The Truth About Compatible vs. OEM Toner

By: Marco
June 5, 2023

When it comes to toner, you have choices: do you purchase the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) toner, or go with a cheaper, but allegedly compatible toner? Depending on the age of your printing equipment, you also might have remanufactured cartridges available. But when it comes to printing, what's the difference? 

Let’s get started! 

What Is Toner?

While many people believe ink and toner are roughly the same thing, their make-up and functionality are very different. Ink is liquid that is sprayed on the print, but toner is a powder that relies on static electricity and a fuser to print onto paper. Essentially, the static electricity draws the toner to the printer drum, and then the fuser melts the toner onto the page.

It’s a more complicated process, and not all toners are up to the task. 

OEM Cartridges

OEM toner cartridges are manufactured by the company that developed your printer. Generally, you'll find OEM toners are a bit more expensive, but they're also the most precise and most capable of producing the best quality print your printer can create. In addition, the fail rate is generally lower, and it's less likely you'll end up with a toner malfunction.

Compatible Toner Cartridges

A compatible toner is a generic alternative to the OEM toner. While all OEM toners for your printer are virtually identical due to the high standard of quality control, generic toner quality varies widely, depending on the remanufacturing process and brand.

Although both OEM and compatible toner cartridges are tested in the equipment they will be used in, they may not function to the same standards set by the printer manufacturer. Corners can be cut in the production and testing of some compatible toner cartridges so they can win on price. Saving money upfront to purchase compatible toners can affect the quality, print volume per cartridge, and fail rate if you don’t select your vendor carefully.

Remanufactured Toner Cartridges

A remanufactured cartridge is a brand-name cartridge that has been already used. It’s been taken apart, cleaned, tested, and then reassembled and refilled. Using a remanufactured toner cartridge helps keep more cartridges out of landfills and can save you money. 

Unfortunately, remanufactured cartridges may not always be available, especially if your printer is newer. And much like compatible toner cartridges, remanufactured products may be overfilled or have other defects. 

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Most OEM toner cartridges are either patented or copyrighted to work with a particular machine. Due to this copyright, the compatible toners must use a slightly different design — one which may not be ideal for your printer. This can cause issues down the road, such as unnecessary wear on your printer, a higher rate of failure, and lower-quality printouts.

Compatible Toner 

The main benefit of choosing a compatible toner is that it's cheaper. However, there can be a difference between price and value. A compatible toner may be inconsistent and have a shorter lifespan. This means that while you pay less initially, you may end up buying more cartridges because they don't last as long.

Additionally, the following problems might be caused by poor-quality toner: 

  • Inconsistent print density 
  • Vertical lines on the page
  • Prints that are too light
  • Toner smears easily or can be rubbed off 

OEM TonerGraphic of person carrying paper to printer

The only downside to OEM toner is that it comes with a higher price tag, although that may be offset by the lifespan of the toner itself. An OEM toner will generally provide you with more consistent results, it’ll last longer, and it’s covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

Our Two Cents: Compatible Toner vs. OEM Toner

When you browse the Internet, you'll find a lot of questionable websites trying to sell you compatible toner at an extremely low price. If something looks too good to be true, it usually is. And if you’re looking to reduce your print costs, there are far better ways than buying cheap toner, including working with a Managed Print Services (MPS) provider

If you suspect your printing environment is costing you more money than it should, take a hard look at the equipment itself. Old printers use more energy, and they also require more ink and toner. If you’re still using a printer that’s over seven years old, it’s also not equipped with modern cybersecurity protection and doesn’t owe you anything anymore. 

If your printer might be causing the issue, feel free to use our online flowchart to help pinpoint the best printer for your business. 

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Topics: Copiers & Printers