Laser and inkjet printing technologies are totally different, yet use the same principles in generating colourful images on paper. Both technologies mix four base colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) to create the wide gamut of possible colour, but this is where the similarity ends.
While Laser printers use a micro polymer powder (toner) as the colour medium, inkjet printers use liquid inks. The colours are the same (CMYK) but require different paper technology in order to absorb them and make them permanent at the end of the printing process.
Laser printers lay consecutive layers of different colours on the paper and then fuse them using heated rollers at the end of the printing cycle (as the paper exits the printer).
Inkjet printers spray the ink highly accurately, and directly onto the paper. The paper, in order to achieve sharp and colourful results, has an inkjet receiving layer that controls the wet ink and prevents it from spreading and smudging.
Due to these differing technologies, photo paper made for each is required to perform in a different way and contain a different chemical composition in order to handle the medium used to place the colours on the paper. Laser photo paper needs to withstand heat and inkjet photo paper needs to absorb relatively large quantities of liquid ink.
As an exception to the rule, so called “normal” printing paper, such as 80, 90 or 100gsm bond papers (or similar), can be printed on both laser and inkjet printers. While on laser the result will be similar to the higher laser grade papers that are available, on an inkjet printer, this type of paper is suitable for simple text documents, letters etc. A heavily saturated image printed using an inkjet printer on a normal printing paper will achieve poor results.
Generally, inkjet papers are not suitable for use on laser and could in some instances damage a laser printer. Inkjet photo papers are not designed to take a high heat and the coating used on this paper could contaminate a laser printer. Because of the simpler paper path in inkjet printers, paper for these are often much heavier than those available for laser printers and would not feed well in them.
It is well accepted that for high resolution, photographic images, inkjet technology is superior and will achieve a much better result than laser.