Tank Printers vs. Laser Printers: What's the Difference?

Laser printers are faster, but ink tank printers are better at photos



Inkjets and laser printers have strengths and weaknesses that mark each out as best for specific situations. The picture is less clear when you look at ink tank printers versus laser printers because ink tank printers offer much higher page yields at lower costs than traditional inkjets. Ink tank and laser printers still have important differences and unique strong and weak points, but it is a complicated distinction.



Overall Findings

Ink Tank Printers

  • Great for both monochrome and color printing.

  • Great for photo printing.

  • Slower printing speeds.

  • Subject to ink clogs, and regular purges waste ink.

  • Supports many paper types.

Laser Printers

  • Excels at monochrome printing.

  • Some are capable of decent color printing, but that isn’t a strong point.

  • Extremely fast printing speeds.

  • Fewer maintenance issues.

  • Limited paper types.

These printers offer lower per-page costs than traditional inkjets, and both do well in high-volume printing environments. The tanks in ink tank printers have much larger volumes than conventional ink cartridges, which is why they can print so many more pages between refills compared to traditional inkjets. Laser printers are in that same territory, as their cartridges often have enough toner to print thousands of pages.

Laser printers tend to be more expensive than tank printers up front, but both categories are more expensive than traditional inkjets. Laser printers have lower ongoing costs on average due to less maintenance and somewhat higher page yields, and they also print faster and require less maintenance.

Ink tank printers excel in photo printing and are more flexible in terms of the types of paper they can use. Color laser printers can print photos and color documents, but they aren’t as good as ink tank printers in that area.

Performance and Quality: Ink Tank Printers Are Better for Photo Printing

Ink Tank Printers

  • Start printing instantly, but overall slow.

  • Good monochrome printing and text reproduction from high DPI models.

  • Excellent color printing.

  • Excellent photo printing, especially from models that have more than four ink tanks.

  • Supports a wide variety of paper sizes and types.

Laser Printers

  • Time to first print can be a little long, but fast once they get going.

  • Excellent monochrome printing with crisp text reproduction.

  • Good color printing in models that support it.

  • Not the best at printing photos.

  • Supports limited sizes and types of paper.

Ink tank and laser printers are capable of excellent print quality and high performance, but there are some significant differences. Ink tank printers start printing immediately, while laser printers take some time to warm up, so the former is better at intermittent small jobs. Laser printers offer much higher page-per-minute rates, making them well-suited to high-volume environments that require a lot of printing.

Laser printers are known for precise and crisp text reproduction, but high DPI ink tank printers can produce similar results. Ink tank printers offer much more flexibility, though, with the ability to print on more sizes and types, like glossy photo paper.

Some laser printers accept a range of paper sizes, but they usually don’t have as many options as ink tank printers. Laser printers aren’t as good at printing photos, either. While color laser printers can turn out high-quality full-color prints, ink tank printers tend to offer more color depth for photo prints that appear more vivid with a better color gamut.

Initial and Ongoing Costs: Laser Printers Are More Expensive but Affordable To Operate

Ink Tank Printers

  • Ink refills are expensive.

  • Cost per print tends to be low, but depends on the model.

  • Requires ongoing maintenance.

  • Ink is less likely to dry out than in traditional inkjets, but purging does waste ink.

Laser Printers

  • Toner cartridges are very expensive.

  • Cost per print is low, because toner cartridges have high yields.

  • Requires very little maintenance.

  • Toner doesn’t dry out.

Ink tank printers and laser printers are more expensive than traditional inkjets, but laser printers tend to be the more expensive. They’re also costly to refill when the ink or toner runs out, but that’s because they both have high page yields due to the amount of ink that a tank printer can hold and the toner that’s typically included in toner cartridges. These categories are more affordable than traditional inkjets, but laser printers have lower ongoing costs due to larger page yields and less necessary maintenance.

Maintenance: Laser Printers Require Little to No Maintenance

Ink Tank Printers

  • Regular printing is recommended to prevent the printheads from drying out.

  • Printheads and ink tubes can clog, requiring additional maintenance.

  • Printheads require periodic cleaning, which wastes ink.

Laser Printers

  • Requires very little, if any, ongoing maintenance.

  • You don’t need to print to keep the printheads from drying out.

  • Tend to last longer than inkjets.

Ink tank printers require the same type of ongoing maintenance as traditional inkjets, like regularly cleaning the printheads. While the ink isn’t as likely to dry out because the tanks are airtight, the printheads can still dry out and clog. The tubes that feed the printheads can also clog, which requires additional maintenance. When an ink tank printer isn’t used regularly, it’s important to purge the system regularly to avoid clogs and drying out; that process can waste a significant amount of ink over time. Laser printers require significantly less ongoing maintenance, primarily because the toner can’t dry out, and there aren’t any nozzles or tubes to clog.

Final Verdict: What Kind of Printing Do You Need?

Ink tank and laser printers are well-suited to high-volume printing environments, but they address slightly different needs. If you need to print many monochrome documents, and speed is key, then a laser printer will suit your needs. If you print a mix of color and monochrome documents or want the flexibility to print photos on various paper sizes and types, then an ink tank printer is the better choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an eco tank printer?

EcoTank printers are specific models that Epson produces. It's just their proprietary name for their line of tank printers, which work the same as ones that other manufacturers make.

What's the difference between a laser and inkjet printer?

An inkjet uses cartridges full of ink to create images, similarly to a tank printer. Laser printers use a laser-charged drum that attracts ink in the pattern of the image you're printing. Then, the printer transfers that ink to the paper and sets it with heat.