Printer Cartridge Terminology Guide - Part 1

17-07-2014 by

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As with any industry, printing has its own set of terminology, which can be quite confusing, especially when you’re thinking of buying printer ink and toner cartridges. We’ve covered most of these terms before in more extensive posts, so this is really just a handy quick reference guide. In part one, we'll cover the different types of printer cartidges and other printing consumables.

Printer ink

You may not know it, but there are actually two types of printer cartridges for inkjet printers. Ink cartridges and ink tanks. Ink cartridges have the printhead built into the cartridge body and you replace the whole unit every time you replace your cartridge. Examples of these types of ink cartridges are HP ink cartridges and Lexmark ink cartridges.

Ink tanks do not have the printhead attached, they’re basically just a container for the ink. They slot into the printhead built into the printer and you only replace the ink tank when you need to. Canon ink cartridges and Epson ink cartridges are examples of ink tanks.


Printheads work with ink cartridges in order to get the ink onto the page. Printheads contain the thousands of tiny nozzles that heat up and spray the ink onto the page. Printheads are also the most common cause of poor quality prints as they can become blocked by dry ink. Most often, poor quality printing can be fixed with a printhead clean.

Dye and pigment inks

We covered the difference between dye and pigment-based inks in our blog post What Is The Difference Between Pigment And Dye-Based Ink Cartridges?. The difference lies in the formulation of the ink itself. Pigment inks use a pigment suspended in the ink to transfer colour, while dye-based inks use dye and other vibrancy enhancing optical compounds to produce colour.

Pigment ink cartridges are best for archival quality documents and documents that will be exposed to a lot of sunlight, while dye-based ink cartridges are best for printing off your family photos due to their more vibrant colours.

Toner cartridges

Toner cartridges are used inside laser printers. They use toner powder (a mixture of pigment powder, iron oxide and wax or plastic) to transfer text to page when printing. Most toner cartridges offer higher yields that ink cartridges and last considerably longer due to the fact that toner powder is dry.

However, toner cartridges do not produce the same quality images as ink cartridges, as the colour mixing process is not as exact. There are two types of toner cartridges: those that have a built in imaging drum unit and those that don’t. Most HP toner cartridges have the drum unit built in, while all Brother toner cartridges need a separate drum unit.

Imaging drum units

In our post What is the Difference Between a Toner Cartridge and a Drum Unit?, we covered the difference between drum units and toner cartridges in more depth. Essentially, a drum unit is a photosensitive metal drum that holds an electrical charge. Toner powder sticks to the charged portions of the drum unit and the drum then heats up and melts the toner onto the page when you print.

Drum units that are separate from their toner cartridges usually last much longer and will only need to be replaced after 3 or 4 toner cartridges have been replaced.

High yield printer cartridges

High yield toner and ink cartridges usually have more ink or toner powder in them than standard yield cartridges. This means that the cartridge can print more pages than the standard yield cartridge. Most high yield cartridges are more expensive, but they do have a lower cost per page. High yield cartridges are ideal for people who print large volumes of documents or photos.

We cover this in our post What is a High Yield Printer Cartridge?.

This list is by no means exhaustive. If you have any questions, you can contact us and we’ll gladly help. You can also check out our Support & FAQ page for more answers to commonly asked questions.

Nic Venter

About the author

Nic Venter+

 is the founder and director of He started the business in 2009 with the idea to sell ink and toner cartridges online and to provide you with a quality product, value for money and convenience. He regularly blogs on about printing and technology. Part of his philosophy is having fun and making sure that he and his team think everything ink, so you don't have to.

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