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Ink & Toner: What’s the Difference?

Ink and toner cartridges are used in both home and business printing, they both do pretty much the same job with a similar end result – so what’s the difference?

Toner cartridges

Toner cartridges are used in laser printers. Cylindrical in shape, they are filled with toner, a very fine powder made from polyester – a type of plastic. In a laser printer, the laser forms an electrostatic image template on a turning metal drum, which is electrically charged. At this point, the cartridge sprays toner onto the drum, but only sticks on areas where the laser has changed the drum’s electrical charge.

Ink cartridges

Inkjet printers use ink cartridges – a plastic casing lined with airtight foil filled with liquid tinted with different-coloured dyes. Tiny droplets of ink are squirted through tiny nozzles in the print head of an inkjet printer and deposited onto the page during printing, thus creating the printed image.

What is the difference between ink and toner?


Toner cartridges have a bigger initial investment cost, but they are more cost-effective as they last longer than ink cartridges. Ink cartridges are small and easy to replace, making them easier to refill, however, they can be prone to clogging if you use cheaper or inferior products.


Laser printers (which take toner cartridges) are preferred by businesses who value speed, due to the precision possible with a laser compared to a spray of ink. When it comes to saving time, a laser wins the vast majority of the time.


For regular text, the quality of the print is similar between laser and inkjet printers. For detailed work, however, lasers are often superior to inkjet – for example, finer font sizes and images will be clearer using a laser printer.


Printers using inkjet cartridges are often smaller and therefore have a lower paper capacity, which means more time is needed to be spent refilling the paper. While they are generally cheaper to buy, inkjet printers require a lot more time has to be spent refilling and replacing components.