All You Need to Know About Printer Toners

What is a Printer Toner?

A printer toner, laser toner or toner may be described as the consumable component of a laser printer. A printer toner is comprised of dry toner powder which is a mixture of carbon, plastic or polyester, polypropylene wax, black and other coloring pigments. We explain how the toner works and the different components that make up the printer toner and much more in this article. Read on!

What is a Laser Printer?

A laser printer is a type of printer where the keys don’t strike the paper. These printers make use of a non-impact photocopier technology. The first laser printer was introduced by IBM in 1975, but it was made only for mainframe computers.

It was Hewlett-Packard which made laser printers a popular device, with the launch of LaserJet. LaserJet was made for personal computers and was reasonably priced. Laser printers of today are cheaper than they have ever been in the past, and far more efficient. While HP is still the leading manufacturer of laser printers, it is closely followed by Xerox, Okidata and Lexmark.

A Laser Printer Comprises of the Following Components…

  • Toner Cartridge
  • High Voltage Power Supply
  • Laser Scanning Assembly
  • Paper Transport Assembly
  • DC Power Supply
  • Transfer Corona Assembly
  • Formatter Board
  • Fuser Assembly

The toner cartridge comprises of a print drum, toner, cleaning blade and a charge corona wire. For the purpose of this article, we are specifically interested in the printer toner.

How does a Printer Toner work?

The printer toner is something most of us take for granted – we don’t think much about it because it is such a simple thing and works so well for the most part. When the printer runs low, just put in a new toner cartridge and it starts working perfectly yet again.

The toner is comprised of powdered plastic. The thing about plastic is that you can manipulate it as you like with static electricity. You can also melt the plastic and fuse it onto paper to create clear and perfect images.

Printer toners make use of a technique called xerography, which means printing with paper rather than with ink. It works pretty much the same manner in printers as it does in photocopier machines.

In fact, the laser printer was invented by a certain Gary Starkweather, an employee of Xerox, the world’s leading maker of photocopier machines, in 1969.

Photocopier machines comprise of a rotating drum coated with selenium, a semiconductor. The selenium coating converts light into electricity, much in the manner of a solar cell.

When the bright light of the laser beam is bounced off the paper onto the drum, a type of static charge is created, which has an effect on the toner. As the laser is scanned directly onto the drum, an electrostatic charge is created, which can be used to generate various types of electrostatic images.

Evolution of Printer Toners

Back in the 1970s, when printer toners were first introduced, they were quite basic and contained only rust and soot for the most part. The rust, or iron oxide, was magnetic and allowed superior control during the imaging process.

But color printing was not possible with the toners of old. The reason was the dark oxide contained in the rust made the colors brown. Color printing was only introduced in 1994 as manufacturers added more refinements and additives to the toner for better speed and image quality.

What are the Different Components of a Printer Toner?

Here’s a look at the different components of a printer toner….

Polyester/Plastic – Most color toners are made of at least 85% to 95% plastic or polyester which is broken into a very fine powder. The grains have to be made as small as possible for better image resolution. The thing about plastic is that is that while it does not conduct electricity, it holds a static charge. This means plastic can cling to anything that gives an opposite charge. This property of plastic is made use of by laser printers. They use the power of plastic to cling to things under static charge to ensure that the toner gets onto the imaging drum and from there onto paper.

Carbon Black – Polyester, which is the main ingredient in toners, is not black, it is clear. So in order to make it appear black, makers of printer toners add carbon black, which is essentially a high-purity soot to it. This high-purity soot is produced by burning creosote or tar and is usually used to make rubber products such as tires tougher and stronger. Carbon black is a class II carcinogen, it ensures that the toner is sealed in place once it hardens on the paper.

Fumed Silica – The fumed silica or SiO2 provides a silky or liquid flow to the polyester toners. This substance looks like microscopic glass beads and are considered essential for spreading the toner across the page at superfast speeds especially in an office environment.

