What Is Printer Toner and Does It Make a Better Impression Than Ink?

What is printer toner and how is it different from ink? Learn the distinction between toner vs. ink and which is best for your printing needs.

You need to feed your printer some form of ink for your words, photos and graphics to make their mark. But do you know what type your printer needs? And what is the difference between toner and ink?  

Let's start with the type of printer you have. Do laser printers use ink? No, a laser printer uses toner and will eventually need a replacement toner cartridge. If you have an inkjet printer, you need ink cartridges. Both types of printers get the job done – it's how they get there that differs.

So, are toner and ink the same thing? The answer is no, and they're not interchangeable. Let's explore the differences between the two and some pros and cons of each.

Ink makes an indelible impression.

Ink is made specifically for inkjet printers. It comes in a liquid form inside a small plastic cartridge. Inkjet printers work by squeezing the ink out through small nozzles that deposit microscopic dots of ink directly onto the paper. Think of it as putting pen to paper, only more quickly and minutely.

The majority of inkjet printers print in either black or full color. This type of printer holds four cartridges — black, cyan, magenta and yellow. Each cartridge snaps into place and pops out easily when it's time to replace it. Some inkjet printers now come with refillable "ink tanks" that limit how often you have to replace the ink.

The pros of using ink:

  • The cartridges are small and easy to replace
  • Cleaner printouts are less prone to smudging
  • Inkjet printers are inexpensive 

The cons of using ink:

  • Inkjet printers have a slower output
  • Ink cartridges need to be replaced more often

What is printer toner?

Printer toner is a very fine powder composed mainly of plastic polymer and coloring agents. Toner powder is electrostatically charged inside the printer and fused to the paper as it passes over a metal drum in the printer. 

Black toner is typically used in laser printing. Color toner is available, but it's expensive and rarely used outside specialty businesses. 

Toner comes in long rectangular cartridges that are larger than inkjet ink cartridges. Although toner cartridges are more expensive than ink cartridges, they last much longer — making laser printing a more cost-effective option in the long run if you do a lot of printing. A standard toner cartridge prints about 2,000 to 3,000 pages, compared to an inkjet cartridge that yields 200 to 300.

The pros of using toner:

  • Laser printers print faster
  • Images are crisper and clearer
  • Toner cartridges produce more prints 

The cons of using toner:

  • Laser printers cost more
  • Toner refills are more expensive

Inkjet vs. laser: Which printer should you get?

It really comes down to what type of printing you'll be doing.
Inkjet printers are more commonly used at home or in small businesses because: 

  • they're less expensive 
  • they don't need to accommodate large volumes of printing

Laser printers are typically found in office settings:

  • they're fast, which makes them ideal for printing a high volume of text-based documents
  • though they're more expensive, they're a better long-term investment

Super Tank Printers: the latest innovation in ink and toner.

Recycling ink and toner cartridges has always been a nuisance. And with offices becoming more cost-conscious and eco-friendly, printer manufacturers are finding innovative ways to deliver ink and toner to customers with less plastic, less waste — and less expense. 

Enter the age of the "super tank." There are now inkjet printers that use refillable tanks rather than individual ink cartridges, such as EcoTank printers and Smart Tank printers. These printers with supersized tanks include up to two years' worth of ink. They're larger and cost more, but you'll save a bundle on ink over the long run. Laser printers are now following suit.

Whether you run a small business and use an inkjet printer or produce high-volume output with a laser printer, leave a lasting impression by using the right ink and toner.