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Tech fight: Ink vs Toner

By Eric Hamilton , May 18, 2020 02:11 PM EDT
(Photo : Tech fight: Ink vs Toner)

Contrary to what some people think, ink and toner are two very different products. While both are used for printers, what they are made of and how they work are very unique. We're going to delve into the essential ingredient which enables our printers to work and find out the real differences between ink and toner.

The product 

What is ink? The simple answer is: ink is a liquid. It is made using a range of products including oils and pigments to achieve its colour. Ink cartridges are used in inkjet printers, these will spray tiny droplets of ink through just-as-tiny nozzles.

What is toner? Toner is made up of really fine polyester powder and used in laser printers. This polyester powder can hold a static charge which can attach to anything with an opposite charge.

Which is better?

If you're on the hunt for a new printer and unsure of whether to choose an inkjet or laser, we're going to take a look at the pros and cons of both to help you choose.

The pros of ink

  • Price

Inkjet printers are cheaper than laser printers and the ink is generally much cheaper than toner - if we look at upfront costs. Now cheaper doesn't always mean the most cost-effective; toner tends to last longer.

  • Cartridges are easy to replace

The simple cartridges can be fitted without much fuss. They are smaller than toner cartridges and made of less complex technology (another factor to the lower price).

  • Quality control

While it is easy to think ink will smudge, thanks to the many ingredients which go into creating the liquid, the ink doesn't smudge as easily as toner. It can still smudge, just not as easily.

The cons of ink

  • Fewer pages

The page yield is lower. So while the price of ink is cheaper, you won't get as many pages in a full run. Not ideal if you plan to use it regularly.

  • Blocked nozzles

This is one of the biggest problems with inkjet printers. If it remains unused and sits idle for a while, there is a risk of the ink drying. This can cause the print head to get clogged. Look at getting an inkjet printer which has head cleaners built in to minimise this risk.

The pros of toner

  • It's speedy

One of the main advantages of a laser printer and toner is that it prints much faster than its inkjet counterpart. It's very precise thanks to its use of a laser etching a pattern into the paper. Whereas the ink cartridge must travel across the page, regardless of if ink is placed there or not. Ink droplets can never match the standard and precision of a laser.

  • Sharp pictures

While ink does not smudge as easily, thanks again to the precision of the laser, images come out much clearer and sharper. So if you're careful not to smudge the pages, the quality is much higher on a laser printer.

  • Lasts longer

Laser printers will print out many more pages than an inkjet printer. So although the cartridges cost more in comparison to ink cartridges, the actual per-page cost is less.

The cons of toner 

  • Price

The upfront cost is high. This means if it unexpectedly breaks or runs out, you may have an unexpected bill you have not budgeted for.

  • Hardware is costly too

As well as the toner costing more, the laser printers themselves cost more to replace due to the advanced technology used.

  • The size

If you are in a small office, laser printers tend to be bigger and bulkier than the compact inkjet printers on the market.

  • Can be very messy

As it is a fine powder, if you do not know how to handle toner cartridges properly it can get very messy. It is also not the easiest to remove.

What to choose

Choosing between a printer which uses ink or toner can be difficult, but you need to take into consideration your needs, we are going to round it up:

  • A small office who needs a printer for light word documents. You will use it enough to use up the cartridge, but not enough that we'll need to refill more than once a month.

An inkjet printer will work best. You will use it enough to ensure the ink doesn't dry up and get wasted, but not enough that you'll have long page runs to warrant multiple refills.

  • A bigger office which prints many different things including heavy word documents and graphics. You will have long page runs and the company relies heavily on the printer to carry out day-to-day work.

Thanks to its precision, a laser printer will be more effective - especially if you're printing any images and graphics. Toner lasts longer, so you will get more out of it.

Before buying a printer, weigh up the pros and cons of using ink or toner and consider how each could be a benefit or hindrance to you. 

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