toner cartridge vs drum unit - what's the difference?

Anyone who has ever used a laser printer knows how to change

a toner cartridge.


Not everyone knows what drum units are.

So let's define them both before we go

any further:

What's the difference between

a toner cartridge and a drum unit?

The toner powder is kept in a container called a toner cartridge.

The drum unit is an electrically charged cylinder that melts

the toner powder onto the paper to make text

and images.


Both of these parts are necessary to make a print.

Depending on the printer you have, you may be used

to replacing the drum unit every so often,

or you may have never had to do so.

So, why are things different?


All of it depends on how your printer is made.

Depending on what your printer needs for consumables,

the drum unit can be built into the toner cartridge

or sold as a separate unit.

Different types of laser printers

use different supplies.


Some printers only need the toner cartridge to be changed,

while others need both the toner cartridge and the drum unit

to be changed every so often.


Consult the user manual for your printer to find out what supplies

are right for it.


In most printers, the drum unit is built into

the toner cartridge.



HP printers have a drum built in

For example, if you have an HP laser printer, the drum unit

is probably built into the toner.


So, the drum doesn't need to be replaced on its own.

When you buy a new toner for your HP printer,

you also buy a new drum.


Toners and Drum Units for Brother are sold separately.

Some printers, like most Brother laser printers, have separate units

for the toner and the drum.


In this case, the drum unit is not part of the toner

and must be bought separately.


Separate drum units usually need to be replaced after 3–4 toner cartridges.

This is because they last a lot longer than toner cartridges.


Your printer should tell you when it's time to replace the drum,

but if you start to see black spots or lines on the page,

it's probably time to do so.

Person replacing a toner cartrdrige from a printerPerson replacing a toner cartrdrige from a printer

Do all new laser printers include a toner and drum?

Most laser printers do come with a starter toner cartridge

and, if needed, a drum.


Why do I need a drum?

The toner powder in the cartridge can't get onto the page

without a drum unit.


When you put the two parts together, you get a print!

You can't just have one and not have the other

if you want the printer to work.


Do I need to buy a drum unit separately?

It depends on what kind of laser printer you have.

The drum unit of most HP laser printers is built

into the toner cartridge.


But the drum units for Brother laser printers are sold separately,

so you will also need to replace the toner cartridges.


It shouldn't be a problem because the drum unit

doesn't need to be replaced for a long time.



What kind of printer works best?

There isn't really a "better" printer in this case.

Printers that use toners that include a drum unit

work just as well as printers that use

a separate toner and drum.


The only difference worth mentioning is the price

of consumables and how that affects how often

they need to be replaced.


Toners that come with a drum tend to cost a bit more

than a single toner that you buy separately.


It also makes sense that the price went up,

since you are basically paying more

for a new cartridge and drum unit

every time you run out of toner.


If you buy a new toner/drum combo every time,

your print quality will stay the same for the life

of your printer.


However, this extra cost adds up, especially

if the cartridges cost more than $100 each.


The way the cost of a separate toner and drum unit

is broken down is a little bit different.


Most of the time, separate toners are cheaper because

you only have to pay for the part of the toner

that holds the powder.


The technology isn't quite as complicated as a toner/drum

combination cartridge, so it doesn't cost as much

to make.


Remember that the drum unit will need to be replaced

at some point.


As we've already said, a drum usually needs to be replaced

after 3–4 toners. Drum units can cost at least $100 or more,

so there will be an extra cost in the long run.


Summing it up

It's up to the customer to decide what kind of printer is best.

Some customers prefer to pay a little more for toner

that comes with a drum.


This way, they don't have to worry about the quality of their prints

getting worse over time or having to buy a separate consumable

every time their prints get splotchy.


Others might prefer a separate toner cartridge because it saves them money

right away and they don't mind buying a new drum every once in a while.


No matter what kind of printer you choose, make sure you think about

the cost of the cartridges and the drum, if you need one.

This will help you know how much it will cost

to replace things in the long run.