Difference Between a Toner Cartridge and a Drum Unit

Toner and drum units are some of the most important components in laser printers. Yet most users cannot differentiate one from the other. Something that can be very confusing when you’re planning to replace one or both components.

Well, if you don’t know the difference between toner and drum, you’ll find this article quite useful. Also, you’ll get a better understanding of the maintenance and replacement of these consumables. First, let’s check out the definition of each component!

What is a drum cartridge?

A drum cartridge/ imaging unit refers to the part that is attached to a tone cartridge. It’s a metal cylinder with a unique coating to receive a static charge from the laser light. In essence, the drum unit isn’t the part with the color.

Instead, it’s the part that helps the image or text stick to the print paper. Thanks to the photosensitive coating covering the cylinder.

What does a drum cartridge do?

The drum cartridge is the laser printer’s width, which is usually a standard paper’s width. On the same note, this unit has a rolling mechanism, which moves at the same pace as the paper print. That aside, the printer places the toner on the ‘photosensitive drum’.

This triggers an electrostatic charge that helps to draw the image/ text onto the drum. As this happens, parts of the photosensitive drum that haven’t been hit by the laser remain neutral. While the toner dispenses ink to the parts that the laser has hit.

Lastly, the powder drawn onto the drum through the static charge is transferred to the paper. Generally speaking, the powder will not be transferred onto a page without the drum unit.

What is a toner cartridge?

By definition, a toner cartridge is a container that holds the powder that creates an image or text. That powder holds a negative charge and is made up of ground plastic. When the drum unit becomes electrically charged, the particles are drawn to the paper.

As you can see, both toner and drum cartridges work together to produce the expected results. More importantly, one component will not function without the other.

So, without a drum cartridge, the toner particles will not be transferred to the paper. And without the toner cartridge, there are no particles to transfer onto the paper for printing.

How does a toner cartridge work?

A toner cartridge performs the task in laser printing as an ink cartridge in inkjet printers. That’s providing powder for the printing, meaning you can’t print if the cartridge is empty. When the toner deteriorates or the powder runs short, the print quality will be affected.

In both cases, you’ll have to replace the toner cartridge in your laser printer. Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of what each component is, let’s check out their differences!

Drum cartridge vs toner cartridge: What are the Differences

Role of these Components

The first and most notable difference between a drum unit and a toner cartridge is how they work. As I’ve already mentioned, the toner provides the particles needed to print on paper.

What I may have left out though, is that a toner cartridge holds 2 types of powders; colored and black. Nonetheless, its role is to store the powder particles that help to make text and images on paper. A drum unit, on the other hand, draws powder from the toner, regardless of the color.

Then transfers those particles onto the paper, based on the printing instructions. In other words, the drum unit acts as the link between the paper and the toner cartridge.

As for design, the drum cartridge features a revolving cylinder. This cylinder/ photoreceptor drum transfers powder from the toner cartridge to the paper.


Another notable difference is that a drum unit is photosensitive, while toner is not. This means that the drum is receptive to electrostatic charges and electrical current. Moreover, the drum has an electrical charge that helps it to mold the images and texts.

During the printing process, the laser hits the photosensitive coating, triggering an electrical charge. On the contrary, a toner cartridge doesn’t come into contact with laser light to perform its role. Besides, it’s simply a container that holds the toner powder.

Therefore, it doesn’t receive any electrical charge and it doesn’t need it for any function.


Since a drum and toner are components of a printer, they’re both consumable and replaceable. And their price may vary depending on the manufacturer and printer.

Nonetheless, drum units are generally more costly than toner cartridges. In most cases, the cost of replacing a drum unit tends to be 3 to 4 times the price of a toner cartridge.


Seeing that drum units are more costly, it’s not surprising that they last longer than toners. For that, a printer can use more toner cartridges during its lifetime before you replace a drum unit.

To be precise, a toner cartridge can print around 1,000 pages on an entry-level laser printer. But this capacity can increase to over 10,000 pages on larger printers. Interestingly, that will be the same capacity as a drum unit on an entry-level printer.

Not to forget that the drum unit can print as high as 100,000 pages on larger printers. Better still, you can still print with a drum unit even when it exceeds the recommended limit. However, it’s good to adhere to the warning messages on the printer and replace them at the right time.


The bottom line, drum and toner cartridges are 2 completely different components. However, the printers need both of them to create a print. Therefore, the printer will not function if one of these parts is not working properly.

For that, these are the first parts you should check when your machine is malfunctioning. Luckily, now that you can easily differentiate them, that will be a fairly simple task.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Are a toner and drum the same thing?

Since both a toner and a drum are cartridges, some people assume they’re the same thing, but they are not. The drum is the photosensitive cylinder that draws the powder from the toner onto the paper. While the role of a toner cartridge is to hold the powder particles.

2. What is the difference between image drum and toner?

A toner and an image drum have some significant differences. For instance, a toner contains the powder, while the drum transfers that powder onto a paper. Also, the drum interacts with laser and electrical charge to perform its function.

But a toner cartridge doesn’t need light for any task. Finally, a toner is more replaceable, consumable, and less costly than a drum unit.

3. What is drum cartridge Xerox?

A drum cartridge is an electrically charged revolving cylinder that transfers powders onto paper. In Xerox printers, there is a 4 drum cartridge that can be accessed through the front door.

4. How long does a printer drum last?

In most cases, drum cartridges last up to 10,000 – 50,000 pages. This will vary depending on the quality of the drum unit and laser printer.

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