Charge Control Agents – When the toner leaves the toner cartridge, it clashes against the metering blade, which results in a static charge. This is referred to as Tribo-electrification. With charge control agents you can put a negative bias to the toner, which ensures that it clings to the imaging drum. The charge control agents consist of bits of zinc, iron and chromium and they ensure that the toner holds on to the charge.

Pigment Yellow 180 – A color printer should have separate cartridges for magenta, cyan, yellow and black. The yellow color comes from Pigment Yellow 180, which is an organic pigment or a benzimidazolone compound.

Pigment Red 122 – The red color in the toner used in a color printer comes from Pigment Red 122, which is a Quinacridone compound which features a range of reddish hues. This is a highly durable substance, which is why it is used in exterior paints.

Pigment Blue 15:3 – Cyan is one of the colors used in color printers and this is produced by Pigment Blue 15:3, or the compound copper phthalocyanine. This is a common pigment which is used in solar cells and even in quantum computers.

Polypropylene Wax – Polypropy­lene wax is an essential ingredient used in printer toner for lubrication. It is a solution to an old problem with toners, where the toner would stick to the fuser rollers and the next page would get smudged. Polypropy­lene wax is a polymer much like polyester but has much longer carbon strands and fewer amounts of chemicals hanging out of the strands. This means there is enough space for molecules to slide or slip past one another.

What is the Difference between Toner Cartridges and Ink Cartridges?

There are two types of printers – laser printers and inkjet printers. Laser printers, which make use of toner cartridges, are different from inkjet printers, which make use of ink cartridges. Inkjet printers spray liquid ink onto paper through microscopic nozzles to create a printing pattern.

Toners differ from ink cartridges when it comes to functionality and the format or the printing patterns. There is also a lot of difference between the two with respect to the benefits. Let’s take a look.

Replacement Cost

One of the things to consider when replacing a cartridge is the replacement cost. There is no question that toner cartridges are more expensive than ink cartridges. However, while the initial expense of inkjet cartridges are low, the costs start adding up over a period of time. While a toner costs much more up front, it is more durable and lasts much longer, which makes it more cost-effective over the long term.

Inkjet cartridges don’t last long and will have to be replaced frequently. The cost of the replacement may be affordable, but when you buy too many of them, they can get quite expensive. Also, ink cartridges don’t print as many pages as a toner cartridge and have to be replaced every so often. This makes toner cartridges more cost-effective over a period of time.

Speed and Capacity

There is no question that laser printers are much faster than inkjet printers. They are the best option for those who expect the speed of the printing to be high. The electromagnetic process that takes place in laser printers is extremely precise; so you can print hundreds of pages in just a few minutes without a break. This makes laser printers ideal for the office environment, where the requirement is for high speed and capacity.

Inkjet printers are much slower than laser printers. They are not as precise as laser printers either and not capable of high printing speeds and capacity. They are better suited for home use rather than for use at an office or a store. If speed and capacity of printing is what you’re looking for, laser printers are an obvious choice.

Image Quality

When it comes to the image quality, laser printers are considered to be far superior to inkjet printers. While there are some models of inkjet printers that produce highly colorful and vivid images, this is not true of all inkjet printers. It is not possible for inkjet cartridges to match the precision of the laser drawn imagery of the printer toner. Also, with inkjet cartridges, it is difficult to get the desired image quality and to avoid smudges.

How Does a Laser Printer Toner Work?

Here is a quick explanation of the Electrophotographic (EP) Print Process. This takes place in 6 stages.

#1: Charging – In the charging stage, a strong negative charge is applied to the surface of the toner drum through the charge corona wire contained in the toner cartridge.

#2: Exposing – During this stage, the laser scans the drum from one end to another and turns on and off according to the signal received from the formatter board. The charge received by the toner drum is reduced substantially in areas that are touched by the laser beam. The image is built up on the toner drum surface once the drum starts rotating.

