It Might be Time to Consider Getting a Colour Laser Printer

BUT! You Can’t Print Photographs on a Colour Laser Printer

This is going to be a tricky post. Somehow I am going to explain and demonstrate why you can’t print photographs on a laser printer, but even so laser printers are very useful—even mono laser printers—if you do a lot of printing and you might want to consider upgrading to one.

Modern home-use colour laser printers are amazing. They are fast and, based on cost per page, they are way cheaper per page than an InkJet printer—about a quarter of the cost per printed page calculated over 20,000 pages (depending on what you print on them). Also, certainly in Australia, they are cheap. You can currently purchase an excellent colour laser printer like the Brother LED Laser 3040CN for under $300 complete with an initial set of half-full toner cartridges.

Modern home laser printers are great for a number of reasons:

  • They connect directly to your home network as a true network printer (most of them do anyway, but you need to check this). This means that they do not have to connect in via a running computer or network server. So if you are printing from your notebook PC in the TV room you don’t first have to go and check if the print spooler computer is turned on (or send one of your kids to go and turn it on).

  • They draw about 8 watts on standby so you can generally just leave them on all day ready for when you want to print something—maybe all night too (I do most nights).

  • When it comes to printed text on regular paper the quality of the output is far better than an InkJet printer. In fact most Laser printers even when set to ‘Toner Saving’ mode still produce better quality printed output than an InkJet printer does on normal paper.

  • For normal mixed mono and colour output they print at around 15 to 20 pages per minute (depending on the printer you get), compared to an InkJet in non-draft mode printing at maybe 8 pages per minute. If the pages have colour graphics or photographs on them and you select ‘photographic mode’ on your printer then you could be lucky to get about five pages per minute.

But there are downsides … as there always is to everything.

Downside 1: The toner cartridges are about $85 each (depending on the printer), which sounds mighty expensive at first. But consider that, with ‘normal’ text printing you can expect to get about 2,500 pages from a full toner cartridge (again, depending on the printer). So the cost per A4 page for toner works out to about 4c compared to the average InkJet printer which works out to about 16.5c per A4 page.

Downside 2: Laser printers generally will not tolerate any ‘paper’ except standard 50 to 90 weight paper. They will generally not feed or print on film, velum, card, or plastic. They just print on A4 cut-sheet paper. Unless the manual indicates the printer can accommodate them, trying to use film or plastic in a laser printer will likely result in a munted printer.

Downside 3: They can’t be used to label CDs or DVDs. You will not find a CD or DVD feed slot on a laser printer that allows you to print labels directly onto that media. Also, if you try to feed adhesive peel-off label paper through the laser this is likely to result in one or more of the peel-off labels stuck in the internals of the printer.

Downside 4: They are bigger than InkJet printers so you will need more space to set them up. Typically about four times the space.

Downside 5: This is the big one—you can’t print photographs on a laser printer. Well you can technically. The printer will print them. But the output will be pretty crappy.

The following printed examples sort of show what I mean. The first picture (top left) is with toner saving enabled on a Brother 3040CN laser printer and the second picture (bottom left) is on the same printer but with Toner Saver mode off. If anyone can pick any real difference between the two then they are better than me and I have the originals to compare. If anything the picture printed with toner saving enabled looks better—but, as photographs, both are complete failure anyway.

The third picture (top right) is on paper on an Epson R210 InkJet photo printer and the final picture (bottom right) is on the same printer using gloss photographic paper (Kodak Utlra for anyone wondering exactly which paper was used).


These pictures were all printed on A4 sized paper and then set out on the floor like this so I could photograph them. They were not photographed or scanned individually and then layered in Photoshop. So it is a fair comparison as they were shot set out as you see them.

From this it should be pretty obvious that you cannot print ‘photographs’ on a laser printer. Even using a relatively up-market LED-lit home colour laser like the Brother 3040CN. Even on paper (the third example, top right) the InkJet printer blitzes the quality of the laser printer.

However, this does not mean that documents printed on a colour laser printer cannot have pictures included in them. Just remember that the pictures will not print as photographic quality but they will, obviously, print in colour. If the pictures on the pages are graphics or charts it usually does not matter that they are not of photographic quality or that the colour rendering is not anywhere close to correct. In such cases laser printers are fine for the job.

Conclusion: So, if you do a reasonable amount of printing at home, say about half a ream a month (or more), then you might want to look into upgrading your InkJet printer to a laser printer. It doesn’t have to be a colour laser printer if you don’t need colour. You can save even more by upgrading to a mono laser printer. All modern mono laser printers do very good grey-scale printing of colour pictures.