Difference Between an Inkjet Copier & a Photocopier

By Andy Warycka

Ink versus toner are just two of the differences between inkjet copiers and photocopiers.
i Christopher Robbins/Digital Vision/Getty Images

In the end, inkjet copiers and traditional photocopiers both perform the same task, but they perform that task using different processes. Although they share similarities in the imaging process, how the document ends up on the paper is different. The initial and per-page costs vary as well, so knowing the differences between these copying methods can help you choose the correct option for your situation.

The Imaging Process

In a traditional photocopier, the document is illuminated by a powerful lamp, and the resulting image is projected onto a photoconductive surface that is used to apply the toner to the page. Modern photocopiers, such as today's multifunction office machines that also serve as networked printers and fax machines, scan the image into memory similar to the way that a flatbed scanner does. The digital file is then output to the printer. This same process is used in an inkjet copier.

Inkjet Printing Process

Like an inkjet printer, an inkjet copier prints by spraying fine droplets of ink onto a sheet of paper. The most common method found in modern inkjet printing is “drop on demand,” which is much like turning a tiny hose on and off approximately 5,000 times a second. The two common DOD technologies are thermal and piezoelectric. Thermal printing heats the ink to create a bubble, which then bursts and hits the paper. Piezoelectric technology uses a crystal that flexes when a small electrical charge passes through it, forcing a drop of ink onto the paper.

Photocopier Printing Process

A traditional photocopier prints using the xerographic process, which uses a series of positive and negative electrical charges to transfer the image. Negatively charged toner is spread over a drum containing the image of the document, where the dark areas of the document are positively charged. The toner adheres only to the positively charged area. The negatively charged toner image is then transferred to a piece of paper that has been positively charged. The toner is then fused to the paper using heat, making the image permanent.

Cost and Benefit Analysis

On a strictly cost-per-page basis, the photocopier handily bests the inkjet copier. Typical toner-based systems can cost as little as a penny per printed page, whereas inkjet copiers can vary from two to five cents per page. Photocopiers are geared toward high volume and cost over time, however, and the upfront costs are staggering when compared to an inkjet copier. In short, a traditional photocopier is geared toward a high-production, high-use environment, whereas the inkjet copier is more suited to a casual user or for an office that needs only the occasional copy made.