Ink Vs Toner

In an earlier blog post, we talked about the 5 main differences between ink and toner. There is a lot of information regarding this topic, and we only touched the surface in our blog. If you are someone who barely knows how to operate a printer, you may not even realize what your printer requires to create text and images. This article will be especially useful as you will need to replace or refill your cartridges at some point, and having general knowledge will help ease the process.

For printer enthusiasts and those who are just wondering what ink and toner is all about, this article aims to provide you with everything you need to know about the differences, and how they work.


Main Types Of Printers

The two main types of printers used in homes and offices today are laser and inkjet printers. They both excel in different areas, and you will use one or the other depending on what type of prints you require. They each use a different type of print process.


Ink Vs. Toner - Differences

  • Laser printers use a powdered ink called toner, and it is best for printing text at a cost-effective per-page amount. The initial cost of a laser printer is generally high, and they are used primarily in medium or large offices. While the toner cartridges can be costly, they are capable of printing a high volume of pages before needing to be replaced or refilled.
  • Inkjet printers use a liquid ink and they are best for printing images. The cost of ink is considerably higher than the cost of toner, and many people offset the cost by using compatible cartridges in place of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) cartridges. The inkjet printer itself is generally lower in price. The (OEM) cartridges are so expensive that people are known to buy a new printer with the ink included, rather than purchase cartridges. There are some models nearly affordable enough to make this a viable option.
  • Ink cartridges are generally small and toner cartridges are larger, mainly to accommodate the moving mechanical pieces such as drum units and fuser wands that help toner bond to the paper. The toner cartridge may not have a drum included, and you would need a separate drum unit instead. This makes the inkjet printers themselves much smaller than laser printers.
  • Ink is available in more colors than toner, specifically for printing higher quality images.
  • Toner powder fuses to the paper through heat as it prints while ink dries on the paper after it is applied.
  • Ink is available in pigment or dye-based colorant solutions.

Dye-based is the most popular as it produces vibrant colors suitable for images, but it runs the risk of fading and smearing if you touch it while it is still wet. It also runs the risk of bleeding edges, as it tends to soak into regular paper. Dye ink is formulated with specific solvents geared to making the ink dry quickly, in order to prevent bleeding as much as possible. Dye-based ink also gives more color per volume, as the colorants are dissolved throughout the ink.

Pigment-based ink is made up of solid colored particles that are mixed into the ink, and sits on top of the paper where it dries. It is resistant to fading and smearing, but produces less vibrant colors best suited for printing text. Pigment-based inks are generally more expensive than dye-based inks.

  • Ink can be oil-based, but most are water-based.
  • Toner powder originally consisted of carbon particles, but has since become a combination of carbon, polymers, and coloring agents. Carbon particles do not fade over time.
  • Ink cartridges send frequent errors that will halt your print processes.
  • Without regular maintenance, ink tends to clog the print nozzles, resulting in poor prints or ink not being able to pass through the nozzle at all.
  • Toner is easier to clean up if you have an accident.


Ink Vs. Toner - Similarities

  • They can both print in black and white (monochrome), or color.
  • They are both great choices, depending on your printing needs.
  • They both come in cartridges.
  • Both types of cartridges can be refilled or replaced with compatible cartridges or original manufacturer cartridges.
  • Depending on your printer model, they are both available in a 2-cartridge or 4-cartridge system. If you use a 2-cartridge system, you will have to replace the entire color cartridge when only one color runs out, as opposed to a 4-cartridge system; you will only need to replace the one color that ran out.
  • They both cause a negative environmental impact if not disposed of properly.


Main Inkjet Printing Processes

There are two main types of inkjet printing processes, continuous (CIJ), and drop on demand (DOD), which are both broken down into various other processes.

Many printers we use at home or in our offices (Canon, Lexmark, HP) employ the DOD thermal technique where the cartridges are broken up into tiny heated compartments. A current passes through the heater causing vaporization of the ink to form a bubble (this is where the term “bubble printer” originated from), which increases pressure, and propels an ink droplet onto the paper.

Commercial and Industrial printers, as well as some consumer printers (Brother, Epson) use DOD’s piezoelectric (electricity resulting from pressure) technique, in place of a heating element to build pressure. The piezoelectric material, a crystal usually located in the nozzle, changes shape when activated, causing pressure to build which forces out the ink droplets.

Ultimately, the thermal technique uses heat to cause vaporization, which builds enough pressure to shoot ink droplets from the nozzle. The piezoelectric technique uses electric currents to change the shape of the piezoelectric material, which builds pressure, forcing ink droplets from the nozzle. Both types depend on pressure to make the ink droplets shoot from the nozzle to the directed area. 


Toner Printing Process

Laser printers use static electricity. The drum unit (depending on the type of laser printer you use) charges the paper as it rolls through, and at the same time, a laser beam shines on the areas you want printed, causing the patterned area to discharge. The discharged patterned areas are covered in the toner ink powder, which due to static electricity, only sticks in the areas that have been discharged. Once the pattern has been covered with toner, the paper moves through a set of heated rollers, which is how the toner powder fuses and sticks to the paper. The speed at which the papers move through the rollers ensures that the paper does not burn in the heat.


Among others, there are types of ink such as solid ink, UV ink, and ink designed to react and bind with cellulose, thereby making counterfeiting by “check-washing” more difficult. Solid ink comes in the form of colored or black sticks that are melted down in the printer as needed. They are more environmentally friendly as there is less waste from empty cartridges, and their main ingredient is made from vegetable oil.