A toner cartridge, also called laser toner, is the consumable component of a laser printer. Toner cartridges contain toner powder, a fine, dry mixture of plastic particles, carbon, and black or other coloring agents that make the actual image on the paper. The toner is transferred to paper via an electrostatically charged drum unit, and fused onto the paper by heated rollers during the printing process.
Low-end to mid-range laser printers typically contain two consumable parts: the toner cartridge itself (which has a typical life of 2,000 pages) and the drum unit (a typical life of 40,000 pages). Some toner cartridges incorporate the drum unit in the design and therefore replacing the toner means replacing the drum unit every single time, although some consider this type unessential and therefore not cost-effective. Toner Cartridges are similar to ink cartridges, which are used in Inkjet printing.
Toner cartridges can be expensive, sometimes exceeding the cost of cheaper laser printers. As a result some people dispose of the printer when it is out of toner (thereby negating any "green" or "eco friendly" claims made by the manufacturers) and replace the entire machine. Ironically, new machines generally come with toners that are only ⅓ full. Consumers also can opt to buy generic brand laser toners, manufactured by companies other than the printer manufacturer. These toners are widely available at a fraction of the price of the genuine brand replacement. Toner refill kits are also an option, allowing the consumer to simply refill an empty cartridge.
Genuine or OEM
Also known as "original equipment manufacturer" (OEM) are cartridges sold by the printer manufacturers. Manufacturers offer certain guarantees when you use genuine brand toner in your printer and makes certain threats if you don't, voiding warranty is a typical accusation made, although in many countries this is illegal. Genuine cartridges are more expensive than refills, compatibles or re-manufactured cartridges.
"Compatible", "generic", or "alternative brand" are cartridges manufactured by third party companies and sold under different brand names. Compatible cartridges may vary slightly in look, design and page yield to their OEM counterparts, sometimes due to patents or design copyrights. Generic cartridges are cheaper, often significantly so, than original manufacturer cartridges. They may be less reliable, depending upon the manufacturer. Some contain more toner than OEM cartridges, printing more pages. Some compatible toner cartridges have equal or even better qualities than their OEM competitors, because they are manufactured in the same factory.
Remanufactured or Toner refill
Remanufacturing is, at least, refilling a cartridge with toner. The term implies that the cartridge is also refurbished, with worn or damaged parts replaced. The remanufacturing process, and the quality of the toner, differs between remanufacturers. A poorly remanufactured (or newly manufactured) cartridge may leak, malfunction, or damage the printer. Printer manufacturers use a toner designed to be suitable for their printers; remanufactured and third-party cartridges may use a generic toner which is less well matched. While toner cartridges are commonly refilled with results reported to be good, in at least some cases this may leave waste toner from each print and paper debris in the cartridge, potentially causing backgrounding problems and producing contamination in the refilled cartridge.
Remanufactured, compatible, OEM and refilled toner cartridges are available from a variety of sources. While compatible and OEM cartridges can be purchased off-the-shelf, smaller remanufacturers may refill an empty cartridge supplied by a customer. Larger remanufacturers obtain and remanufacture empty cartridges in bulk, and sell them without delay.