Does a Thermal Ribbon Last Longer Than Toner?

By Dan Stone

Toner cartridges generally last longer than thermal ribbons.
i Spike Mafford/Photodisc/Getty Images

Printer toner cartridges can last longer than thermal ribbon rolls. However, the use-case and speed requirements vary between the two printer types, so direct comparison can have skewed results. The toner lifespan can vary depending on how much ink is used on each page, whereas a thermal ribbon has a fixed number of pages per roll. Toner printers use electrically charged ink to print whereas thermal ribbon printers melt wax-based ink onto the page.

Printed Pages Lifespan

According to Staples, printer toner cartridges are usually rated around for 15,000 to 20,000 prints with five percent of the page covered in ink. Toner lifespan drops when printing images alongside text. Ribbon sizes can vary wildly by printer, with capacities between a few hundred and a few thousand prints; however, thermal ribbons have a specific maximum print count that is unrelated to what's being printed.

Varied Toner and Ribbon Capacity

Not all toner cartridges and thermal ribbon rolls are created equally. Some are designed for more prints than others. High-yield cartridges can cost more upfront, but will last for more prints and have the potential to cost less per print overall. A high-yield ribbon compared to a budget toner cartridge could flip the ratio in favor of the ribbon lasting longer, especially when printing pictures over text.

Different Use Cases

The use case is very important for comparison. Ribbons have the same lifespan regardless of how much ink is used on each page, whereas a toner will be able to print substantially fewer photographs than pages of text. For example, a ribbon may be able to print 200 full-color photographs and 200 pages of text. A toner may be rated at 15,000 pages at a five percent use case, but that number drops to just 750 pages when the ink covers 100 percent of the page. A large ribbon capable of 1,000 prints will outperform a toner cartridge when printing pictures, but will perform substantially worse when printing text.

Material Storage Time

Printing materials can go bad if left unused for too long, although toner can be stored for much longer than ribbons. Printer toner cartridges use a dried material for ink, whereas thermal ribbons have some degree of moisture in the material. Printer toner can be stored almost indefinitely. The dry nature of toner means that it won't go bad while installed in a rarely used printer. According to printing supplies seller Ink Pal, the printer should be used every two to three weeks to ensure that the toner keeps working. Thermal ribbons are made out of wax or resin and are at a disadvantage against toner cartridges when stored. According to Zebra Card Printer Solutions, thermal ribbons can be stored for about two years before drying out and becoming unusable.