Make your mark

The defining differences in the use between ink, toners and ribbons are related to the quality of the print and its associated costs.  


Ink cartridges, laser toner cartridges, and printer ribbons are integral components of all printer systems – without them, printers would be rendered useless to us. 

Typically, two separate cartridges are inserted into a printer, one is a coloured cartridge filled with the three primary colours while the other is a black cartridge. Note that while some printers have ‘three-in-one’ colour cartridges, it usually works out cheaper on your ink bill to buy the three colours, cyan, magenta and yellow, as separate refills. This is because manufacturers have included technology into their printers to stop the ink from being used once it reaches a certain level, forcing the consumer to buy a new printer toner. 



When buying a printer, check the cost of the ink replacement and how soon you can expect to have to refill it. Printers are being sold relatively cheaply today, but may initially only come with smaller sized ink cartridges. When a refill is needed, many customers find its ink replacement can cost as much, if not more than the printer itself. 

Also be aware that when some printers are turned on, they clean the cartridge’s nozzles by running ink through them and splattering it on to an absorbent pad within the printer. The cycle is used to keep the tiny nozzles free of dirt, however if you are turning your printer on and off on a daily basis, this can cause a lot of wasted ink.

In laser toner cartridges there is no ink but there is a toner which is a material that facilitates laser printings. Canon offers specialty toners to maximise the performance of black and white or colour printers, copiers and multipurpose machines. They also supply eco-conscious, energy-saving, quick-fixing and many other types of Canon toner cartridges. 

Cartridges are more expensive than their ink based counterparts. This is because the cartridges for laser printers offer the best printing output and are faster. One can take out a large number of print outs of the same superior quality unlike in ink cartridges where the results get blurry quite quickly as the ink starts running out. 

For the smaller or home-based business there are alternatives to buying a printer and subsequently having to buy ink replacements – that of making use of a professional print shop. Work out the cost or savings you might make on ordering quality prints from a vendor as opposed to the convenience of printing at home. 

What are OEM cartridges?

OEM is an abbreviation for Original Equipment Manufacturer. These manufacturers produce the replacement ink or toner for copiers or printers and normally will put the manufacturer’s name on the product, such as Canon, IBM, Sharp, Lexmark, Brother, Epson, etc. For example, a genuine Epson ink cartridge is an entire system for preserving and delivering ink consistently, developed and manufactured by Epson. Epson recommends genuine Epson cartridges as they are specially formulated to consistently produce photo quality prints, guarantee the reliability of your printer and can prolong its life. 


What are compatible cartridges?

Generic cartridges are specially manufactured to meet or exceed OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) specifications and high standards of quality and reliability and offer quality printing results. Manufactured 100% brand new, containing only new components, they are an economical alternative to name-brand cartridges and supplies, and allow for savings over brand-name cartridges and supplies. However there is no certainty you are getting what you are paying for or if the company is reputable. A general recommendation is to go with compatible cartridges if you mainly print text and graphics in black, you don’t need to long term archive your printouts, you print in full colour and do not strive for a 100% perfect print quality, and where a low cartridge price is of high importance to you.


What are remanufactured cartridges?

An environmentally aware option, these have been recycled to meet or exceed OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) specifications. The recycling and reprocessing process involves disassembling, inspecting, cleaning, replacing worn parts, reassembling, and filling the toner or ink. Once the remanufacturing process is complete, the cartridge is then print tested, sealed, and packaged for resale.
Not all cartridges can be recycled.  Unserviceable rates vary widely by cartridge style and condition with single colour black virgin cartridges having the highest success rates. On average 90-95% of all virgin single colour cartridges can be serviced.  As the cartridges age, this percentage gets lower.  Cartridges with the highest “unserviceable” rates include most tri-chamber colour cartridges due to their design.  

What are refilled cartridges?

Many well-known printer makers have come up with a solution to provide a printer toner refill for their customers which is not as expensive as an original printer toner. Refilling is carried out in a professional manner by well-known companies which take great care to ensure they do the printer toner refill job properly to ensure that quality is not sacrificed in any way.


Printer Ribbons

Dot matrix printers, more commonly found in offices where forms and documents are printed on duplicate or triplicate paper, those requiring high volume label printing, and some cash registers and point of sale systems use either cloth or plastic ink ribbons, depending on the model of the printer. 

The printer ribbon is an inked soaked strip of cloth, normally encased in a cartridge construction for easy instalment. The advantage with a printer ribbon based printer is the low printing cost and the printer ribbon does not easily dry out. This makes them suitable for printing situations where reliability is more important than the printing quality.

Laser Toner Cartridges 

Toner cartridges are heavier and significantly larger in size compared to ink cartridges. Used in laser printers, fax machines and photocopiers, this is a dry powder or liquid substance called toner. If dry toner is used, the printer melts the toner by heat of the fuser thereby binding the toner to the paper and forming images and text. 

Dry toner is mainly made up of heat sensitive plastic powder. Pigments are added so that different colours can be produced by the toner. Finally, carriers are added so that the toner particles are charged and can be attracted to the right spots on the printed material.

Liquid toner is mainly made up of dye or pigmented acrylic resin particles. The added dye or pigmentation is added to form the colour of the toner. Added to this is an insulating liquid in which the resin particles are hosted.

Pigment inks are not absorbed by the paper but sit on top as small encapsulated particles while dye based inks are absorbed into the paper’s fibres. This basic difference creates differences in areas such as ink stability, colour intensity and contrast. The choice of ink type depends on what result you expect and which characteristics you favour.

Pigment based inks are water fast on most paper media (dye based inks start to run when wet if not printed on specially coated paper), are fast drying (up to 100 times faster compared to dye based inks), have non fading colours, a long life cycle and low bleeding on the edges of the printed colour

Dye based inks are generally high in brilliance and contrast, have wide colour gamut (i.e. the range of colours that can be produced), and are less expensive. Dye based inks are more often used in monochrome printers and pigment inks in colour printers. Pigment inks should be the choice for printer owners who favour long time archival and colour stability in their printouts. 


Solid Ink Stick

The solid ink technology is owned and developed by Xerox which currently is the only printer maker selling printers based on this technology.
A solid ink stick is based on environment friendly resin (similar to crayon), contains no solvents and produces no ozone. Unlike toners and ink which are made by powder or liquid, solid ink sticks are firm, making them impossible to spill, leak or inhale. No cartridge casings made of plastics are needed decreasing the waste volume. According to Xerox this means that 90% less packaging waste is generated compared to a toner cartridge.

Solid ink printers are, together with laser printers, weak when compared with ordinary ink printers when it comes to energy efficiency. Both these printer types require that several internal parts are kept at high temperature due to the melting and fusing process that is used. If putting them into eco/low power mode this means that a special warm up period needs to be completed before the printers can print again.



Ink is just one of three important factors for getting good print results. It’s of equal importance that the quality of the printer hardware and the printer paper also holds a good standard. NOR Paper is one of South Africa’s largest paper merchants and a one-stop shop for all printing and allied trades, stationers and small businesses. Along with an extensive and competitively priced range of paper products, they pride themselves on delivering a high quality service to cater for all their individual client needs. Their paper range includes: Coated Paper, Uncoated Woodfree paper, Packaging Materials, and Specialised Media.


What is CMYK?


CMYK refers to the four inks used in some colour printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). The “K” in CMYK stands for key because in four-colour printing, cyan, magenta, and yellow printing plates are carefully keyed, or aligned, with the key of the black key plate. 

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