What do you know about ink and toner?


Chances are that at some point within the last year, you’ve changed an ink or toner cartridge. Or perhaps you’ve just supervised the process. And the chances are that during that process a bit of ink or toner was spilled. Have you ever wondered about what was in that stuff? You haven’t? Well, we have. Here is what we found out.

There are numerous kinds of ink available for printers, but we’re going to assume that the type most of us see and use every day is the dye or pigment based inks and toners found in the industry standard OEM or remanufactured cartridges that we can buy at the store or get from our suppliers. These inks and toners stick to a fairly rigid formula of ingredients and manufacturing.

Toner vs Ink
All apologies if your already know the difference between toner and ink. Often times, the terms are used interchangeably. But they shouldn’t be. Toner is a dry, very fine powder that is only used in a copier. It actually changes states as it’s applied to paper. As you’ll read below, it’s ingredients are necessary in order for a copier to work as designed. Dye Ink, as you’ve surmised, is a wet, liquid material that is applied to the surface of the paper. Although more complex, to the naked eye printer dye inks are not all that dissimilar to fountain pen inks.

What Is Copier Toner Made Of?
Copier toner consists mostly of a clear polymer (plastic) such as polyester. This is because it provides two characteristics that make it ideal for use in a copier – it’s easy to move around with static electricity and it melts at a relatively low temperature.

Fused silica, which are microscopic glass beads, are included to ensure a fast and even spread of toner powder over the page and to keep the toner powder from clumping within the cartridge.

Polypropylene wax serves as a lubricant that prevents toner from sticking to the fuser rollers within the copier.

Carbon black gives toner it’s deep, black color. It is essentially burned tar or creosote, and in large doses is carcinogenic. Once dried and adhered to the paper, however, it is far less toxic. Powered pigments such as yellow 180, red 122 and blue 15:3 are added to the clear polymer to produce color copies.

Metals like iron, chromium or zinc are added in order to maintain the static charge within toner and make it cling to the drum.

What Is Dye Ink Made Of?
Printer ink, like every one of us, consists mostly of water. In this case, it is 95%-97% pure, deionized water. And that, believe it or not, is why printer ink is expensive. Super-pure water has been treated to attain the highest levels of purity by removing all contaminants, including organic and inorganic compounds, dissolved and particulate matter and dissolved gases. The three-step process is tedious and therefore quite expensive.

The other 3%-5% of ink consists of the chemical compounds that give the ink it’s required properties. While most manufacturers utilize similar ingredients, the amounts of each one – or the recipe they use – might differ.

Cyclohexanone – This is what gives ink it’s sticking power. Have you ever rubbed a piece of paper, only to have the ink smudge and smear under your thumb? That ink probably had less cyclohexanone than necessary.

Butyl Urea – This prevents the ink from shrinking as it dries, thereby keeping the paper from curling up.

Ethylene Glycol – This compound helps keep the dyes and the water from separating while at rest. It is also one of the more toxic material used in printer ink.

Ethoxylated Acetylenic Diols – This compound keeps the surface tension in the water at the correct levels so that the ink is applied to the printing surface correctly. Without it, the ink would randomly print heavy in some areas and lighter in others.

EDTA – Also known as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, it is another one of the more toxic materials in ink. EDTA helps protect the metal strip found on every print head from corrosion and rust.

Dyes – In order for printer ink to match industry-standardized colors (Pantone, etc.), all ink manufacturers rely on specific dyes, such as Reactive Red 23 (Magenta), Direct Blue 199 and Acid Yellow 23 (also known as tartrazine), to deliver the expected results.

Toxins? Carcinogens? Should You Be Worried?
No. While both ink and toner contain toxic ingredients, you would have to ingest large amounts of them before considering them a true hazard. Even so, if you find yourself as the designated cartridge-changer at your office, taking simple precautions such as not breathing in spilled toner and repackaging the cartridges as soon as they are removed from the device will help you breath easier.

Return to the Tech Trends Newsletter