While many use the words “ink” and “toner” interchangeably, they’re not the same. Ink and toner are suited for entirely different printing styles. Toner-based printers are more geared for high-volume, lower-quality prints. Ink, on the other hand, is best for low-volume, high-quality print environments.
If a business needs to print documents meant for internal communication only, toner-based laser printers will get the job done. However, if high-quality images are required, an ink-based printer is probably needed. Toner versus ink depends on the needs of the business.
In this post, we’ll compare toner-based printing to ink-based printing to help you decide which is better for your business. We’ll examine cartridge prices and cost per page, print quality and resolution, longevity, and environmental impact to help you understand your best fit.
What is Toner?
Toner is a fine, plastic-based powder composed of organic compounds and polymers and is used in laser printers.
Laser printers use a photosensitive drum unit to fuse toner powder to paper by heating and melting the plastic in the toner powder. Without heat from the drum unit, toner powder would dust right off the page.
Laser printers and toner are typically for commercial use. They are often more durable and longer-lasting than their ink-based cousins.
What is Ink?
Ink is a pigmented liquid used in inkjet printers and consists of water, chemicals, and colorants.
Inkjet printers use nozzles to spray tiny microdroplets of ink onto paper. These droplets, usually between 50 and 60 microns in diameter, are so small the naked eye cannot see them. The result is text or a high-resolution image that’s photo quality.
Consumers are more familiar with ink-based printers because they’re popular for home use. Consequently, they tend to gravitate towards making the same selection in their work environment. These ink-based devices can be bought at retail outlets and installed quickly with very little technological savviness required from the end-user.
Toner vs Ink: Which is Better?
Laser (toner-based) and inkjet (ink-based) printers come in all shapes and sizes. In this article, we are primarily comparing desktop versions of these printers that can print up to legal-sized paper.
Businesses across a broad spectrum of industries rely on ink-based printers for their printing needs because the hardware often has a lower upfront cost. They fail to consider the long-term expenses incurred based on the cartridge prices, the cost per print image, and the total cost.
Toner cartridges are typically more expensive than ink cartridges. This higher price is due to toner cartridges being able to print more volume. While toner cartridges may cost more, their higher print volume reduces the frequency of replacing cartridges.
If your business is printing a lot, you’re typically better off going with a toner-based printer.
Cost Per Image
Another factor to keep in mind is the cost per image.
An image is a one-sided print on a standard letter-sized sheet of paper. A double-sided print, also known as duplex printing, would be considered as two images.
You can determine the cost per image by using the formula:
Cost per image = Cost per Cartridge/Cartridge Yield
For example, if a toner costs 100 dollars and yields 10,000 images per cartridge, then the cost per image would be $.01 per image. This cost per image calculation will give you better insight into how much you are paying for each image you print.
Figure 1 below compares the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M479 with its inkjet counterpart, the HP ENVY Photo 7855 All-in-One Printer. Both devices are color printers. However, the HP LaserJet M479 is more geared towards higher volume printing with a recommended monthly volume, known as a monthly duty cycle, of up to 4,000 images. In comparison, the HP ENVY Photo 7855 can only handle around 1,000 images per month.
The cost difference between the two is quite stark. The HP LaserJet M479 device has a higher monthly volume and a higher cost per cartridge for toner. However, because of higher cartridge yields, the HP LaserJet M479 is cheaper, when producing larger quantities (1,000+ images) monthly.
A business using the HP ENVY Photo 7855 will spend nearly 35% more for ink cartridges if they print 1,000 images per month than they would with the HP LaserJet M479.
Print Quality and Resolution
The level of detail in print, known as print resolution, can make a massive difference in your print quality.
Consider a flat-screen TV mounted in your living room with a 4K resolution. Having a 4K TV is a huge step up from 1080p, which was a game-changer from 720p. Printing images are just the same.
If your printer has a resolution of 600 x 600, the image will look a little grainy and will not be as crisp as a print with a resolution of 1200 x 1200. In situations where color is being printed, the difference can be quite stark. However, in black and white prints, this is usually not a huge deal.
So, it’s crucial to consider your audience when making prints. If you’re printing a brochure that will be customer-facing, having a high-quality image is essential as your documents reflect your brand to others. However, this isn’t as important if the print is for the eyes of internal colleagues or a piece meant for communications like a letter or a memo.
Your consideration for print quality will play a pivotal role in which printer you choose. Ink-based printers typically have a higher print resolution compared to toner-based devices.
You can store both ink and toner at normal room temperatures for approximately 24 months.
In ink cartridges, the ink can dry inside over time, which can make the cartridge unusable. It’s vital to keep an ink-based cartridge sealed in its original casing until you are ready to use it.
In contrast, toner can last a bit longer on the shelf because it is more of a plastic-based powder. However, the internal parts of the cartridge that houses the toner can degrade over time, also rendering toner-based cartridges unusable.
Toner can also fuse at higher temperatures while in storage. For example, if you store toner in a room that is above normal room temperature, the plastic inside the cartridge can degrade faster.
It’s best to keep both ink and toner cartridges stored in a dry, cool environment for longevity and reliability.
Both ink and toner cartridges have negative environmental impacts. Each contains chemicals that can be harmful to you and the environment. Some of these chemicals include:
Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), which contains contaminants
- Ethoxylated acetylenic diols, which modify the surface tension of the water and colors
- Cyclohexanone, which helps ink adhere to polymers.
Other environmental factors include the amount of oil used to make just one cartridge. For example, toner cartridges can use as much as three quarts of oil to produce a single cartridge. In contrast, ink cartridges require only a few ounces of oil. When you consider all of this, along with the 375 million cartridges that go into landfills yearly, the environmental impact can be a substantial factor.
However, there are unattended consequences on the environment when purchasing cheaper inkjet printers and cartridges. Consider the cost of an ink cartridge relative to the price of the printer itself. Inkjet printers are cheap, but the ink can often be more expensive to buy than the printer is to purchase new, out-of-the-box.
On more than one occasion, we’ve had customers admit that they buy a new inkjet printer once the starter ink that comes with the device runs out, and then they dispose of the old printer. These devices most assuredly end up in the landfill, which hurts the environment.
Environmental waste, along with the fact that smaller volume ink cartridges will need to be replaced more often than toner cartridges, leads inkjet printers to be less beneficial.
Which is right for your business?
Ultimately, choosing whether to purchase an ink or toner-based printer depends on your volumes, financial situation, printing needs, and personal preference.
However, toner offers you the most bang for your buck when printing 1,000 or more images per month. So, in terms of general business printing, the edge goes to toner-based printers.
If you print very little and are looking for photo-quality printing, then ink-based printing is the way to go. Inkjet perhaps has a slight edge with environmental impact because the device has no fuser and does not use as much energy.