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Toner Cartridges and Ink Cartridges: What's the Difference?

2008-12-01

Liquid/Solid: A printer ink cartridge contains liquid ink. It's usually water-based, but some cartridges also contain oil-based ink. Toner, on the other hand, is a dry, carbon-based substance that has the consistency of fine dust.

Printing Method: The way that ink and toner are actually distributed onto paper to create text and images is very different. Ink cartridges spray ink through small nozzles in the cartridge. Toner adheres to the page in a specific pattern as a result of static electricity.

Printing Capacity: One of the biggest differences between toner cartridges and ink cartridges is the number of printouts you will be able to get from a single cartridge. Toner cartridges are quite large, hold a substantial amount of toner, and can usually print at least 5,000 pages. On the other hand, ink jet cartridges are compact products that can usually fit in the palm of your hand. Many hold as little as 5ml of ink, so it's not surprising their printing capacity is much lower - you can expect to print only a few hundred sheets with an average ink cartridge.

Expense: Since toner cartridges can print a few thousand sheets instead of only a couple hundred, it's not surprising that a toner cartridge is more expensive than an ink cartridge. When you look at the cost of printing a single page, however, toner cartridges are the clear winner. For example, a single page printed with an ink cartridge can cost between 5 and 10 cents, while a page printed with a toner cartridge might only cost two or three. Generic versions of both types of cartridges are widely available, and they can greatly reduce printing costs.

Water Damage: Anyone who has had any experience with ink jet printers knows that the ink is water soluble as well as water based. Getting a printout produced with an ink cartridge wet will cause it to run. Even using products like highlighters can cause the ink to smear. This is not an issue when toner cartridges are used.

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