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Explained: The difference between ink and toner

If you’re responsible for the printer in your office, you already know that printer consumables quickly become an issue. Even if you’re running a business from home, running out of materials starts as a small problem but can quickly turn into a big deal. The biggest problem, of course, is running out of ink or toner. Then, if you buy the wrong replacement, you’ve wasted money — and ink and toner aren’t inexpensive. Overall, this can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars for larger offices. Your first step to getting the right supplies is knowing the difference between ink and toner.

ink vs toner printer

Ink versus toner

The difference between ink and toner is mechanical. They are two different substances that work in different ways. Ink is liquid-based, and you use it for inkjet printers. Toner is made from powder and fits laser printers. Deciding if you need to order ink or toner depends on the type of printer you use. 


If you have an inkjet printer, you will need to use ink. Ink is a liquid-based material that is mixed with pigments or dyes to give it different colors. Most inkjet printers require two types of cartridges: Black and tri-color. Some specialized photo-quality printers might require separate color cartridges. This adds definition to the more complex color combinations high-quality pictures need. Inkjet printers squeeze tiny amounts of ink from a cartridge onto a rolling paper, spraying the ink directly onto it.

Most home offices and smaller offices that don’t print a lot of materials will have an inkjet printer because they tend to be cheaper and easier to use. The cost per page can vary widely, though, especially if you print a mix of regular documents and high-quality photos. However, for most home uses, an inkjet printer is the way to go. Make sure you get the right ink cartridges as defined by the manufacturer. 


Laser printers are more complex than inkjet printers, but they tend to be sturdier. They are also able to print faster. They are especially useful in larger offices or schools that print a lot of black and white text. By charging a drum with static electricity, the laser printer is able to attract the powder in the toner and then press it against the paper. This allows for more prints than a typical ink cartridge, as well as faster printing.

You will typically see printing speeds between 21 and 45 pages per minute. High-end commercial printers can get up to 100 pages per minute. Laser printers can be expensive, but their cost per page often makes them worth the investment. 

toner cartridges
Proxima Studio/Shutterstock

It’s important to know that some cheaper laser printers can only print in black and white. However, if you’re mainly printing text documents, that won’t be a problem.

Choosing between ink and toner depends on the type of printer you have. If you have an inkjet printer, you should get ink cartridges. Use an inkjet printer if you’ll be printing different types of content and if you won’t have to do a lot of printing overall. Note that while ink cartridges are cheaper than toner cartridges, they need to be replaced more often. Always double-check that you’re ordering the type of cartridge recommended by the manufacturer, too.

On the other hand, if your office prints a lot of documents and color printing is not a necessity, a laser printer is an economical choice. After investing in the initial higher cost, you’ll save money because toner doesn’t have to be replaced often. The cost per page rate is usually very low, too. Either way, though, consider high-yield cartridges when buying ink or toner. They’re more expensive, but they’ll last longer.

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