Why Do Photos Look Better When Printed With an Inkjet Printer?

by Chelsea Camper | Last Updated December 30, 2015

Have you ever printed a photo out using a laser printer and an inkjet printer to compare the two? If so, you’ll notice that the photo will typically look better when printed using an inkjet printer. But why is this? Why does a cheap inkjet printer produce higher quality full color photos than an expensive laser printer?

The answer is in how they print.

Comparing Inkjet vs Laser When Printing Full Color Photos

For this post we’ve used a picture of Niagara Falls found in the Microsoft Word Clip Art. We used one of our high quality papers (4x6P) to compare how one of our inkjet and laser printers printed the same image.

Here is a side by side comparison. You can see the image printed on the laser printer on the top and the image printed with the inkjet printer on the bottom:

inkjet vs laser printing photographs side by side comparison up

Even at a distance you can tell that the inkjet print is softer than the laser print. Let’s take a closer look.


Closer Look at the Laser Print

When we take a closer look at the laser print, we can see that there seem to be white gaps between the specks of toner on the paper. There also seems to be a loss of detail in some of the background items and the waterfall.

inkjet vs laser printing photographs laser print close up

In the image below we enlarged a small section of the bridge in the background. When we do this the evidence of the white gaps is even clearer.

inkjet vs laser printing photographs laser print close up farther away

Before we get into the “why”s, let’s look at the inkjet print.


Closer Look at the Laser Print

When we look closer at the inkjet print we don’t notice any white gaps between the specks of ink. Everything looks softer and more realistic. You can still see detail in the background and most of the detail of the waterfall (some was lost in the taking of this photograph).

inkjet vs laser printing photographs inkjet print close up

Taking a look at a similar piece of the image, even when enlarged any gaps between specks of ink are hard to find. The gradients are smoother and everything has a softer feel.

inkjet vs laser printing photographs inkjet print close up farther away


Ready to learn why?


So, Why Do Inkjet Photos Look Better Than Laser Photos?

The answer is in the printing process. Think about how differently laser and inkjet printers print.

Laser Printers

The method laser printers use to print is by charging the paper with static electricity that then attracts toner to specifically charged points on the paper. (As cool as it would be, your laser printer doesn’t actually shoot lasers, sorry.) Toner does not sink into the paper but rather lays on top of the paper.

This means there is no way for the toner it disperse into the areas surrounding the initial fixation point. It’s hard to make soft gradients when there is little to no blending available.

Inkjet Printers

Very different from laser printers, inkjet printers spray ink on to the paper where it sinks in and spreads slightly. This allows for softer gradients to be created by the printer. These soft gradients and slight “bleeding” of the ink once it hits the paper are what allows inkjet printers to print in such fine detail.

However, while this slight bleeding is great for full color photographs, it can be a death sentence for barcodes. You should always try to use a laser printer when you’re printing a barcode since the toner will not deviate from the point on the paper it was affixed to.


Trying to decide what kind of printer you should get? Check out our ebook on what to consider when buying a printer.


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