Toner Vs. Ink

By Gigi Starr

Updated September 28, 2017

Whether a laser or inkjet printer is better for you depends on how heavily you use your printer and your budget. Toner and ink printers each have benefits and drawbacks. However, ink printers may be leaping ahead in the world of medicine.


One big difference between the two is the equipment that they're used in. Toner is used in laser printers and copiers, while ink is used in inkjet printers. Also, toner is a powder (carbon based or organic dye granules with polymers), whereas ink is liquid. Both are sold in cartridges, which can be refilled to save money. Toner is usually more expensive than ink, but it lasts longer and prints out more pages. Ink is cleaner to work with, but can clog up, smear and make blotches if the print head gets dirty.

What is Toner Made Of?

Toner is made of a very fine base powder that contains different polymers depending on what product it's used for. High quality toner powder is super fine, while the less quality ones may be more grainy. According to Gareth Evens, senior research associate on MadSci, "Toner for color photocopiers consists of a pigment, usually solid organic dyes, and a polymeric binder, for example a polyester or styrene acrylate. The purpose of the binder is to hold the pigment in place in the final image. It also provides gloss to the image areas." Black print is made from a carbon base.

Where Did the Inkjet Cartridge Come From?

Inkjet cartridges evolved from the need for faster, higher output printing. Around 1984, the first inkjet printer came out on the market. "Drop on demand," or driver-commanded ink distribution, changed the printing industry. People no longer had to stop and put in messy typewriter and dot matrix printer ribbons, nor did they have to manually refill toner cartridges (a process that can be messy and hazardous). Inkjet printers really hit it big in the household market in the 1990s; they still dominate the field because they're much more inexpensive and small than laser printers.

How Inkjet Printing May Help Science

Doctors in Manchester, United Kingdom have developed a large printer that can print cells into a skin graft that can then be applied to burn victims and surgery patients. The printer is very large, and the ink is specially formulated. Hip replacement patients at the Manchester Royal Infirmary were a part of the study, during which "the cells are put into a special printer ink liquid and artificially multiplied. Then, the printer prints the cells on to a plastic surface, which acts like a scaffold to support the cells," says professor Brian Derby, who hopes that the new technology can revolutionize care and recovery for high-trauma patients.

Is Toner or Ink the Right Choice For Me?

It depends on your needs. For high output and picture clarity, laser printers are the best choice. However, they're very expensive, cumbersome and often take up a substantial amount of space. Toner costs a significant amount of money and can be messy to work with during cartridge changes.

For the home user, a good inkjet printer is probably the best bet. There are ink cartridges available for all sorts of projects, including photographic and crafts. Inkjet printers are light, small and often inexpensive. However, they may also take a very long while to print a picture properly, and there's always the danger of smudging a print-out that hasn't dried all the way.

The argument of laser vs. inkjet is best figured out by shopping around, reading trustworthy reviews and making a thorough inventory of print needs. The most cost effective and presentable method is the one that gets the best bang for the buck.