A Guide to Laser and Laser-Class LED Printers

LED arrays and laser printer mechanisms work similarly

Laser and LED printers are excellent for printing high-quality documents in black-and-white or in color. Most create sharp-looking text and outstanding color graphics. These printers are often more expensive to buy than inkjet printers (although prices continue to drop). However, the cost per page gets cheaper on inkjet printers and stays the same on laser-class devices. This per-page cost makes laser and LED printers too expensive for most people.

Laser printers can print crisp photos
Joshua Fuller / Unsplash

How They Work

Laser printers put images on a piece of paper by melting plastic toner powder onto paper. Here's how it works:

  • Inside the printer is a rotating drum that static electricity gives a positive charge to attract toner powder to it.
  • As the printer pulls the paper through, the paper receives a negative static-electricity charge.
  • The paper slides across the drum, pulling the toner off the drum and onto the paper.
  • The paper is then squeezed between heated rollers that melt the toner to the page. Laser printers use a laser as the light source to melt the toner. An LED printer uses a series of LED lights or arrays of lights.


Just like an inkjet printer's ink tanks, you have to replace laser printer toner. Replacing toner is a straightforward process, involving not much more than opening the printer, pulling out the old toner cartridge, and inserting the new cartridge.

New toner cartridges aren't cheap (you'll spend from about $40 to $100 for replacements). However, depending on the printer, toner cartridges can last a long time. Depending on the machine and the cartridge's yield, toner cartridges can hold from 2,000 to 15,000 pages and beyond. These cartridges are usually cheaper on a per-page basis than inkjet cartridges.

Laser-class printers are high-volume machines, so not paying attention to the cost per page can cost plenty.


Usually, you'll pay more upfront for a laser printer than you will for an inkjet printer, depending on several factors. Entry-level prices for a decent monochrome laser printer start at about $160, and about $200 for an entry-level model with useful features. Still, that's twice what you'd pay for a color inkjet printer or an all-in-one printer that includes a fax and a scanner.

Color laser printers are getting cheaper (Dell offers a decent one for about $230). Still, low-end versions are light on features such as duplexers that allow printing on both sides of a page. Color laser printers use multiple toner cartridges, so you'll spend big when it's time to replace them (each one runs about $60).

Bottom line

If you print documents with text and graphics and don't print photos, a monochrome laser printer is a good bet. The up-front cost is higher than an inkjet, but you'll get a lot of printing done before you need to change toner. If you need an all-in-one or do a lot of photo printing, choose an inkjet printer. But keep an eye on sales since you can often pick up a terrific color laser or LED printer for a reasonable price.

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