laser printer image

How Do Laser Printers Print in Color?

Laser printer print color

Laser printers are the original B&W (monochrome) printer. Now they print in color. I repair both types in my line of work.

How laser printers accomplish color printing is rather simple. They take the same monochrome process used in every laser printer. Replicate it three times and stuff it all inside a single printer.

Instead of a single drum, developer, and charge unit. You will find 4 drums, 4 developers, and 4 charge units in every color laser printer.

While this makes them technically a quad chrome printer nobody calls them that. B&W laser printers are called monochrome printers since they only use one color. You can choose to print in color or monochrome with color laser printers.

CMYK Colors

It would be silly to use the same color in each drum and developer so each one has it’s own color:

  • Cyan
  • Magenta
  • Yellow
  • Black

These are the same colors used in inkjet printers. Every form of printing uses the subtractive colors (CMYK) to make different colors. Additive colors use (RGB) light to create different colors.

While inkjet printers use pigmented ink, color laser printers use pigmented toner. Ink is liquid based whereas toner is a dry powder. A laser printer can’t use ink any more than an inkjet printer can use toner.

These primary colors are used to form every color you see coming out of a printer. Cyan combines with yellow to make green. Magenta combines with cyan to make blue. Red is made from yellow and magenta.

A color laser printer is like having four printers: a black printer, a cyan printer, a magenta printer, and a yellow printer. Then combining their outputs on one sheet of paper. Even though there’s only 4 colors of toner on this sheet of paper our eye sees many different colors.

Adding Color Layers

Both type of printers overlay each color on top of one another to print in color. Inkjet printers overlay each color almost instantly since the printheads are so close. While laser printers complete each layer before another color is added.

A transfer belt is necessary for this task. Every color laser printer has a transfer belt. It’s called an intermediate transfer belt since color laser printers have a 2 step transfer process.

Monochrome laser printers transfer the toner directly from the drum onto the paper. On the other hand, color laser printers transfer the toner from the drum to the intermediate transfer belt. Then from the transfer belt to the paper in order to print in color.

The transfer belt moves under each drum adding color one layer at a time. Once all 4 colors are stacked it’s transferred to the paper. Then through a fuser which uses heat and pressure to permanently fuse the toner on the paper.

Laser printer print color

Laser vs Inkjet Color Printing

Color laser printers use an entirely different process to accomplish color printing. Inkjet printers can easily add more colors to get better color print quality. Inkjet printers come with 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, or 12 colors of ink

Adding colors to laser printers adds considerably to its size and cost. So laser printers stick with 4 colors. Canon made a color laser printer with 5 colors but the 5th color was a clearcoat. In order to get better color print quality laser printers use a finer grade toner. This is the primary difference between business and professional class color printers and copiers.

In my experience with all kinds of inkjet and laser printer each has strengths and weaknesses.

For example, the images I’ve seen show inkjet printers have smoother color transitions than laser printers. Since inkjets use liquid ink and spray each layer so close together the colors naturally mix better before they set.

Toner starts out dry and comes out of the fuser dry. Color images made from toner won’t run if they get wet. But inkjet printers print in color better than laser printers.

Laser vs Inkjet Color Print Speed

While color laser printers are more complicated since they use 4 drums and a transfer belt. They are faster than inkjet printers.

Inkjet printers simply move a print head back and forth. But the print head can only move so much volume of ink. Severely limiting how fast they can print in color.

While color laser printers have many more moving parts. They use drums and developers as wide as the paper they’re printing on. Which allows them to move a large volume of toner resulting in an overall faster way to print in color.

Most of the color laser printers I see print at speeds of 35-55 color pages per minute. The fastest inkjet I know of prints at 24 color pages per minute.


Whether it’s an all-in-one or just a printer version, they use the same core laser process to print in color. Inkjet and laser printing processes are much different even though they use the same colors.

Color laser printers cost more than other printers. Color laser printers It can print fast

Manufacturers such as HP, Canon, Brother, Ricoh, Xerox, Minolta, Kyocera, and Lexmark all use same procedure for their laser printers to print in color. They basically stuff 4 printers inside one to make color printing possible.


Do laser printers use ink for color?

Laser printers use toner to produce colors. Ink is liquid based while toner is a dry powder.

How does laser printer print?

Laser printers are able to print due to the fact opposite charges attract while like charges repel. Toner(+) is attracted to distinct areas on a drum(-) to form an image. From the drum(-) it’s transferred to the paper. The paper goes through a fuser and the final product is sent to the exit tray.

Do laser printers scan in color?

All-in-one laser printers come with color scanners. Even if the laser printer is B&W (monochrome), attached scanners are color. Monochrome scanners are obsolete.

copier guy

The Copier Guy, aka Dave. I’ve worked on scanners, printers, copiers, and faxes since 1994. When I’m not fixing them I’m writing about them. Although, I’m probably better at fixing them. I’ve worked with every major brand. As well as several types of processes. If it uses paper I’ve probably worked on one.

How Do Laser Printers Print in Color