The Complete Toner Cartridge Buying Guide

Toner is dry powder that is used in laser printers, laser fax machines, and photocopiers to clearly reproduce text and images on a piece of paper. Laser printers are ideal for businesses or schools that put out a high volume of text because of the quick-drying toner and the fine detail of the text, as opposed to the lower quality, but much less expensive ink jet printers. Be sure to evaluate the different options for toner cartridges before making a purchase to ensure the cartridge is compatible with the device.

How Toner Works

Toner is a powder consisting of two parts, pigment and plastic. The pigment gives color to the text and images. It is blended into plastic so the toner will melt when put through the printer’s heat fuser. As printer paper is passed through the heat fuser, the toner melts and binds to the paper to ensure no smudges or bleeding.

Considerations for Toner Cartridges

Before purchasing a toner cartridge, there are several things buyers must consider. Many toner cartridges are specific to certain models of the device that is being used. There are also a variety of different types of toner and different color options. Buyers should also consider the intended use of the toner cartridge. For example, one type of toner cartridge may be best for high-volume black text printing, while another might be better for printing color flyers, and yet another optimal for printing full-size glossy banners.


The quickest way to determine what kind of toner cartridge is needed is to look at the manufacturer’s part number. This can usually be found on the printer, fax machine, or copier; it may also be found in the operations manual that came with the device. If the part number is not available, try searching for the model number of the device. Most manufacturers will provide a way for users to find a part or model number in order to find the appropriate toner cartridge.


The manufacturer of the device will sell the specific type of toner that each device requires. The toner cartridges sold by the manufacturer are high quality and usually expensive. Many other third-party companies sell compatible toner cartridges for less. However, some third-party vendors sell toner that is not as high quality as the manufacturer’s toner. Toner cartridges sold by third-party vendors can be found online or at local retail stores. Buyers may also consider a remanufactured cartridge. This is a reconditioned original manufactured cartridge that has been refilled, often by the original manufacturer. If the toner cartridge is being used for a business, opt for an original manufacturer’s cartridge to ensure high quality printouts. If the laser printer is being used for personal use or informal printouts, users may opt for a cheaper cartridge that may not produce fine detail.

Color Toner Cartridges

When printing banners, flyers, postcards, or menus, users may require color toner cartridges. Generally, each color toner requires a different cartridge. The three colors used in color cartridges are cyan, magenta, and yellow. If the printed image has a green tint, the magenta cartridge is empty. If the image has a purple tint, the yellow cartridge needs to be replaced, and if the image looks orange, replace the cyan color cartridge. Color laser printers can quickly become an expensive purchase because users must spend more money on the different color cartridges, rather than just purchasing a black cartridge.

Maximum Page Yield

Many manufacturers provide a yield value for their cartridges. This refers to the number of pages that can be effectively printed before the cartridge runs dry of toner. One-page text documents count as one page. However, if the user is printing charts, graphics, and photos, they may find that the cartridge will need to be replaced sooner than the suggested page yield. Cartridges labeled "high yield" are usually the most cost-efficient cartridge in that they last longer than other cartridges.


In 2012, toner cartridges can range in price from $10 for a small cartridge for a personal laser printer to about $300 for a high-capacity printer that yields hundreds of printouts per day. The cost of toner cartridges may seem high, but the large number of prints they are capable of makes the printers quite economical. Keep in mind that original toner cartridges produced by the manufacturer are the most expensive type of cartridge. Sometimes, the cartridges can even cost more than the actual printer. If possible, find a compatible toner cartridge or a remanufactured cartridge that prints high-quality text and images to save money. Some manufacturers offer a warranty that may cover cartridge replacement and repairs.

Cartridge Storage

Some people choose to buy cartridges in bulk to save money. If buyers choose this option, the shelf life of the cartridge must be considered. Generally, sealed cartridge packages last about 12 to 24 months. Opened packages typically last three to six months. It can be beneficial to have extra cartridges on hand to ensure the printer never runs out of toner. Running a printer with no toner can cause serious damage. The printer heads can overheat and be ruined, or the nozzles can dry out, which would damage the entire device. Consider replacing the cartridge when the toner is low and not completely empty.

Toner vs. Ink

There are benefits and drawbacks to both toner and ink, but the right choice lies in the user’s needs. Toner prints out high-quality images and offers a high output. Inkjet printers and cartridges may be ideal for home use in that there are cartridges for many different projects, such as photographs, crafts, and cards. Ink sprays ink droplets on a paper which can leave blotches of ink and smears on the finished projected; toner heats directly to the paper to ensure no bleeding.





Ideal for photographs and image-intensive documents; able to print on a variety of paper types; no warm-up time; can be reused and refilled.

Water-based, which makes documents susceptible to water damage; cartridges need frequent cleaning; brand-new cartridges can be pricey; ink can bleed and smear.


Prints much faster; cartridges last much longer; prints higher-quality text and images; high output.

Upfront costs are higher; warm-up time delays printing.

Users should choose a printer with cartridges that are ideal for their printing needs. They should determine what features are most important before making a purchase.

Tips for Installing Toner Cartridges

Do not take the new toner cartridge out of the packaging until it is ready to be installed. This will ensure the cartridge gets the maximum toner life. Before installing the cartridge, give it a gentle shake to loosen the toner powder and to ensure that it is not compacted. When discarding the old cartridge, inspect it. Sometimes the toner unit and the drum unit appear to be just one unit; however, the toner is separate and the drum unit will need to be re-used. The majority of devices will come with a manual that offers users step-by-step instructions for installing toner cartridges. Be careful when handling toner cartridges. Toner usually will not wash off of clothes. If users get toner on their hands or clothes, wash them immediately.



Anyone who owns a laser printer will eventually need to purchase a toner cartridge. The most important thing to look for when making a cartridge purchase is compatibility. If the cartridge is not compatible with the device, the printer will not function. Other things to consider are quality and price. High-quality cartridges will be more expensive, but they will produce finer details and images. Remember to explore the options of remanufactured cartridges and third party cartridges if you are on a budget.