Types of printer inks: Printer and Copier Guide



When looking for a new printer for your business or home office in the market, knowing where to look can be difficult. Once you’ve decided on a printer, you need to know what type of printer ink to get. This depends on many factors including color quality, efficiency, and cost. When deciding which printer ink to invest in for your multifunction copier, you will find a brief overview of the individual types here.

Types of printer ink

There are different printing inks, each with their own printing style and price. Knowing the differences between types of inks can help determine which type of printer to buy and which ink or toner to use regularly. Here are the most common types of general inks:

  • Liquid ink: In inkjet printers, liquid ink is sprayed onto paper as microscopic droplets to create an image. Liquid ink and ink-based printers allow you to print more vivid colors than laser printers.
  • Dye-based ink: Dye-based ink is a type of liquid inkjet printer ink that produces bright, vivid images without smudging. The dyes have small molecular structures that are immediately absorbed by the paper. Despite their smear resistance, they are water soluble, which means that they can run or smear if in contact with water or moisture.
  • Pigment-based ink: Another type of liquid ink, pigment-based inks are more expensive than dye-based inks because they keep the same colors over time and don’t fade. The images generated are more durable, but also less vivid.
  • Solid ink: Solid inks are made with a waxy substance that is similar to colored pencils. They are printed on the surface of the paper and are not absorbed by it. This results in less fading and deterioration over time, while producing more vivid images. Solid inks also have environmental benefits, but a major disadvantage is their low availability.
  • Toner: Toner is a powder-based pigment used in laser printers that sticks images onto paper after heating. Toner is typically more expensive than ink cartridges, but they often last longer, so the cost can offset each other.
  • Ribbon Ink: Ribbon ink is used for impact and dot matrix printers and provides pigments on one side. Your cartridges contain a long ribbon of cloth on wheels that hits the page when printed and leaves an impression.
  • UV ink: UV ink creates images by curing the page with ultraviolet light. Images printed with UV inks dry incredibly quickly, but it’s one of the most expensive inks.
  • 3D printing material: Typically the material used for 3D printers is resin rather than ink and can create a variety of shapes and objects that are not flat.

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Did you know already? There are many types of printer inks, but not all can be used with every type of printer. Before buying, make sure the compatibility between the ink you choose and your printer.

Printer types

The two main types of printers for business use are inkjet and laser printers. These types of printers do not use the same technology to produce prints, and their cartridges are not cross-compatible. So both printers use their respective inks.

Inkjet printer

Inkjet printers are usually cheaper and more compact than laser printers. They don’t print as fast as laser printers, but they tend to produce brighter and more vivid images.

“These are machines that spray microdroplets of ink onto paper and are generally cheaper and more portable,” said Neil John, founder of One Computer Guy. “They can help with printing text documents and color pictures.”

Most inkjet printers use either dye-based or pigmented inks. Both are easy to transfer onto paper to create sharp, rich colors in your images. Dye-based inks are not waterproof and tend to fade over time, while pigmented inks last longer but have less vivid colors. Ink for inkjet printers is cheaper than the toner that laser printers use.

Laser printer

Most laser printers use toner cartridges to produce images. Toner is a fine powder that is applied to one side when it is fused by heat from a drum. The charge generated by the drum is printed on by laser, which is what gives these printers their name. With toner, images tend to print clearly and not roll. However, toner printing is not ideal for high quality images because it does not produce as vivid colors as inkjet inks and can produce noticeable streaks.

“These printers are generally expensive and melt powdered toner onto paper to form a print,” said John. “These printers use expensive cartridges, but overall they are still a much more economical option because of their lower cost per page and faster print speeds.”

TipTip: Small businesses that need to produce a small volume of high quality (image-based) printing should consider inkjet printers, while those who need to produce a high volume of text-based printing should consider laser printers.

Best ink for inkjet printers


As the name suggests, inkjet printers use cartridges that spray ink on their sides. Inkjet printer cartridges tend to be more diverse, so you can purchase your preferred type of ink as long as it is compatible with your printer. Most inkjet printers use some form of liquid ink, either dye-based or pigmented. These are the most common types of cartridges for inkjet printers:

  • Liquid ink
  • Dye-based ink
  • Pigment-based ink
  • Waterproof ink
  • Solid ink


Compared to the toner cartridges that laser printers use, ink cartridges are generally cheap. However, ink cartridges can be quite expensive on their own, and inkjet printers don’t provide as much performance as a laser printer. The cost per page for inkjet printers is usually higher than for laser printers. While the cartridges themselves may be cheaper, there are other factors to consider when determining which type of printer will be most cost effective for your business.

Best use

Businesses or individuals who want high quality, vibrant images should consider purchasing an inkjet printer. These printers are best for users whose pages do not need to be printed in large quantities or at a fast pace. If image quality is a top priority for your business, an inkjet printer is the best option as it produces higher quality images with brighter and sharper colors than laser printers. For example, inkjet printers are the best option for printing gallery-style photos.

Possible problems

One of the biggest drawbacks to liquid ink is the potential for smudging or bleeding, especially when printing large images with lots of color. Using an inkjet printer with pigment-based or solid ink cartridges is one solution to this problem.

Another potential problem is that if you don’t use them regularly, the cartridges can dry out, waste money, and become unable to print. Depending on the type of ink used, the printed images may fade over time.

Best toner for laser printers


Laser printers use toner cartridges to create images on their printed pages. Toner is made from granulated plastics that create powders and have greater accuracy and finer control when transferred to paper.


Toner cartridges are expensive compared to ink cartridges. However, their longer lifespan can offset the cost and number of cartridges required. Because of the efficiency of laser printers and the capacity of toner cartridges, the cost per page for laser printers is typically lower. While the upfront costs for laser printers and toner cartridges tend to be higher, long-term costs must also be considered when choosing between laser and inkjet printers. [Get more details on the costs of commercial printers.]

Best use

Laser printers are best for businesses that need to print large volumes of text documents quickly.

Possible problems

Because of their upfront cost, laser printers may not be accessible to businesses on a tight budget. Their size and cost also make them less than ideal for a home office.

Features to Look For When Buying Ink

Here are some important things to consider when purchasing ink for your printer.

  • Color or Monochrome: Determine which colors you use most frequently when printing to determine the type of cartridges you need. Colors are often sold separately; Cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black) are the most common (CMYK).
  • Page yield: When purchasing ink cartridges, consider their page yield. This is the number of pages the manufacturer expects the cartridge to print before it runs out of ink. While the exact page yield will depend on the type of image you are printing, this is a good general indicator of when to replace your cartridges and what that means for your costs.
  • Compatibility: Ink and toner cartridges are usually only compatible with a specific make and model of printer. If you are considering buying printers, check their specifications so you can determine the availability and cost of their cartridges.
  • Warranty: When buying a printer or office equipment, see what warranty the manufacturer offers – how long it is and what it covers. Not every printer has a warranty or offers one for sale, but you will want one in case you have a problem with your printer or your cartridges.
  • Reconditioned against new: Some printers allow cartridges to be recycled and remanufactured. This means that they are cleaned and then refilled with the same ink. Refurbished ink cartridges are cheaper than new ones.


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