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What are the Different Types of Printer Ink?

Katriena Knights
Katriena Knights

Different types of printers and print jobs require different types of ink. As a result, there are several types of printer ink available, giving consumers a wide variety of choices based on what kind of printer they own and what they are planning to print with it. In addition, different companies make ink and ink cartridges, providing less expensive alternatives than name brands, though of course, the printer manufacturing companies recommend using name brand cartridges for the best results.

Ink cartridges are used only in inkjet printers — laser printers use toner, a powdery substance that is fused to the paper during the printing process. Cartridges come in different sizes and configurations, all designed to fit different models of printers. Many companies produce ink cartridges, including recycled, refilled cartridges or cartridges designed to work with brand name printers but at a lower cost. It is important for consumers to purchase the right kind of ink and the right size of cartridge for a particular printer, because printers have different sizes of apertures in which the ink cartridges must fit.

Ink cartridges for an inkjet printer.
Ink cartridges for an inkjet printer.

The majority of inkjet printers use liquid ink of some kind, whether it is pigment-based or dye-based. Pigment-based inks bond to the paper somewhat better than dye-based inks, reducing the likelihood that ink will bleed through the paper. Dye-based printer ink provides brighter colors in a wider range, but bleed-through is more common. Waterproof ink also is a popular option, because most liquid inks will bleed if the final product becomes wet.

Toner cartridges for a laser printer.
Toner cartridges for a laser printer.

Some printers use solid ink — blocks of a colored, waxy substance usually made largely of vegetable oils that is melted and applied to the paper during the printing process. This type is said to provide more vibrant colors and very high-quality printing, and to produce much less waste than traditional ink cartridges with liquid ink. This move toward green, or eco-friendly, ink has led many in the industry to change their approach to how the ink is manufactured and distributed. Recycled ink cartridges have become more common, with many manufacturers supplying envelopes to mail back the empty cartridges for easy recycling. Companies often still recommend original equipment manufacture (OEM) cartridges, however.

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Discussion Comments


I remember the first time I had to handle the printer ink refill in the printer at work. That printer is huge and really old, and I didn't know what to expect.

It uses a toner cartridge instead of liquid ink. The cartridge was really long and narrow, and it looked like part of an old typewriter or something!

I had to pull a strip out of the cartridge before placing it in the printer. When I did, some toner fell out, so I was glad that I was holding it over the trash can.

My hands had black powder on them when I was finished. I had no idea whether or not it was toxic, so I washed it off with soap and water immediately.


@giddion – Different printers house their ink differently, so that might be one thing you consider before buying one. Sometimes, the color printer ink is sold in one package, and you have to buy cyan, magenta, and yellow whether you are out of all three colors or not.

However, some printers let you buy and replace each color separately. In my mind, these are ideal. You rarely ever run out of two colors at the same time, much less all three, so it seems wasteful to have to replace all just because one is gone.


I will be buying a color printer within the next few months, and I have never worked with one before. Do color ink printer ink cartridges come with all the colors in one set, or do you have to buy them separately?


I don't have a color printer, so all I have to buy is black printer ink. I buy the liquid kind, and the cartridge snaps right into place.

I open the lid of the printer, and the little cartridge moves horizontally across to the other side. I pull it out, replace it, and put the lid back down, and I can hear the new cartridge traveling back to the other side.

The printer always prints a test page after I replace a cartridge. I don't even have to tell it to do this.

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