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Types of Printer Ink: Everything You Need to Know

Types of Printer Ink: Everything You Need to Know

Jan 14th 2020

With so many types of printer ink available on the market, it can be difficult to know which one best suits your needs. Whether you’re shopping for your home or your office, you’ll want to consider several factors before choosing a printer ink (and a printer, too):

  • How much you print
  • What you most often print: text or images
  • How high-resolution your printed images need to be
  • Which materials you need to print on (paper, stationery, vinyl, etc.)
  • Your budget—both for the printer, and for the ink over time

This guide is designed to help you understand the difference between these different types of ink in print quality, cost, and speed so that you can find the solution that works best for you.

Two Types of Printers

There are two main kinds of printers: inkjet printers and laser printers.

The main difference is that they use two different types of printer ink: inkjet ink and toner, respectively. However, there are several other types of specialty ink, including ink ribbons and solid ink, that may also meet your needs.

So, before any more confusion confronts us, let’s begin here.

Inkjet vs. Laser Printers

The main difference between inkjet and laser printers are the types of printer ink cartridges used, and the way that ink is deposited on paper.

Inside of inkjet printer cartridges is liquid ink, which your printer heats or pressurizes to force out onto a piece of paper. Because this ink is liquid, it gets the paper wet in the printing process, which can lead to smudging. Despite their downsides, inkjet printers have long been considered the most affordable option for use in homes.

In contrast, laser printers use toner—a powdered ink that is melted onto the piece of paper. Toner is actually made of polyester particles. Because it does not wet the paper like liquid ink does, it is smudge-free. Laser printers have long been common in offices, and more and more people are choosing them for their homes, too.

Inkjet vs. Laser | Different Demands Different Jobs

These two different printing processes are best suited to different kinds of jobs. Which kind of ink is best for your home or office? The main differences are summarized below.

Inkjet cartridges:

  • Excel at printing documents with images
  • Can also be used on specialty paper including stationery and even some fabrics
  • Are great for homes and offices that print low-volume jobs, or print infrequently
  • Dry up over time, lasting for a maximum of two years (check out our blog post on how long inkjet cartridges last)

Toner cartridges:

  • Print quickly, at twice the rate of inkjet printers
  • Are great for homes and businesses that frequently print high-volume jobs
  • Can print images, including color images
  • Rarely need to be replaced

Before making a final decision on the best ink for your needs, consider in more detail your needs when it comes to printing high-quality images and high-volume jobs.

Printing Images with Inkjet Ink and Toner

Although laser printers were once used mostly in business settings due to their efficiency, there are more and more affordable home laser printers on the market. However, if your business often needs to print high-quality images and photographs, you may want to invest in an inkjet printer.

When you’re shopping for a printer for your home or office, you’ll want to consider your needs when it comes to image quality.

Print Quality

Many people think that laser printers only print in black and white. While there are some monochrome laser printers on the market, there are also many color laser printers. Now, it’s not just inkjet cartridges that can print pictures: toner cartridges print excellent medium-resolution images.

If you need to print high-resolution photographs, an inkjet printer is still the best choice: inkjet-printed images have greater depth and clarity. However, if you want a color printer to reproduce charts, graphs, and other simple designs, a toner printer can meet your needs.

Inkjet Ink: Two Kinds

If you’re in the market to print photographs, you’ll want to delve further into the world of inkjet inks. There are two main kinds of inkjet inks: dye-based ink and pigmented ink. They produce images of different quality.

  • Dye-based ink is made from dye dissolved in either water or glycol. This affordable ink is used in most inkjet printers. While it is able to print beautiful photographs on matte or glossy paper, it will fade over time.
  • Pigmented ink provides longer-lasting photo prints for professional photographers. It offers a wider range of colors, and it will not fade over time. It does not work well with glossy paper.

If you’re a professional or passionate photographer, you may want to make sure your printer takes pigmented ink cartridges so that your images will truly shine.

Speed and Cost Considerations


There’s no competition: laser printers are much faster than inkjet printers.

  • Laser printers can print between 15 and 100 pages per minute depending on the amount of ink per page.
  • Inkjet printers print at a maximum speed of 16 pages per minute, and may be much slower when printing high-quality images or pages heavy with text and information.

