AS the printing industry continues its evolution from impact to non-impact printers, the importance of the relative merits of inkjet and laser printing technologies will increase. Inkjet, which involves resistors heating bubbles of ink which are then forced out on to plain paper, is, and always will be, seen as a poor alternative to laser printing, primarily because of lower resolution of output. Despite this, the inkjet printing marketplace is seeing intense competition both in price and quality between the two major vendors, Canon and Hewlett-Packard (HP). Between them, they accounted for more than 90 per cent of sales in Hongkong in 1992. These two are followed by the ever-increasing number of pretenders to the crown, including Epson, eager to diversify away from itsr dependence on dot-matrix printers, Lexmark, Texas Instruments and Star. Hewlett Packard's dealer manager, Mr Andrew Mak, denied that a price war was in progress despite the dramatic price cuts that have been seen over the past six months. Some inkjet printers are now available for less than $2,000. These reductions, claimed Mr Mak, had been the result of improved efficiency in the manufacturing process that had been passed directly on to the consumer. ''Price war has changed to a value war,'' Mr Mak said. Consumers were more concerned with attaining better quality and a wider range of features for the same price, than looking for cheaper models, he said. While inkjet printers have seen a considerable fall in price in recent times, this fall has been equalled, if not exceeded, by the fall in low-end laser printer prices preventing inkjet from gaining a cost advantage. However, the simpler structure of an inkjet unit, less than 100 components compared to over 200 in a laser printer, means that unless significant technical breakthroughs are made in the laser printers design, inkjet printers have greater potential to seefurther cost reductions through improvements in manufacturing. The qualitative difference between the two is largely media-dependent. With inkjet resolutions of between 300 and 400 dots-per-inch (dpi), high quality output is attainable. Where the inkjet technology does have a notable advantage is in colour printing and portable printing. Affordable colour printing is one of the major potential markets for the industry - and inkjet's pricing is a major advantage. Colour inkjets are available for less than $3,000, while colour laser printers remain out of the budget of the majority of smaller users. One of the problems faced by manufacturers is the difficulty in producing hard copy output that matches the clarity and definition of colour computer monitors. For inkjets, the problem is media-dependent. On plastic transparencies and coated paper, high standards of colour matching are achievable but, as the paper becomes more absorbent, the matching quickly deteriorates. For the foreseeable future, though, the inkjet will provide the cheapest form of colour printing. Future markets are being made viable by reductions in price and size, which are expected to allow printers to follow the path taken by other IT devices - away from a pooled resource and on to the individual's desk.