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What's The Difference Between a Toner Cartridge and a Drum Unit?

Everyone who owns a laser printer is familiar with replacing a toner cartridge. Not everyone is as familiar with drum units, however by the time you've finished reading this article from you will be an expert!

Before we go any further, let’s define them both:

The toner cartridge is the container that holds the toner powder. The drum unit is an electrically charged cylinder that fuses that toner powder onto paper to create text and images.

Both of these components are essential for producing a print. Depending on what printer you own, you might be used to replacing your drum unit occasionally, or you may have never had to replace a drum unit. So, why the inconsistency? It is all contingent on the design of your printer. A drum unit can be incorporated with the toner cartridge or sold separately as a single unit, depending on the consumable requirements of your printer. Laser printers and their consumables vary across printer models. Some printers only need you to replace the toner cartridge, and others require that you regularly replace both the toner cartridge and the drum unit. Consult your printer’s user manual to determine what consumables are appropriate for your machine.

This is what a drum unit with a toner cartridge looks like:

This is what a drum unit looks like without the toner cartridge:

Most printers use toner cartridges with the drum unit built into the cartridge. If you own an HP laser printer, for example, the drum unit is likely incorporated into the toner. Therefore, there is no need to replace the drum separately. Every time you buy a new toner for that HP printer, you are replacing the drum. Some printers, like most Brother laser printer models, use a separate toner and drum unit. In this case, the drum unit is not built into the toner, and therefore, must be replaced. Separate drum units last quite a bit longer than a toner cartridge and typically should be replaced after the use of 3-4 toners. Your printer should inform you when it’s time to replace the drum, but you can usually tell your drum is on it’s last legs if you start to see black spots or lines across the page.

Do all new laser printers come with a toner and drum?
Yes, most laser printers come with a starter toner cartridge (and drum, if applicable) already installed.

Why do I need a drum?
Without a drum unit, the toner powder in the cartridge cannot be transferred onto the page. The two parts work together to create a print! You can’t have one without the other and expect the printer to work properly.

Do I have to buy a separate drum unit?
It depends on the brand of your laser printer. Most HP laser printers have the drum unit incorporated into the toner cartridge. But for Brother laser printers, the drum units come separately so you will need to replace these in addition to the toner cartridges. It shouldn’t be a bother because it takes quite a bit of time before the drum unit needs to be replaced.

Which type of printer is better?
There is no real winner here in terms of a “better” printer. Printers that use toners with an incorporated drum unit work just as well as printers that use a separate toner and drum.

The only contrast worth noting is the price of consumables and how that pricing affects their replacement. Toners with an incorporated drum tend to be a bit more expensive than a solitary separate toner. That price increase makes sense too, you are essentially paying a premium for a new cartridge and drum unit whenever you run out of toner.

To save more on laser printers, you should consider using our Premium Compatible toner cartridges and drum units.

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