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.
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.
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.