It always seems to happen right when you need your printer most – pages start to come out with faded type or sections missing from each page. You probably put it off as long as possible, but there’s no more time for excuses. You have to replace the cartridge.

There can be significant differences in what that means, however. In particular, there is a huge difference in cost between ink cartridges and toner cartridges. What are these two types of refills and how do they differ?           

Ink Cartridges

Ink Cartridges are used in inkjet printers. The cartridge contains liquid ink, usually absorbed in a sponge. When creating a document, the print head simply deposits ink wherever it needs to go on the page. Color cartridges have three colors in addition to black and if any of the colors run out the others are essentially useless. Most printers can create black from combining the other three colors, however.

Many inkjet cartridges do contain some basic electronics, such as a chip that communicates with the printer. It is also possible to refill ink cartridges using a kit bought from printer supply stores. Though the process can be tricky and doesn’t always produce a working cartridge, it can also be significantly cheaper than buying a completely new one.

Toner Cartridges

Toner cartridges are used in laser printers. Instead of liquid ink, they are filled with a fine powder that can be magnetically charged. When printing documents, an electrically charged drum picks up the tiny particles and rolls them onto the page according to the pattern you printed. A laser then fuses these particles to the page with heat.

Some toner cartridges actually include the drum as part of the cartridge, meaning that the entire until has to be replaced. Naturally, cartridges for these designs are much more costly. However, most are simply containers for the toner powder. While it is usually more difficult to refill toner cartridges than inkjets cartridges, it can still be done with the right kit. Most users have them refilled professionally or buy a replacement.

So what is the difference? Ink vs. Toner

Toner cartridges, on the other hand, typically last for at least 2,000 pages and cartridges for large laser printers last even longer. You can expect to pay for this long shelf life, however. That points to the second major difference between the two types – cost. Some toner cartridges for rare or older laserjet printers can be so expensive that it is nearly cheaper to replace the printer outright than replace the toner. 

In summary, therefore, the difference between ink and toner cartridges is a matter of how you use your printer. For high volume printing, laser printers and toner cartridges provide lower costs per page and are typically more reliable under heavy usage. For home printing where low initial cost is more important than the ongoing cost per page, ink cartridges are usually the best option. 

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