Ink Cartridges and Toners – What’s the Difference?

By Nicole Tinkham


You’re fresh out of ink and scrambling around trying to find a cartridge that goes with your machine. Sound familiar? Don’t panic, we are here to help! Whether searching online, in the catalog, or in the retail store, you will find numerous cartridges available, all with different numbers (and letters). There are two main types of cartridges: ink and toner. Within these two broad categories are many different cartridges for specific models. While there are a ton of printing supplies out there (toner, drums, ink cartridges, developer kits, maintenance kits, etc.), in this post we’ll focus on the differences between ink and toner cartridges.

When determining whether an ink cartridge or toner is needed for your machine, you must first figure out which type of printer it is. Inkjet printers are excellent for photo and image documents however, are best used for smaller print jobs. These printers require ink cartridges. Laser printers, which require toners, are often used for large print jobs. Now that we understand both printer types, let’s move on and discuss how each cartridge works.

Ink Cartridges

The main thing that sets ink cartridges apart from toners is the liquid ink (toners use powder) that sprays a mist over the print pattern. This produces a cleaner print that smudges less. One of the benefits of ink cartridges is the small size, making them easy to replace. They also tend to cost less money but there’s a reason for that – the page yield is lower than that of toner cartridges, meaning they will have to be replaced more frequently. However, there are XL (high-yield) ink cartridges that have a higher page yield than the regular (1,200 compared to 420, for example) that will last a bit longer.

Inkjet printers use a CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) color system and all four cartridges are needed to run the printer. Sometimes these cartridges come in a tri-color which contains the three colors excluding black. Other times, each color is individual. There are combo packs available which include two black cartridges, two tri-color cartridges, or one black and one tri-color cartridge.

Warning: Not all tri-color cartridges match up with black cartridge numbers. For example, the tri-color counterpart to the HP 96 black is an HP 97.



Unlike ink cartridges, toners use a powder-based printing agent that contains organic compounds and polymers. Instead of applying ink that dries, toner is fused to the paper by burning the powder onto the page. These cartridges may be much larger and more expensive than ink cartridges but they have a higher page yield, making them last longer. These too come in a high-yield version, lasting even longer than the regular. On the down side, toners can be messy if there’s a leak (so be careful!).

Color laser printers require all colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) while monochrome printers only require a black toner. There are some combo packs available for toners such as all three colors or two black toners in one pack. Toners aren’t the only thing you will need with your laser printer though. Look for a future blog post for more information about the other supplies these printers need (maintenance kits, transfer kits, fuser kits, drums, etc.).


How to Find the Ink/Toner that Corresponds with Your Printer 

To quickly find what you’re looking for, locate the model of the machine. This is usually on the front of the printer. Then go to the Machines Finder on Keeton’s website, type in the model number, and search for compatible cartridges. If you have trouble locating the model number, you can use the other search options available (machine type, keyword, or manufacturer) to narrow it down. If you still need help, you can always give us a call (941-747-2995) or stop in and talk to Jeff in the machines department.


Chester Carlson invented a dry printing process called Xerography (meaning dry writing) in 1938 which ended up being the technology used for laser printers to come.

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