Printing 101: The Difference Between Toner and Inkjet Cartridges

ink cartridges printer

Modern technology has made turning digital files into tangible documents very easy. Printers are more affordable than ever before but choosing the right one isn’t always easy. In addition to paying attention to the upfront cost, you also need to factor in the cost of consumables. Modern printers use one of two types of consumable material–toner and inkjet cartridges. Ink is the liquid that is used in inkjet printers while toner is a powdered material that is used in laser printers.

Both laser and inkjet printers are used for both home and business purposes. Which one is best suited to your needs? Let’s take a closer look at the differences between toner and inkjet cartridges.

Inkjet Cartridges and Printers

Inkjet printers produce images and text by squirting tiny drops of ink through tiny nozzles onto paper. The nozzles, which are controlled by powerful printer software, turn on and back off thousands of times per second. This allows them to deposit ink in precise patterns to reproduce your favorite cat picture, prepare that important business presentation or print out a school report.

There are a couple of different types of inkjet ink. Most are either pigment-based or dye-based. Pigment-based ink consists of ultra-fine powder that is suspended in liquid. Dye-based ink, on the other hand, is made using various colorants that have been dissolved in liquid. For printer companies, inkjet cartridges are a huge moneymaker. As a result, their specific formulas are closely guarded.

Some inkjet printers require just two cartridges–one black and one tri-color. Recently, however, more manufacturers have started making models that require individual cyan, magenta and yellow cartridges, as well as a black cartridge.

Toner and Laser Printers

laser printer cartridges isolatedLaser printers don’t operate anything like inkjet printers. The way the printed image adheres to the paper is completely different because the process involves no liquid. When using a laser printer, the laser creates an electrostatic template of what you want to print on a rotating metal drum. The drum has an electric charge. When the toner is dispensed onto the electrically charged drum, it only sticks where the laser has altered the charge. As the paper passes through the printer, it becomes charged as well. It pulls the toner off the drum in the exact shapes and designs that make up the image/text. Finally, a hot fuser melts the toner in place on the paper, resulting in smudge-free prints.

While inkjet ink is created using some type of colorant either dissolved or suspended in liquid, toner is a powdered material. It is made of finely ground polyester. If you’ve ever had a pair of dress pants stick to your legs, you already know why polyester is the perfect material to use for this type of printing. It holds a static charge and easily clings to anything that has an opposite charge.

Most laser printers print exclusively in black. This is especially true for lower-priced, consumer-grade models. There are models that print in color, but they are considerably more expensive. Color laser printers require separate cartridges for individual colors.

Which Is Best?

business man button printerBoth inkjet and laser printers offer benefits for home and commercial users and there is a wide range of quality printer brands to choose from. On the consumer level, inkjet is definitely the more popular option. Inkjet printers are inexpensive. There are several models that come in at under $100 and print a full range of colors. The cheapest laser printers are over $100 and only print in black and white. Upgrading to a model that prints in color means at least doubling your initial investment.

While an inkjet printer may be cheaper upfront, however, it could cost you more in the long run. Ink isn’t cheap, and you could find yourself spending between $0.05 and $0.75 per page. If you primarily print text, you will be at the lower end of the spectrum, but if you print a lot of photos, expect to burn through a lot of ink. Per page, you can’t beat the price of using a laser printer. Printing with high-capacity toner cartridges costs just a few cents per page.

If you primarily print text and you do a lot of printing, a laser printer will help you get the job done faster and at a lower price per page. If, however, you only print a few hundred pages per year and you need a printer that is capable of everything from basic text documents to high-quality photos, an inkjet printer is a solid investment.

When you’re in the market for a new printer, take the time to check out reviews. Pay close attention to things like how many pages can be printed per minute and how much replacement ink or toner cartridges cost. Keep your intended usage in mind and select the printer that provides the most benefits for your budget.