-on.

When it comes to a laser vs inkjet speed comparison, the Canon i-SENSYS MF750 series laser printers have a first print out time of 7.1 seconds or less for both mono and colour pages. Subsequent print speeds are up to 33ppm (pages per minute). For the MAXIFY GX5050, GX6050 and GX7050 inkjet printers, the first print out time is about 7 seconds (in the absence of any print head cleaning cycle) and subsequent print speeds are up to 24ipm for mono or 15.5ipm for colour documents. However, inkjet speeds can be slower when a lot of ink is used in successive pages, because the printer will pause outputting a page to allow the ink to dry on the previous sheet. This ensures that the print is touch-dry when it emerges from the printer and avoids smudging.

Double-sided printing can naturally save on paper costs and diminish impact to the environment, and is another factor to consider in the inkjet vs laser decision. With any inkjet printer, liquid ink will naturally seep into plain paper, so for double-sided printing, there can be some bleed-through that degrades the quality. Dye-based Canon inkjet printers will reduce the density on the second side of paper to reduce this effect and also give a faster drying time, while Canon's MAXIFY inkjet printers also have double-sided print modes that keep this to a minimum. However, the dry process of laser printing ensures top-quality duplex results every time.

A Canon MegaTank printer sits on a desk in a home office, next to a computer and chair and near a large window.

MegaTank printers are also available in the PIXMA range, including the Canon PIXMA G7050 4-in-1 printer which includes print, copy, scan and fax facilities, plus a 35-sheet ADF and both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity.

Size matters

Finding space for a printer can be a challenge in a home office environment. Laser printers tend to be bulkier than most inkjet models but the Canon i-SENSYS series are remarkably compact for their type. For example, the i-SENSYS MF651Cw has dimensions of 451x460x360mm including paper handling trays, and weighs 18.9kg. By comparison, the MAXIFY GX6050 inkjet printer is smaller at 399x645x327mm with its trays extended, and is lighter at 11.6kg. The Canon PIXMA TR150, meanwhile, is a super-portable inkjet that's just 322x185x66mm and weighs only 2.1kg, making it the perfect solution for on-the-road printing.

Will a number of users need to use the same printer? The PIXMA and MAXIFY GX models mentioned here are suited for 1-5 users. The laser printers mentioned here are ideal for teams based in busier work environments.

With multiple users, another consideration is security. Selected Canon i-SENSYS printers come with Secure Printing options, enabling them to hold print jobs until a PIN or password is entered on the printer. This ensures that confidential documents are not printed out until you are on the spot, so they are never left lying in the output tray for others to find.

Cost of ownership

As has been well publicised over the years, it's worth taking into account not just the initial purchase price of a printer but the cost of ink or toner over its lifetime. The Canon MegaTank refillable printers have drastically reduced both the cost per page and the total cost of ownership, making them the most affordable ongoing printing solution for mid-to-high volume print users across any technology.

For laser printers, the Canon i-SENSYS MF series, such as the i-SENSYS MF750 series and i-SENSYS MF650 series, are particularly cost effective, thanks to the availability of individual high-yield black, cyan, magenta and yellow toner cartridges.

Another consideration is energy efficiency. If you print a lot or have several printers, power consumption can quickly add up. You can save energy by using the printer's power saving mode, which switches on automatically if the printer is not used for a period of time. Keeping an inkjet printer switched on but in standby mode consumes little power, and On-Demand Fixing ensures that the fuser unit on laser printers is warmed up when needed, reducing the amount of energy required to keep the unit ready to print when the printer is left on.

A Canon i-SENSYS printer sits on a wooden desk next to a computer and some printouts.

The Canon i-SENSYS MF650 range includes the i-SENSYS MF651Cw with an intuitive 12.7cm colour touchscreen and fast 18ppm print speeds for both mono and colour. The faster 21ppm i-SENSYS MF655Cdw adds auto duplex printing, while the top-of-the-range i-SENSYS MF657Cdw includes fax with single-pass double-sided scanning.

Ease of use

Whether you decide on an inkjet or laser printer, you'll want a device that's easy to use. The MAXIFY GX6050 and GX7050 inkjet printers both make life simple for printing, scanning and photocopying, with 6.9cm tiltable colour touchscreens. Easy connectivity means you can link to the cloud via the Canon PRINT app or the printer touchscreen, and the printers are compatible with Apple AirPrint (iOS), Mopria (Android) and Chrome OS. They also both feature 50-sheet auto document feeders, the MAXIFY GX7050 having the ability to scan double-sided documents in a single pass, as well as adding direct fax facilities. 

For their part, the Canon i-SENSYS MF series laser printers boast large 12.7cm colour touchscreens, which give access to Canon's i-SENSYS Application Library to boost productivity and ease of use, enabling you to tailor the apps and interface to your own requirements. Users of i-SENSYS laser printers can also access Apple AirPrint (iOS), Mopria (Android) and Chrome OS, as well as the Canon PRINT Business app. The i-SENSYS MF645Cx and MF754Cdw models add direct fax facilities, ideal for the home and small office environment, and the added benefit of Cloud connectivity on the i-SENSYS MF750 series.

Inkjet vs laser: the choice

Inkjet printers are well suited to photo printing, with accurate colour reproduction and typically richer colours than laser printers. Inkjets tend to be more compact, making them a good choice where space is a consideration. They often have lower upfront costs, and the refillable ink tanks of Canon's MegaTank range mean greater efficiency and lower running costs than other cartridge or toner solutions.

Canon i-SENSYS laser printers and Canon MAXIFY inkjet printers are ideal when business documents and other text-heavy printing are the priority. Canon i-SENSYS laser printers are cost-effective for bulk printing and greater print yields, with fast printing times – sometimes almost half that of comparable inkjets – and no risk of smudging and no bleed-through when printing double-sided.

Both Canon's MAXIFY GX inkjet printer and i-SENSYS laser printer ranges are a great fit for the busy household, home office and small office, with a wide range of features, versatility, speed, dependability, cost efficiency and ease of use. For more guidance on which printer might suit your needs, try the Canon printer selector

Written by Matthew Richards and Alex Summersby

  1. Permanence figures are projections based on tests conducted by Canon under accelerated environmental conditions and are not guaranteed.
  2. Based on ISO/IEC 19798.
  3. Page Yield is an estimated value based on Canon individual test method using the ISO/IEC 24712 chart and continuous printing simulation with the replacement after initial setup.
  4. The economy mode reduces ink consumption by lowering the density, with the result that 50% more pages can be printed than in standard mode.

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