Toner vs drum unit: Laser printer consumables

Someone asked me about laser printer consumables, specifically toner vs drum unit. That’s a fair question. The drum unit is the gotcha consumable that people sometimes forget about.

Toner vs Drum Unit
This disassembled HP 10a toner cartridge lacks an integrated drum. HP 2300 and other printers that use this cartridge use a separate drum unit.

Why sometimes? Because on higher-end laser printers, the drum and toner are a single unit. On monochrome HP office printers, for example, when you replace the toner, you get a new drum. Or a different drum, at least.

From a technical standpoint, the drum is the part that holds the image before it goes onto the paper. The toner is the ink that the printer melts onto the paper. If you’re low on toner or have a worn-out drum, print quality suffers. Faint print usually means you’re low on toner. Dark bands across the page, or ghost images of previously printed pages mean you have a worn-out drum.

On cheaper printers, the drum and toner may be separate units. Drums usually last longer than toner cartridges. So keeping the drum separate lowers the cost of the toner, making the up-front costs look lower. The downside is that eventually you do have to replace the drum, and by the time you do, the store that sold you the printer may not carry the part anymore.

What about refilled toner cartridges? A reputable remanufacturer tests the drum and replaces it if need be. Usually it’s OK to reuse the drum two or three times. But not everyone replaces drums when they should. So I recommend buying cartridges from 4inkjets rather than from random sellers on Ebay or Amazon. I’ve never had a bad cartridge from 4inkjets, but every cartridge I bought off Ebay or Amazon developed problems long before its life expectancy was up. That’s the difference between remanufacturing toner cartridges and merely refilling them.

Laser printers always cost less than inkjets once you factor in consumables. But when you’re shopping for a laser, make sure you find out whether the drum is separate or integrated. If it’s separate, find out what it costs, how long it lasts, and where to get one.

2 thoughts on “Toner vs drum unit: Laser printer consumables

  • August 6, 2017 at 6:36 pm
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    I will second Dave’s suggestion regarding http://4inkjets.com/ as a source for toner cartridges.
    I’m still using a HPLJ1100 from 1999, and have learned two things:

    1. The pickup rollers need replacing every few years (hunt the parts down yourself) raw rubber degrades with time. LOL, Dave will remember the platens on typewriters, I’m sure!

    2. Use a dust cover! Sounds silly, but 24½ hours of the day, your printer is getting full of dust.

    Reply
    • August 7, 2017 at 7:55 am
      Permalink

      In 1989 when I learned to type, my school still used Olympia manual typewriters. Learning to type on manual typewriters is one reason I don’t like mushy computer keyboards.

      I’ve also found that cleaning pickup rollers can increase their life expectancy a bit and let you put off replacement.

      Reply

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