What is the Difference Between Printer Ink & Toner?

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Not everyone is familiar with the way printers work. It’s not surprising, however, since there are so many different styles, designs and capabilities that make one printer different from the next. When it comes to the components inside of each printer, there is often a lot of difference as well. The main feature that separates printers is whether they’re ink jet printers, or laser printers.

An ink jet printer requires what is called “ink,” while laser printers require “toner.” These are two very different substances, and you’ll need to know what kind of printer you have in order to choose between ink or toner. They do not work interchangeably, so knowing their differences is important.

Both ink and toner are used for printing text and images, and each are used for home and commercial applications. What separates them, however, is the way they apply a substance to the paper to create the end image or text.


Inkjet printers create images by squirting tiny droplets of ink through little nozzles onto the paper. The nozzles are controlled by high-end printer software that opens and closes the different nozzles thousands of times to create the perfect image. The nozzles are often compared to tiny water hoses, dispensing a small amount of liquid at very fast speeds as the paper moves along the tray.

Liquid-based ink adheres quickly to paper, and there are two main types of ink: dye-based or pigment-based. Dye-based inks are made of various colorants that dissolve in water, while pigment-based inks are made of a very fine powder that sits within a liquid. Dye-based inks tend to be more commonly used in inkjet printers.


 closeup printer inkjet working

The process of a laser printer is a little more complicated than that of an inkjet printer. For the most part, toner is made up of very fine plastic called polyester. This specific type of plastic can garner a lot of static charge, which will grab hold of anything with an opposite charge. This is the concept behind how the polyester grabs onto the pages you’re printing on.

The laser inside the printer creates an electrostatic template of your project’s images on a rotating metal drum. This metal drum possesses a static charge, and when the project begins printing, the cartridge dispenses toner onto the charged drum. The charge attracts the toner at precisely the place where laser is pointing on the drum.

As a result, the toner only goes where the laser points, and it then clings to the paper. As the paper passes through the machine, a hot fuser is ignited to melt the toner to the paper, ensuring that the images are sharp and there are no smudges.

Inkjet vs. Laser

If you’re having a hard time deciding between an inkjet printer and a laser printer, there are a few things to consider that may make your decision easier.

What they’re best for

Laser printers are best for projects that require high volume printing and for projects that need to be created quickly. This kind of printer is best for commercial businesses that have a lot of people who tend to print out a lot of text.

In comparison, an inkjet printer is best for smaller businesses and home projects. The speed of this device is somewhat slower, but it is ideal for projects that include a lot of high-quality photos and images.


Initial startup costs of an inkjet printer are lower than those of a laser printer, and high-quality ink cartridges are easier and cheaper to re-fill. However, when it comes to businesses that print high volume every day, inkjet printers incur a lower cost per page and in the long term.


Because laser printers require heat to perform, they are only really capable of printing on regular office paper. Inkjet printers, on the other hand, do not require a change in temperature, which means they’re safe to print on all types of mediums, including semi-gloss paper, glossy paper, textures, and fabrics.


If you’re looking for something small and manageable, then you’ll definitely want to consider an inkjet printer. Their size and design is more compact and easier to carry and transport, making these models ideal for smaller businesses and home offices.

On the other hand, laser printers are much bulkier in size, since they’re generally needed to hold more paper and print more projects. Offices that are more spacious will often go for a laser printer because it can handle the high demand and it doesn’t need to look fashionable or discreet.


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There are quite a few differences between printer ink and toner, so becoming familiar with them before purchasing a new printer is a great idea. Keep in mind that even after you decide on ink or toner, there are all kinds of printer styles available and you’ll need to do your research. If you can, ask for some assistance when choosing your next printer in order to get the model that is perfect for your daily needs.