#3: Developing – The toner is then transferred to the various areas of the drum that have a slight negative charge. The printer toner is attracted by the magnet inside and sticks to the roller because of the electrostatic charges that are built.

#4: Transfer – The registration rollers receive signals from the formatter board so that the paper can be sent through. The rollers move the papers in between the drum so that the image is properly transferred to the paper. A high positive charge is applied to the paper, which attracts the toner, which is negatively charged. Any jamming of the printer is prevented by the static eliminator comb.

#5: Fusing – This is the next stage of the printing process. The toner is only loosely attached to the printing paper up to this stage. Then the fuser, which consists of a pair of heated rollers, uses the high temperature to melt the toner onto the printing paper. The paper is passed through the roller fast so that it does not get burned up.

#6: Cleaning – Cleaning is the last stage of the printing process. During the cleaning, a bright light is beamed on the photoreceptor surface, which erases the electrical image. Following this, the drum surface passes through the corona wire and the positive charge is re-applied.

How do Color Printers Work?

Back in the past, most commercial laser printers could only manage monochrome printing, or black printing on white paper. But since the 1990s, color laser printers have become very popular. Color printers work in the same way as black and white printers, but they go through the entire printing process 4 times.

Color printers use a special type of printer toner which includes color pigments of the following colors – cyan, magenta, yellow and black. By combining the four different colors in different proportions, you can generate an entire spectrum of different colors.

Some of the latest printer models feature a separate printer unit for each color, comprising of a drum, laser assembly and toner system. The paper is moved seamlessly through the various drum heads and collects the four different colors in different combinations before placing the image onto the paper.

What are the Different Types of Printer Toner Cartridges?

There are essentially 3 different types of toner cartridges based on how they are manufactured….

Genuine — Genuine printer toner cartridges are also referred to as OEM cartridges or those made by the original equipment manufacturer. They are sold by the printer manufacturers, such as HP or Xerox. These OEM cartridges come with excellent guarantees and feature only a genuine brand printer toner. The printer manufacturer may warn you about using only branded and genuine OEM printer toner cartridges with their printers. If you don’t, you risk losing your equipment warranty. The only real issue with these Genuine OEM toner cartridges is that they are expensive.

Compatible – Compatible or generic toner cartridges are those that are manufactured by third-party companies. They are sold under various brand names and differ only slightly in comparison to OEM toner cartridges at design, look and page yield. These cartridges are cheaper than Genuine OEM toner cartridges. They are also less reliable – while some of these cartridges may contain more toner and print more pages than original cartridges, others may not last that long. Some of the compatible toner cartridges provide a very subpar print quality and may give you pages with dirty backgrounds. So you should do your research on the reputation of the manufacturer before buying compatible cartridges.

Remanufactured – In Remanufactured toner cartridges you are basically refilling the cartridge with new toner. These are refurbished cartridges where the worn or damaged parts are changed. The quality of the toner and the remanufacturing process varies from one manufacturer to another. Some of the remanufactured cartridges cannot be relied upon – they are known to malfunction, leading to the leaking of the toner, and even resulting in a lot of damage to the printer. So you should be careful when choosing remanufactured cartridges, and test them out before using them. There are many companies that make high quality remanufactured cartridges where care is taken to ensure that there is no leaking of the toner under any circumstance. Remanufactured toner cartridges are popular because they are much cheaper than OEM cartridges.

Is Recycling of Toner Cartridges Possible?

Yes, recycling of toner cartridges is a widely followed practice. There are many remanufacturers of toner cartridges that collect old or empty cartridges from customers and fill them up with new printer toner. They make sure to salvage 90% of the components from an old cartridge. The recycled or remanufactured cartridges are sold at a steep discount in comparison to the market price.

Recycled cartridges reduce the dependency on petroleum which is used in the production of new toner cartridges, and help minimize the carbon footprint. That’s why even original equipment manufacturers such as Hewlett Packard have launched comprehensive recycling programs for used cartridges.

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