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What is Toner for Printers?

What is Toner for Printers?

Jan 14th 2020

Many consumers, once at an office supply store, will ask for toner ink—unknowing that what they’re asking for doesn’t really exist.

To clarify, both toner and ink are responsible for creating the images or text that come to life when printing, yet they’re not the same thing. There’s toner. Then there’s ink.

Thus, what is toner for printers? And how is it different than ink? Supplies Outlet will break it down for you.

What Is Printer Ink?

Printer ink is just what it sounds like—liquid the printer consumes in order to put whatever design or word you want on a piece of paper. Imagine tiny hoses turning on and off thousands of times per second, squirting droplets of ink onto the paper. This ink then dries and forms an image(s).

Thus, ink cartridges are specifically for inkjet printers.

Dye-Based Ink

Inkjet printers can consume multiple varieties of ink, dye-based ink being one of them. Dye-based ink consists of colorants, dissolved and suspended in a liquid which is sprayed onto a piece of paper.

Some advantages of dye-based ink:

  • Wide gamut of color
  • Lower cost

Some disadvantages of dye-based ink:

  • Water-soluble (a single drop could destroy a print)
  • Prints faded quicker

Pigment-Based Ink

Instead of dissolving colorants to deliver the ink, pigment-based inks contain particles of solid colorants locked in a liquid carrier.

The advantages of pigment-based ink are the complete opposite of dye-based:

  • They last longer
  • They’re water-resistant

The disadvantages of pigment-based ink:

  • Less range in color
  • More expensive

As technological innovation continues to flourish in the printing sphere, the line between pigment-based and dye-based ink becomes thinner and thinner. Today, there are very few differences regarding their advantages or drawbacks, and both types will typically suit any printers’ needs.

Remember, ink is an actual liquid that’s housed inside a cartridge.

What Is Printer Toner?

The biggest difference between toner and ink is that toner isn’t ink! Rather, toner is a powder kept inside a cartridge. It’s activated when a laser creates an electrostatic charge against a printing drum, thus “melting” the toner onto the page.

To that end, toner is a powder-based medium composed of granulated plastics—which means, of course, that toner is usually specific to laser printers.

How Does It Compare to Ink?

When it comes to toner for printers, many consumers believe that it’s actually superior to ink. A few reasons for this include:

  • High-Volume Affordability - Toner cartridges for printers are significantly cheaper than ink cartridges. While the upfront cost of the laser printer might be more than an inkjet, its lesser use of “ink” means you’ll save money in the long run.
  • Higher Precision - It’s true that ink prints yield wonderfully vibrant images. It’s also true that they’re prone to smudging, smearing, and bleeding. Being that toner is melted onto the page, the ink doesn’t have a chance to smear or bleed. Thus, toner tends to produce images with higher precision.
  • Print Speed - Generally speaking, laser printers are faster than inkjets. This is due largely to the ingenuity of the hardware… and toner is part of that.

Is An Ink-Based or Toner-Based Printer Right For You?

When it comes to using ink or toner, the choice usually boils down to the two main printer types: inkjet and laser. Truth be told, in today’s printing market, it’s hard to go wrong with either. Oftentimes, the “average consumer” will opt for an inkjet because of the lower cost upfront—unknowing that a laser could save them money over time (because of the longevity of toner).

With that being said, each printer does have its purpose, and it might behoove you to understand them a bit more prior to making a purchase.

What An Inkjet Can Do

Inkjets are often preferred by families and photographers due to their versatility. Specifically, every inkjet—from the get-go—can produce text, color images, and photographs. Additionally, these printers often include faxing, scanning, and copying capabilities, allowing the user to achieve more than just printing.

Printers that use ink instead of toner are capable of using two different variations of ink cartridges— and both come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Printers Using Two Cartridges

Some printers that use ink can operate on just two cartridges—a black and a tri-color. Naturally, the black cartridge will handle all your monochrome needs while the tri-color cartridge is responsible for color.

These tri-color cartridges are made up of:

  • Cyan
  • Magenta
  • Yellow

While it’s certainly convenient to only need two types of cartridges, there are downsides.

If your printer runs low on either cyan, magenta, or yellow, the entire cartridge will need to be replaced.

In a nutshell—if you’re printing a lot, it’s going to cost you.

Printers Using Individual Cartridges

Instead of two cartridges, some inkjets allow you to have a separate cartridge for each color (black, cyan, magenta, yellow). This means that, once a color is running low, you can simply replace that individual cartridge. This, of course, makes printing more cost-efficient.

What Toner Printers Can do

The laser printer is considered to be the “office workhorse.” Yet, it’s probably more accurate to call it the office stallion. If a consumer or business needs large volumes of printing on a daily basis—let alone needing it quickly—then laser printers are typically the better choice. Simply put: they’re faster, more functional, and cost-efficient (at scale).

So, which is right for you? The short answer: It depends on the job. Vibrant color photographs will look best coming from “ink,” but large volumes of textual documents can be produced by a laser printer quicker than an inkjet.

Almost every high quality printer these days:

  • Faxes
  • Copies
  • Scans
  • Contains WiFi for wireless printing

These are usually ubiquitous across printers that use ink or toner.

Ink Vs. Toner

As mentioned above, both types of printers have their advantages and disadvantages, but it all comes down to your specific needs.

Photographers should stick to inkjet printers because of their gamut of colors. For the modern consumer (and businesses), however, a laser printer is the way to go. Even for smaller businesses, inkjets and toner-based printers are light-years apart, meaning, getting large quantities of work done with the least amount of money spent can be achieved through toner for printers.

Toner cartridges for printers are cheaper in the long-run, last longer, and produce high-quality prints.

Are you:

  • On a budget for a printer?
  • Printing only several hundred documents a year?
  • Looking for high-quality, colorful images on various types of paper?
  • Looking for an all-around printer to handle both text and images?

Then purchase an ink-based printer to suit your needs.

If you:

  • Don’t care about the upfront cost of the printer
  • Print thousands of text-based documents per month or more
  • Are willing to sacrifice color for monochromatic printing
  • Print primarily text
  • Need speedy and bulk printing
  • Want to save money over time

Then a laser printer is your machine.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask | Is A Toner Printer Right For You?

Whenever you’re in the market for a new printer, the best thing to do is research, research, research. The reality is that laser printers and toner technology aren’t going anywhere. These products have proven themselves to be pervasive in the marketplace and will continue to dominate the office environment.

Their speed, high quality, accuracy, durability, and over-time cost-efficiency are unparalleled. The reality, however, is that customers are often thrown off by the expensive price tag. They don’t realize toner’s superiority or understand how they’ll end up saving money over time. Yet, toner—as a technology—improves upon everything that ink offers.

In an oversimplification: toner is powder that is “pressed” onto a page once a laser “activates” it. But in reality, toner is a new and improved printing resource that might just, over time, render ink obsolete.


Supplies Outlet. About Supplies Outlet: Your Ink and Toner Source.

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

42West. FAQ: What’s the Difference Between Dye-Based and Pigment Ink?

HP. The Differences Between Printer Toner & Ink.

LD Blog. What’s The Difference Between Ink and Toner Cartridges?