The Difference between Toner and Ink

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What’s the Difference Between Toner and Ink?


Although people are familiar with printers, some common questions we’ve heard from a lot of print cartridge buyers are: What’s the difference between toner and ink? Are ink and toner the same thing? Is toner or ink cheaper?

To clarify the differences between the two and to help you understand the pros and cons of using toner or ink, we’ve put together this detailed post.

We hope that after reading this, you’ll have a full understanding of what is ink and toner, as well as their differences.


Ink and toner — the basics

Toner and ink are very different from one another. In distinguishing one from the other, you need to consider the printing process as well as the type of cartridge required by the printer.


Ink printing

Ink is a tinted or pigmented liquid that’s generally used in typical inkjet printers. Inkjet cartridges containing the ink used to print on paper are installed in the printer head. The head has tiny ink nozzles through which the ink is transferred onto the paper. Whatever the head prints on the paper is based on the print command you give. 

During the printing process, you'll observe the printer head moving back and forth over the paper. While this is happening, the tiny ink nozzles are actually transferring the ink onto the paper based on whatever words or images are supposed to be printed.

Toner printing

Meanwhile, toner comes in powder form and is used in laser printing. Unlike inkjet printing, toner printing involves a more complicated process where the toner inside the toner cartridges takes an indirect route onto the paper via a rotating metal drum.

The drum is extremely sensitive to light and has either only a positive or a negative charge. The moment you give a command to print, the laser (which is the light source) works by drawing an electrostatic image onto the drum. 

The machine then uses this statically charged drum that applies toner powder onto the printing paper. The powder is melted via a fuser and then baked onto the paper to make the words or image being printed permanent. 

So, if you've ever wondered why a newly laser-printed paper always feels warm to the touch when it is ejected from the printer, it’s because of this complicated but quick and efficient heating process.

Are ink and toner the same thing?

No, they definitely are two different things.

Aside from the aforementioned facts about ink and toner printing, we want to emphasise the following differences:

  • Ink is a liquid, so it’s wet.
  • Toner is a dry powdery substance, usually made up of plastic resin.
  • Ink is typically cheaper than toner. However, toner cartridges usually have a higher yield and thus fewer replacement and lower printing costs
  • Laser printing requires warm-up time but inkjet printing does not.
  • Once warmed up, a laser printer prints faster than an inkjet printer.
  • Traditionally, inkjet printing was associated with home use and small businesses, whilst laser printers were mostly used in busy offices or large businesses.

Nowadays, both inkjet and laser printers are used at home and by businesses. One’s choice of printer depends largely on how much you need to print on average and what you are printing.


Pros and cons of ink and toner

There are upsides and downsides to either ink or toner use, so you'd do well to consider these when choosing between an inkjet and laser printer.


Printer ink — pros and cons

These are the reasons why some users are for or against using printer ink cartridges and inkjet printers.


  • Ink cartridges (and inkjet printers) are cheaper than toner because of their smaller storage requirements and less complex technology.
  • Ink is the more practical option if you have low-volume printing needs.
  • Ink cartridges are easy to install and replace, so you can start using your inkjet printer in no time.
  • Ink doesn’t smudge as much as toner because ink cools and dries quickly.
  • Inkjet printers have a smaller physical footprint as they usually come in smaller, compact form.


  • Most ink cartridges are small, so they can only hold a limited amount of ink. This means lower print yield and they also need to be replaced often.
  • Ink cartridges are prone to clogging as the ink dries on the print head, especially if you print only once in a while.
  • Inkjet printers usually have a shorter lifespan compared to laser printers.


Toner — pros and cons

Below are the advantages and downsides of using toner and laser printers:


  • Toner cartridges last longer and have a higher print yield compared to ink cartridges. This can also reduce the need for maintenance and replacement.
  • Since laser technology is more precise, toner tends to produce sharp, clear images.
  • Depending on the printer model, laser printing is usually faster than inkjet printing.
  • Toner cartridges and laser printers work best for those with bulk printing needs.
  • Laser printers tend to outlive their less-robust inkjet counterparts.


  • Toner cartridges are more expensive than inkjet cartridges.
  • Laser printers, which use toner, are more expensive. They're usually bigger too, which means they take up more physical space.
  • Some toner cartridges can be more expensive than the laser printer itself. This leads some people to dispose of their printer when their toner supply is depleted. These users choose to buy a new printer instead of new toner cartridges. While this option may seem practical for some, it can impact the environment negatively. What tends to happen is that a still-functional printer is disposed of prematurely without maximising its lifespan and ends up in a landfill (to address this issue, we do have a wide range of cartridges at very friendly prices and would suggest treating your printer more thoughtfully).


Is toner or ink cheaper?

We have probably answered this above. But, as a recap, ink cartridges, as well as the equipment they are used in (inkjet printers), are cheaper.

Both toner cartridges and laser printers tend to be more expensive.

However, in spite of the initial cost, one should keep in mind that toner cartridges can produce more prints and require less replacement, which means lower running costs and higher efficiency.

So, which is the better option: ink or toner?

Users who are on a tight budget and have low-volume printing requirements would find an inkjet printer to be the more reasonable option. Now that there are a lot of models that combine copying and scanning functionalities, an inkjet printer can be an even more attractive choice.

But if you have higher volume printing needs, then a laser printer can be the more cost-effective alternative in the long run. Besides, if you only need a printer for black and white documents, there are laser printers that are compact, affordable and perfectly designed to address high-volume, mono printing needs.

In need of ink or toner cartridges? Please contact Cartridge Max.

We’re your printer consumable experts in Australia and are ready to assist with your printing requirements.

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