Printing technology has come a long way since the printing press revolutionized the industry in the 15th century. When it comes to modern printers, the two major players are inkjet printers and laser printers. Inkjet printers use ink, which is a liquid that is tinted with pigments or dyes. Laser printers, on the other hand, use toner, which is a fine powder.
True to its name, an inkjet printer works by projecting little droplets of ink onto a piece of paper. The droplets get projected through tiny little nozzles that turn on and off thousands of times per second. These nozzles shoot ink in very specific patterns to recreate the image or text you’re trying to print.
Inkjet ink comes in two categories: dye-based and pigment-based. Dye-based inks are made of colorants that get dissolved in a liquid. Pigmented inks use an ultra-fine powder suspended in liquid. Both of these inks are created from special formulas developed by the printer companies. The exact ingredients are kept secret by the printer companies as they make a ton of money off of selling inkjet cartridges.
Most inkjet printers use dye-based inks because they are more economical than pigment-based inks. They’re also better able to create more vibrant, realistic images. However, dye-based inks aren’t as waterproof as pigment-based inks and they’re more susceptible to smudging or fading. When choosing between ink and toner for printing images, ink is the better choice for printing archival quality images and text. They’ll be much sharper, although ink cartridges are a bit more expensive than toner,
Toner does not stick to paper in the same way that liquid-based ink does and it is made up primarily of finely ground polyester. This polyester powder holds a static charge that helps it adhere to the paper, which is infused with an opposite charge. A laser printer works by creating an electrostatic template of the image or text you want to print on a rotating metal drum. A cartridge then dispenses toner onto the drum, where it sticks to the places where the laser has altered the drum’s electrical charge.
As the paper passes through the machine, the printer charges the sheets of paper with an opposing electrical charge. The sheet curls past the drum, pulling off the charged toner in the shape of the image or text. A hot fuser then melts the toner into place to create a sharp print that won’t smudge.
Monochrome laser printers use just a black toner cartridge to print, while color laser printers use black, cyan, yellow and magenta toner cartridges. The drum unit can either be built into the toner cartridge or it can be sold separately. Toner is better suited than ink for consumers who have high volume printing needs, but it doesn’t work as well with photos. They can’t reproduce the same distinctions in tone as an inkjet printer because toner is so powdery. This results in dull looking photos.