Printer Cartridges and Toner Buying Guide

Whether for a home or business printer, the most common supply you'll have to buy is ink or toner depending on your machine. While there are many differences between these supplies, there are numerous similarities when it comes to finding the right cartridge. Striking a balance between price and quality will ensure that you get the best cartridge on the market without using all your money.

Types of Printer and Toner Cartridges

There are many different types of printer and toner cartridges to choose from. When it comes to ink or toner itself, there are three classifications that you should know of. The first two are about how the colors are mixed in the ink or toner, and the third is about the capacity.

You can choose between either dye-based or pigment-based inks. Pigment-based inks have suspended particles in a liquid while dye-based inks use a dye dissolved in the liquid. While dye-based cartridges are often cheaper, they are more susceptible to water and sun damage. Unless you are trying to save every penny, you should get pigment-based cartridges.

There are also high-capacity cartridges. These units might be somewhat bigger than conventional ones because they hold substantially more ink or toner. Just be sure that it fits in your printer. If installation isn't an issue, then this is one of the best ways to print more sheets at a lower cost.

Another big distinction between cartridges is how they are made. You have original, Original Equipment Manufacturer, or OEM, and refilled. Original cartridges are made directly by the printer company. For example, if you buy a Canon or HP printer, then an original cartridge would come directly from Canon or HP. These typically have the best quality and avoid any installation issues, but they are the most expensive.

OEM can be hit or miss depending on the company. These are cartridges that are built with similar parts and to the same specs as original, but sometimes the company will cut corners and create an inferior product. Aside from this issue, installation issues may arise because printer companies do their best to keep you from buying OEM products. OEM is one of the least expensive options.

Refilled or refurbished cartridges are typically original cartridges that have been professional refilled. They may not have exactly as much ink as the original cartridge, but this allows you to avoid installation issues while still paying a little less.

Pay Attention to

Printer Compatibility

This is the most important thing you need to consider when buying a cartridge. If the cartridge won't fit, then it's practically useless. Be sure to find a cartridge that works with your printer so that it fits and properly disperses ink or toner. Most original cartridges are made for a specific line of printers while OEM may fit either a specific line or a broad range of units. Do not forget this unless you want to waste money on buying and returning cartridges.


Also referred to as maximum number of sheets, this is a measurement of how many sheets the cartridge can print on before running out of ink or toner. As a general rule, toner can typically print more sheets than ink, but you must have a laser printer to use toner. This will help you see if you're getting a good deal. For example, if you can find a cartridge that's the same price or just slightly more expensive that prints 100 or more sheets, then it's worth the price.


Most cartridges either come separately or as a pack. While you may sometimes need to buy cartridges separately, it's almost always a better idea to buy them as a pack. Not only will you get all or most of the ink or toner types together, but packs are typically significantly cheaper than buying the cartridges separately. You might end up with one or two cartridges that you don't need right now, but you will need them sooner or later.

Cartridge Type

Choosing between original, OEM or refilled can be a very difficult decision, especially if you don't have much experience buying anything except for original cartridges. Original cartridges are definitely the best if you don't want to deal with any problems. Not only do they have exceptional quality and are guaranteed to work with your printer, but they also typically come with warranties if anything breaks or doesn't work.

Refilled cartridges are next when it comes to convenience. Depending on what type of ink or toner is used, these cartridges can be nearly identical or the same as original cartridges in terms of quality. The capacity is often a little less, but not by much. You also won't have to deal with installation issues because they are original cartridges with new ink or toner.


OEM can be difficult if you don't know the company. Most manufacturers produce units that are close to the originals, but there are some out there that will create low quality units. This can lead to problems with print quality and installation issues. At the same time, finding a good OEM seller can lead to great ink and toner at a very low cost.


This is only a concern for very old printers with obsolete cartridges. If the cartridge is very old, then the ink or toner will dry or cake and make the cartridge unusable. This typically only occurs after five or so years, so you should be fine with most purchases.

Top Brands and Product Lines


Specializes in photo inkjet printers with vibrant colors. This ink is best for photo paper and marketing materials.


A general producer of ink and toner for their various printer models. Provides excellent quality and capacity at a moderate cost.


Excels in business environments and primarily sells toner for laser printers. Cartridges have massive capacities and users can choose quality level based on selected cartridge.


Finding the best ink or toner cartridge is very easy once you know what to look for. Aside from price, you should also consider the quality of the cartridge itself along with capacity and age. There are many sellers of these cartridges, but finding the best is simple with a little searching.