Laser printers are relatively high-speed printers that use the process of electrophotography, or xerography, to create images on paper. Developed by Xerox in 1971, the laser printer is common in the office environment, although inkjet printers are gaining ground. Conversely, laser printers are becoming more common for home use. The advantages and disadvantages of laser printers are responsible for both shifts.
Laser printers used to be inaccessible to the home user because of their price; however, prices have dropped drastically over the years. At one point a laser printer could cost thousands of dollars; now, in 2009, it is possible to find monochrome laser printers for less than £65 and colour laser printers for under £130. Thousand-dollar laser printers still exist; the price difference is generally reflected in quality and functionality.
When purchasing a printer it is important to consider not only the cost of the printer, but the cost of the supplies---the print cartridges you'll need to purchase. Toner cartridges tend to be expensive up front, with costs that can run upwards of £65. However a toner cartridge has a much longer lifespan than an inkjet cartridge, leading to a much lower cost per page. For example, a toner cartridge that costs £39 can yield 2,000 pages while a £9 inkjet cartridge yields 200. This equals a cost per page of about 3 cents for the laser printer, versus 75 cents for the inkjet.
Laser printers are known for being fast. For basic, monochrome print jobs, some laser printers can produce upwards of 40 pages per minute. However the increased speed will be reflected in the price tag, so it's important to weight the cost against user needs.
For those users who need to print a lot of business colour---charts and graphs, for example---laser has historically been the only choice, as it is faster and ultimately more economical. However if only small numbers of colour prints are needed, the upfront cost of colour toner cartridges can be a deal-breaker, especially as inkjet printers improve in both speed and quality. Lasers are also not designed to produce photo-quality prints, as the mechanics of toner formulation don't lend themselves to quality and durability the same way that inkjet inks do. Also, laser printers are not designed to handle photo paper, but if print and paper quality are not critical, many newer colour laser printers create acceptable photo prints.
Laser printers have a lot of moving parts, and those parts can break down. However the parts can also be replaced or repaired. Laser printers generally have a fairly high duty-cycle rating and, when properly maintained and used within manufacturer's specifications, can last for many years.