A Closer Look at Toner Cartridges

Updated 3/30/2011 by SuperMediaStore Staff

There are many things in life that we take at face value without ever questioning or wondering why. That is why we are fascinated with shows like the Food Network's Unwrapped, in which people get to see what happens behind closed doors. The article below provides a glimpse of a product that we use everyday at work, and perhaps, know nothing about:  toner cartridges.

What is Toner?

Laser printers and copiers use toner, such as the TN360 and Canon 104 are complicated powders, to form an image. When you want to compose the image on paper, laser printers and copiers force toner powder to form the image that you want. As a final step, the toner image is melted onto the paper.

What started off as a powder then becomes a fluid that ends up as  solid-toner bonded to your page. Every time you print a page with your laser printer, remember that toner walks a fine line of technical compromises that designers of the laser printer implemented.

The Chemistry of Toner

At the chemical level, toner is a blend of plastic resin, color pigments and other ingredients. The resins and colors react to the electrostatic bombardment on their roller coaster ride through a laser printer.

The resins give toner its overall physical ability to start off as a fine powder. They are then mixed at a relatively low temperature to form a permanent plastic solid capable of bonding with paper fibers. The color pigments in the mixture give toner its coloring.

When color laser printers were invented, black was the only color available. It was not until recently that we are seeing cyan, magenta and yellow toners. In the case of magnetic toner, the main ingredient is normally magnetic iron oxide.

A complicated cocktail of charge control agents are served up to help the toner particles respond correctly to the electrostatic hurricane inside the printer.

Toner Manufacturers: Back to Basics

The advent of chemically produced toners is changing the toner game. But the majority of toners like the TN350 are still manufactured using a melt mixing or hot compounding process. The resins, carbon black, magnetic iron oxides, waxes and charge control agents are blended to develop a hot paste with a the consistency not unlike that of cake mix.

This sticky mixture is then cooled either by slabbing it out by extruding it onto a cooling belt or by pelletizing it and cooling the pellets.

This raw toner is then ground to a powder by jet mills or air-swept hammer mills. These processes generate an extensive variety of particle sizes. The over-sized and under-sized toner particles are sifted out in a 1 to 3 pass process.

The pulverized, sifted toner powder is then blended with additives to adjust flow and electrostatic properties. This final blending is critical and hard to control, especially when the additive particle size is much different from that of the toner particle.

While this article may not help you completely understand what makes up a toner cartridge, we hope you have gained a basic understanding of it. Please refer to our other How-To Guides and Articles for additional useful guides and articles.