Difference between Ink and Toner

By: | Updated: Feb-14, 2018

When it comes to printers, one has to be familiar with not just the machine itself but also the types of cartridges that come with it. Cartridges can either be ink or toner. Most people might think they are the same and interchangeable but they are not. Ink and toner function quite differently. This article will help you understand the aspects that set ink and toner apart.

Summary Table

Ink Toner
Dye-based or pigment-based liquidFine polyester powder
Used for inkjet printersUsed for laser printers
Lower print yieldMore print yield, faster printing
Ink cartridges are small and easy to replaceToner cartridges are bigger and refills are messier
Less expensive to replace cartridgesMore expensive up front when replacing cartridges
Costs quickly add up because it’s smaller and has lower print yieldMore cost-effective in terms of longevity and print yield


Ink cartridge
Ink cartridges

Ink is a liquid tinted with various color pigments or dyes. It is primarily used in inkjet printers.

toner cartridge
CMYK colors on a toner cartridge

Toner is a type of fine powder or powdered ink that is mainly used in laser printers.

Ink vs Toner

The difference between ink and toner mainly has to do with their composition and functionality. Ink can either be dye-based or pigment-based colorants that are dissolved or suspended in liquid. Ink cartridges are usually used in inkjet printers. Toner, on the other hand, is made up of finely ground polyester. This polyester powder creates a static charge that sticks to anything that has an opposite charge. Toner cartridges are used in laser printers.

Inkjet printers work by squirting tiny droplets of ink that passes through tiny spigots onto the paper. These tiny spigots turn on and off extremely fast, shooting ink in very accurate patterns to create words or vivid images. In laser printers, on the other hand, electrostatic image templates are created on a rotating metal drum. Then, the cartridge places toner onto the drum. The sheets of paper used in a laser printer are also charged as they pass through the machine. As the sheet passes through the drum, it receives the charged toner in the exact form of texts and images.

When it comes to performance, ink cartridges have lower print yield compared to toner cartridges. Toner cartridges, however, have a higher count and faster output. Ink cartridges are smaller, less expensive and easier to replace than the bigger, more expensive and messy replacements involved with toner cartridges. In terms of overall savings, however, toner is the more cost-effective option when talking about longevity and print yield.

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