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Understanding The Difference Between Toner And Printer Ink

2011-01-11

There are two basic kinds of printers that you will see around the home and office: laser printers, which use toner to generate printed pages, and inkjet printers, which not surprisingly use printer ink. Though they produce roughly the same kind of material, the methods they use are quite different.

Inkjet printers are fueled by printer ink cartridges. These are generally small, no larger than the palm of your hand, and are full of a water-based ink. The printer creates documents by shooting little bubbles of ink in a controlled jet onto the page, hence the name "inkjet." Most printer ink cartridges are refillable, and some companies sell kits that allow you to refill these cartridges at home.

Lower-end printer ink cartridges usually contain dyes, while higher quality cartridges use pigments to create various colors. The difference is that dyes dissolve completely into water and therefore tend to fade over time, particularly in bright light. Pigments remain separate in water, and so they resist fading better.

Most printer ink cartridges have a print head (the part that directs the ink) built in. This makes the cartridge more expensive but helps prevent the need for later maintenance, since the print head is the part that's most likely to malfunction.

Laser printers don't use ink at all. Instead they use a substance called toner, which is a powder made of a special kind of plastic called a polymer, combined with carbon dust to give it a black color. The laser printer projects an image of the page to be printed onto a spinning drum, then sprays the toner powder onto the drum. The powder is attracted to the projected image by static electricity. Then the drum heats the toner powder and presses it against the paper, causing the now-liquid toner to fuse to the sheet. Toner cartridges are usually a lot larger than printer ink cartridges. They can be refilled, but must be sent back to the manufacturer to do so.

Toner cartridges can produce far more pages per cartridge than printer ink cartridges. As a result, even though an individual toner cartridge is more expensive than a printer ink cartridge, the toner cartridge will end up costing less per page printed. Laser printers also tend to be much faster than inkjet printers because they produce each page in a single process, while the inkjet printers only produce one line of printing at a time.

On the other hand, laser printers are usually cost a lot more than inkjet printers. In particular, good quality color laser printers are prohibitively expensive. That's why most homes and home offices use inkjet printers, while businesses use laser printers.

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