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What’s the difference between toner and ink cartridges?

15 March 2023

Printer Hire

What’s the difference between toner and inkjet cartridges? Which is better, toner or ink? And are toner cartridges more expensive than ink?

These are questions that we hear all the time, so let’s answer them definitively for you so you can make an informed choice when you decide to get a new printer for your commercial business.

Toner vs ink: The facts

Ink cartridges, inkjet cartridges, laser cartridges, toner cartridges, drum cartridges – what does it all mean?!

Inkjet cartridges

Printer Ink Cartridge

Let’s start with some basics. An ink cartridge and an inkjet cartridge are exactly the same thing. Potato/potatoe. An ink printer uses nozzles to spray the paper with ink droplets in order to print.

What does CMYK mean?

This refers to the four different coloured ink cartridges that an ink primer uses. They stand for:

These cartridges work in tandem to create the text and images that you want to print off.

Ink cartridges are usually cheaper to buy than toner inks but they also need replacing far more often, so their economic advantages are short-lived. However, ink cartridges tend to produce greatly superior print quality, so if image quality is a deciding factor in what printer you buy, then you need to consider this too.

Printer ink advantages

Ink disadvantages

What is a toner cartridge?

Printer Toner

Much like ink cartridges, toner cartridges go by a few additional names, including laser cartridges and drum cartridges. Again, they all mean exactly the same thing.

Where laser cartridges differ considerably from ink is in appearance and printing method. Laser cartridges use powder (also known as toner – it’s actually tiny microbeads of polyester) as opposed to ink. The laser in the printer forms an electrostatic image on a revolving metal drum, which is electrically charged.

The cartridge then sprays toner onto the drum, but only sticks on the areas where the laser has charged the drum. The toner is then transferred and fused onto the paper to create your text or images. The toner dries incredibly quickly, smudging far less than fresh ink printouts do.

Toner advantages

Toner disadvantages

Ink vs Toner: Which one should I buy?

Based on what you’ve learned up to now, you might already have an idea of which format you’d prefer to use. But before you part with your cash for a new printer, you need to ask yourself two key questions.

If speed and quantity over quality is your priority, or if you only print in black and greyscale, then a printer that takes toner cartridges might be the best bet.

If, however, you print a lot of colours and you need the print quality to be superior then it might be time to look at ink cartridge options.

Never pay for ink or toner again – lease a printer

Still confused? Speak to the experts!

DMC has decades of experience with inkjet and toner printer technology. We offer a FREE audit to evaluate your current printer use and where we can improve upon it with a printer lease contract and save you money. The other big advantage of our managed print service is that all your printer cartridges, whether they’re toner or ink, are included in your monthly fee, so you’ll never run out. We also recycle the empty ones for you, so you can be confident that you’re doing your bit for the environment as well as saving up to 60% on the cost of your current service.

For more information on toner and ink cartridges or advice on what printer you should get for your office, speak to the expert team at DMC today.

Printer Ink vs Toner FAQs

Is toner just black ink?

No, you can get coloured toner cartridges too but they aren’t the cheapest thing to buy.

How much longer does toner last than ink?

In terms of time, this all depends on how much you print out, but typically an ink cartridge will be good for 200 – 300 pages, whereas a toner cartridge will produce 2,000 – 3,000 pages.

Does toner dry out like ink?

Because toner is dry as opposed to ink which is wet, it shouldn’t dry out. If you haven’t printed for a while just take the cartridge out of the printer and give it a quick shake to agitate and loosen the powder.

Do I need ink and toner?

No, it’s usually one or the other. Printers with ink and toner cartridges are very few and far between.

What happens if you print without toner?

The quality of your printed images will start to deteriorate as the toner drum becomes empty. You will get a warning signal from your printer when the cartridge needs replacing but if you completely run it dry it will not print again until you put in a new cartridge.

Is printer toner more expensive than ink?

Initially, yes, but considering that they last a lot longer than ink cartridges do it’s definitely not a false economy.

Why are toner inks expensive?

The simple answer is ‘because there’s more of it than in an ink cartridge’, but the real reason is Research and Development costs. Printing companies literally spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year perfecting new printing technologies, so the cost of that is passed onto the consumer.