If you frequently print high-volume jobs, you may want to invest in a laser printer that uses toner cartridges. Your printing will get done in a fraction of the time.


If you’ve owned a printer before, you know it’s never a one-time purchase: first you purchase the printer, but before you know it, you’ll need a new ink cartridge, and then another one and another one.

Costs vary between laser and inkjet cartridges. Dye-based vs pigment-based ink cartridges sell at different costs, too. However, the best way to understand your long-term printing costs isn’t through the cost of the cartridge but rather the cost per printed page.

Doing the Numbers | Cost Per Page

Most ink cartridges come with an estimated page yield that gives you a sense of how many pages it can print over the course of its lifespan.

Let’s take a look:

  • Our black inkjet cartridge for the HP C4844A printer is $75.42 and has an estimated page yield of 3700 pages: that’s only 2.03 cents per page.
  • Our black toner cartridgefor the HP Q7551X is much more expensive at $280.87, but it has a page yield of 13,000 pages: that’s 2.16 cents per page.

As seen here, toner cartridges are generally more expensive than inkjet cartridges. However, as we noted before, inkjet cartridges dry up over time, and most have an expiration date that you’ll reach about two years after purchase.

Because toner cartridges never dry out, and because they print more efficiently, it can sometimes cost less per page to print on a laser printer. And, as we’ll cover next, there are ways to keep the cost down.

Options for Buying Ink Cartridges

Don’t let expensive ink put you off of buying the printer that best suits your home or office needs. Once you’ve chosen the kind of ink that’s best for your most important printing jobs, there are several types of printer cartridge available from Supplies Outlet.

Original Equipment Manufacturer Cartridges

Your printer’s manufacturer definitely sells its own ink. When you go to get your first replacement cartridge, you may be surprised by the cost: some companies sell their printers at a loss just so that they can get the consumer to depend on their ink. They may even tell you that third-party cartridges can damage the printer.

While OEM cartridges are sure to be compatible with your printer, they are the most expensive option, and they’re definitely not the only good option.

Remanufactured Cartridges

Are you interested in a less expensive cartridge option that’s also good for the environment? Tossed-out cartridges can create huge amounts of plastic waste. Luckily, some manufacturers are working to recycle these cartridges. Third-party vendors collect used cartridges. Then they clean, refill, and refurbish them so the plastic doesn’t go to waste.

Refurbished cartridges from your printers’ manufacturer should fit just as well with your printer as would new ones, and they cost less, too.

Third-Party Ink Cartridges

Third-party manufacturers also provide a variety of options for compatible cartridges. These off-brand cartridges are made to work as well as their OEM counterparts at a fraction of the price.

Refill Kits

Maybe you’re trying to keep it green, and you don’t want to purchase a new plastic ink cartridge at all. Or maybe you’re just trying to save money. Either way, whether your printer uses toner or inkjet ink you can refill your ink cartridges yourself. But beware—the process may be messy!

Comparing the Prices

Let’s look at all four options for an HP LaserJet 3300 Printer:

  • A black OEM toner cartridge directly from HP costs $108.87.
  • A remanufactured toner cartridge costs just $18.99.
  • A compatible cartridge costs $23.99, but it also estimates a higher page yield, so the price per printed page is even lower.
  • A toner refill kit is the least expensive option at just $11.99.

As you can see, at Supplies Outlet there’s a solution at every price point.

Other Kinds of Ink

Does your home or business have specific printing needs that may not be covered by inkjet and laser printers? Consider the following inks:

  • Print Ribbons are used with thermal printers to print labels, safety signs, barcodes, shipping labels, and anything else on adhesive paper.
  • Solid ink is used exclusively with Xerox printers. If you run a design business and always need to print in color, solid ink can last longer than toner or inkjet cartridges. While it’s expensive, it creates less waste as well as high-definition color prints.

Buy the Ink That’s Right for You

Supplies Outlet offers an extensive line of printer ink cartridges and laser toner cartridges, and they are backed by their lifetime warranty. If you’re looking for the best printer ink for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to our experts today!


Apartment Therapy. Pros & Cons for Home Use: Inkjet vs. Laser Printers.

Graphic Products. Thermal Printers vs. Inkjet Printers

How Stuff Works. What’s the Difference Between Ink and Toner?

Ink Cartridges. The Comprehensive Ink Guide for Beginners.