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What is the Difference Between Ink and Toner?

What is the difference between ink and toner, and what are the pros and cons of each? How can you decide which one is right for your needs?

If you've ever wondered, "Is toner the same as ink?", you are not alone. The two print supplies work very differently to deliver beautifully printed documents. Here's the full scoop on ink vs. toner and how they may affect your choice of a new office printer.

Ink vs. Toner 

Printers rely on ink or toner to produce images on paper or other media. The biggest difference between ink and toner is probably the fact that each of these works with a different type of printer. Inkjet printers rely on ink while laser printers rely on toner, but the differences don't stop there.

Printer ink is a tinted liquid that's dyed or pigmented to create the desired shades on the printed documents. The components of printer ink may include carbon black pigment, a binder, solvent, drying agents and chelating agents, among other additives. Inks may also contain opacifiers, making the ink opaque, and extenders, which allow the ink to appear less vivid or intense. Many other ink additives may help to aid in longevity, regulate bubbles, improve ink flow or impact the finish. Inkjet printers fire the ink droplets onto the page to create the desired image.

Toner is a powdered pigment that bonds with the paper when it is heated. Toners are comprised primarily of polymers and organic compounds to create the desired results. Toner power is often made from solid particles like finely granulated polyester (a plastic) and may also contain polypropylene, fumed silica and a variety of minerals. Some plant-based toners may also be available as a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to chemical cartridges.

HP 81A black toner cartridge
Pros and Cons of Ink 

Printer ink doesn't call for much attention until you realize you're out of it. This printing supply brings both advantages and disadvantages over its rival, toner. Understanding the pros and cons of ink vs. toner will help you to choose which type of printer, inkjet or laser, will best suit your needs.

Advantages of Printer Ink   

Inkjet printers continue to be accessible to a wide range of consumers. Consider these pros of printer ink vs. toner.

Canon 245 XL black ink cartridge

Initial costs for inkjet printers are lower.

These budget-friendly printers don't cause such sticker shock upfront, but the higher replacement cartridge costs tend to make up for it.    

Replacement ink cartridges tend to be less costly upfront.

You may not feel like you're breaking the bank when it comes time to replace the inkjet cartridges for your printer. Just remember you also may not get as much mileage for your cartridge as you would with toner.    

Ink dries on printed pages relatively quickly for cleaner prints. 

Smudges are less likely with pages printed with inkjet printers. 

Disadvantages of Printer Ink    

When looking at toner and printer ink side by side, some differences exist. Here are the downsides of using printer ink. 

Printer ink can dry out if you don't use it.

Leaving your printer dormant for too long may come back to bite you with ink that dries out and becomes unusable. To mitigate this, simply use your printer once every couple of weeks. 

Ink cartridges may also clog.

This can impact your printer output as printing heads may clean the clogged ink, further reducing the number of pages per ink cartridge. 

Ink delivers a lower page yield than toner.

Your print output per ounce of toner vs. ink will always favor toner as the more productive choice.    

Find the right ink and toner for your device.
Pros and Cons of Toner    

A lot happens from the time you press "print" to the actual printed page coming out of the printer. Laser printer toners offer both pros and cons for your printing experience. Here's what you can expect.

Advantages of Printer Toner    

Printer toner offers many advantages in the home or office setting. Here are the top points to consider.

HP 970XL black ink cartridge

Toner allows for faster printing.

Laser printers offer lightning-fast printing due to the precision of the laser as compared to their ink-spraying counterparts.

Precise printing renders high-quality prints.

The printed pages from a laser printer showcase quality images and sharp, clear text that's ready for myriad uses. 

Toner doesn't "dry out" because it's already dry.

Unlike printer ink, toner cartridges don't run the risk of drying out since they're already in powder form. Toner is long-lasting even if you don't use your printer all that often.

Toner allows for high efficiency and convenience.

Laser printers are often the device of choice for office settings. Toner offers the convenience of quick, high-quality and on-demand printing.    

Disadvantages of Printer Toner    

As with anything, printer toner also has a few downsides. Here are the cons of printer toner.

Printer toner typically comes at a higher cost.

It can be a bit pricey to refill the toner in your printer all at one time. On the other hand, toner is very long-lasting, depending on your usage. So, it does tend to balance out.

Laser printers, which use toner, cost more upfront.

The cost usually balances out over time, again, but these printers are also larger and take up more space in your office. Color laser printers can add to the expense as well.

Ink vs Toner: Which Is Right for Your Needs?

A lot of different factors go into deciding whether ink (and inkjet printers) or toner (and laser printers) are best suited for your business or home use. Here are a few points to keep in mind as you weigh your options of ink vs. toner.

Printing volume

If you frequently need to print many pages at a time, you may find a laser printer using toner will give you a high yield and the best economical value.

Clarity of photos

If your main output will be photographs and images, you may wish to invest in a photo inkjet printer for the best possible photo resolution.

Speed of printing

If print speed is among the most important considerations, look toward a laser printer for a faster workflow. 

Upfront budget

If your budget upfront is the biggest consideration, consider starting with an inexpensive inkjet printer and moving up to a laser printer when your funding allows.    

Now you know the answer to the age-old question — is toner the same as ink? Knowing the difference as well as the pros and cons allows you to make an educated decision on which ink, toner and print supplies are best for your needs. No matter which you pick, you can get free shipping and discounts on all your print supplies by enrolling in CDW's free Printer Supplies Program.

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