The Great Debate: Ink vs Toner

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between ink and toner? Is toner something every printer needs? And what’s the big deal about those laser printers? Are they really so much better than inkjet printers?

You’ve got questions and we’ve got answers!

Ink vs Toner

Ink and toner do the same things: they are both responsible for transferring pigment onto paper during the printing process. But the similarities end there. Ink and toner are used in different machines and are composed of vastly different substances.

In a nutshell, ink is a liquid substance that is used in inkjet printers. This is most likely the kind of printer you have for your basic home office setup. Toner, on the other hand, is a solid—a powder, to be precise—and is used in laser printers. Laser printers are more likely to be used by businesses or in other professional settings due to their increased quality and performance, but we’ll discuss them more in a minute.

Since ink and inkjet printers go hand-in-hand, as do toner and laser printers, we’ll next look at the pros and cons of each setup.


Drying Time: Toner Wins!

Ink is often petroleum-based, although you can find some more eco-friendly vegetable oil-based inks as well. Inks that dry quickly are ideal, as you know if you’ve ever carelessly handled a hot-off-the-presses printout and left horrible smudges across the paper.

Toner, on the other hand, doesn’t need any time to dry. The laser printer literally melts the fine powder onto the paper. Sounds crazy, but it works like a charm! On a related note, toner is more water resistant than ink, so if you accidentally get a page a bit wet, it usually won’t make the text incomprehensible.


Refill Hassle and Cost: Ink Wins!

If you want to simply buy a brand-new cartridge each time your printer runs out of ink or toner, you’ll be parting with a lot more of your hard-earned cash when you buy toner rather than ink. However, as laser printers tend to be used in professional environments rather than for basic home use, it might not be your money being spent, but the company’s. But generally, ink is much cheaper.

If you’d rather refill the empty cartridge yourself, you’ll find that it’s much easier to inject a liquid into a cartridge than it is to transfer a powder. What’s more, the toner powder is so fine that it’s recommended you wear a protective face mask while refilling the cartridge.

So from the perspectives of both relative cost and ease, ink refills trump toner every time.

Less Likely to Clog: Toner Wins!

One of the disadvantages of ink is its tendency to dry out when not in use, and those little bits of dry ink can clog the cartridge or damage the print head.

Toner, on the other hand, doesn’t dry out—it’s already dry! So there’s simply no risk of clogs if a laser printer is not in regular use.

Printing Speed: Laser Wins!

It’s really no contest when it comes to printer speed: laser printers can churn out a high volume of picture-perfect prints much faster than their inkjet counterparts. This comes down to the mechanism by which the ink or toner is transferred to the page: inkjet printers have to spray tiny drops of ink into a certain pattern, whereas laser printers etch a pattern and fuse the powdery toner right onto the paper. In other words, laser printers are capable of greater precision, and that means they can operate at greater speeds.

It’s a bit like trying to write with your non-dominant hand: you’ll be much faster writing with your right hand (if you’re right-handed) because you have such good control of those muscles, but you’ll have to take a lot more time to write the same sequence of letters if you put the pencil in your left hand instead. Laser printers have better control, but inkjet printers have the pencil in the left hand, so to speak, and take more time to achieve the same results.

Print Quality: Laser Wins!

If you were to look at toner under a microscope, you’d see round, smooth, uniform particles. The uniformity and microscopic size of these particles translate as a higher resolution printout. The precise nature of laser printers also allows each particle to be set in exactly the right place on the page, resulting in text that comes out crisp and clear and photos that look sharp and professional. Drops of liquid simply can’t perform in the same way.

Bottom Line

As you can see, laser printers have a lot going for them. Inkjet printers really only come out on top in terms of cost. However, if you’re not printing huge volumes of professional material, you’ll honestly do just fine with a quality inkjet printer.