Toner vs. Ink: Output, Longevity & Quality

By Mitch Monsen
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In your search for the perfect wireless laser printer, you’ve likely come across the toner vs. ink battle. Here at TopTenREVIEWS, we’re acutely aware of this conflict, so we’ve assembled some useful information here to help you find your position on the issue.

Toner vs. Ink

When considering the differences between toner and ink, first know that you’re talking about different printers. Toner is the printing material used by laser printers, and ink by inkjet printers. There are pros and cons to both ink and toner, so let’s dive into them now.

Toner

Toner is a largely powder-based printing agent used by laser printers, using organic compounds and polymers to make up the majority of the material.

Pros

#1: Toner means faster printing.
Toner cartridges – and laser printers on the whole – operate more quickly than their ink-based cousins. This is largely due to the precision that’s possible with a laser over a spray of ink. Each must travel across the paper and either etch a pattern (laser) or apply ink (ink), but a laser is far more precise than even microscopic droplets of ink can be.

#2: Toner means higher picture quality.
Again, because of a laser printer’s precision, images come out clearer and more defined. This may not always be the case with a photo-grade inkjet printer, but when you’re comparing similar printer models, the laser will give you a slight edge on photo quality.

#3: Toner means greater longevity.
Compared to a similar inkjet printer, you’ll be able to put out a higher volume of pages with a laser printer, both due to its speed as well as the functional differences of the laser printer and how it can siphon off and reuse extra toner.

Cons

#1: Toner refills are messy and expensive.
Toner cartridges are more expensive than ink. Refills are also incredibly messy if you’re doing them yourself with toner, since you’re dealing with a microscopic powder instead of a liquid.

#2: Laser printers are larger and more expensive than ink.
In general, laser printers are bigger and more expensive than their ink-based cousins. The difference in cost is usually made up for in higher print yields and longevity, but if space is a concern, the size could be an issue.

Ink

Ink is contained in small tanks or cartridges and sprayed out in a microscopic mist over the designated print pattern.

Pros

#1: Ink printers are inexpensive by comparison.
Ink printers generally don’t cost as much as laser printers do. This initial cost is often offset by the increased frequency with which you’ll be replacing the ink cartridges, but if you aren’t too hard on your printer, that may not be an issue.

#2: Ink prints are cleaner and less prone to smudges.
Though it seems counterintuitive, ink-based printed pages are actually more resistant to smudges and smears than toner. Both are generally safe if you give them time to dry, but ink will be more resilient overall.

#3: Ink cartridges are small and easy to replace.
Ink cartridges are much smaller and less expensive than toner cartridges, which also makes them easier for the end user to replace or refill.

Cons

#1: Ink offers a lower print yield for the price.
While you’ll save money on ink and the printing unit itself in the short term, ink-based printers churn out fewer pages than their toner-filled relatives.

#2: Ink cartridges are prone to clogging.
If you leave an ink cartridge unused for a period of time, the ink may dry and clog the print head. Generally, ink-based printers have print head cleaners built into the device.

Armed with this information, we hope you’ll be able to settle on a printer that meets your needs. If you’re looking for more information to help you decide, take a look at our recent reviews of the best wireless laser printers.

What do you think, ink or toner?

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