The Ultimate Guide to Buying Ink and Toner

In a world where offices are going paperless, you still need reliable printer cartridges to get your work done. Understanding the difference between ink and toner and the options available can help you find the right fit for your office’s printing needs. Inkjet printers use small nozzles to spray microscopic ink droplets onto paper, while laser printers use fine toner powder to create an image.

Type of Printer

Whether you need ink for your printer or want to purchase a new one, like those at RetailMeNot, understanding what each type of cartridge does is essential. Purchasing the wrong cartridge could result in an expensive return shipment or inefficient printing. Ink cartridges contain tinted liquid ink pumped through the print head to produce text and images. The ink in a standard cartridge can usually print between 135 and 1000 pages before it needs to be replaced. Color inks combine linseed oil, soybean oil, or petroleum distillate mixed with dyes, salts, or nitrogen compounds to create various colors. Toner cartridges, on the other hand, are used in laser printers. A toner cartridge holds powdered color agents that the drum unit of your laser printer melts to produce the text and images on paper. The toner in a standard cartridge can generally print 2,000 pages before it needs to be replaced. Choosing which type of printer and cartridges to use depends on your specific needs and budget. If you’re a small business with low-volume printing needs, an inkjet printer may be the right choice. A laser printer is likely the best fit if you’re in a high-volume office with demanding printing requirements.

Ink Cartridges

You’ll use ink cartridges if you own an inkjet printer, typical in homes and small offices, but it works well for any office that prints graphic-heavy material. These nozzles spray microscopic ink droplets onto paper to create high-resolution images and text. They’re great for printing photographs and graphics, plain documents, and business cards. Depending on the model of your printer, you can choose between an original cartridge or a compatible one. Generally, original cartridges are produced by the same company that built your printer, whereas third-party manufacturers make compatible cartridges. The difference isn’t just aesthetic – original cartridges will fit your printer more precisely and are more likely to provide optimal performance. Ink and toner cartridges contain different ingredients, with the main difference being that ink cartridges contain liquid while toner cartridges contain powder. The ink contains solvents such as cyclohexanone, which help the ink stick to the paper without getting smudged or wiped off. It also contains colorants, which provide the primary ink color blue. This dye is also used in tinted contact lenses and can cause a skin reaction in sensitive individuals. Ink and toner cartridges expire, meaning they’re less effective over time. It’s essential to keep your cartridges sealed until you need them and store them in a cool, dry place free of dust and fumes. Most printers will display the ink or toner levels directly on the machine or within your print dialogue tab, so you know when they’re getting low.

Toner Cartridges

A toner cartridge contains dry, complex carbonized powder used by laser printers. It’s electronically charged, heated, and applied to the paper via a drum inside the machine. This technology makes printing with millions of colors and shades and crisp, high-quality text possible. Toner is available in black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. Some toner cartridges also contain a special dye for enhanced color saturation, making images and text more vivid and lifelike. Toner cartridges are typically rated by their page yield, the number of pages the cartridge can print based on ISO standards. Generally, manufacturers use a 5% page coverage standard to ensure all cartridges are tested the same way and can be easily compared. Like ink cartridges, toner cartridges can be found in various yield types. Higher-yield cartridges are designed to take up the same amount of space in your printer but contain an enormous amount of toner, so you’ll need to replace them less often. However, these cartridges can also be more susceptible to environmental storage conditions and may change consistency over time, affecting printing quality. Regardless of which cartridge type you choose, most printers will notify you when to replace your ink or toner. This can be seen on the printer or your computer’s print dialogue tab.


Many people buy a printer because they want the convenience of having ink and toner delivered right to their door. Many companies offer subscription services that automatically send replacement cartridges when your printer detects you’re low on ink or toner. Two main types of ink and toner subscriptions are auto-replenishment services and print plans. The auto-replenishment service detects your needs through a connected app. The app will then order and ship the cartridges you need to your home, dorm room, or office, with free shipping included. The app will also help you track usage, which can be helpful for businesses or families who often print large quantities of documents. Whether or not the auto-replenishment or print plan is worth it for you will depend on your printing habits. Those with consistent print volumes likely find that the page count plans offer more savings. However, be prepared to monitor your printer usage closely to avoid buying too many extra cartridges or losing excess accumulated pages from previous months.