Laser Cartridges – How Do They Work?

Laser cartridges contain a photosensitive drum onto which a positive charge is transferred electro-statically. A laser beam then transfers the image from a smart device or computer onto the drum. Wherever the beam hits the positively charged drum, the charge is changed from positive to negative. The negatively charged areas attract ultra-fine, positively charged toner particles from a roller that has been coated with toner. When the positively charged toner particles adhere to the negatively charged areas on the drum unit, they become negatively charged.

A sheet of paper with a positive charge is then passed close to the drum and the negatively charged particles of toner are attracted off the drum and onto the paper. The paper, which is now carrying the image, is passed between two heated rollers. Because the toner is made up of an ultra-fine polymer (plastic) mixed with pigment, the heat and pressure from the rollers melt the particles onto the surface of the paper. The image then becomes permanently adhered to the surface of the paper. If the sheet is not taken through the heat rollers, then the toner powder creating the image on the sheet can easily be dusted off the page. The clever use of static electricity and the alternating positive and negative charging of the various components produce surprisingly good-quality print output.

What’s Inside?

Laser cartridges are far more complex than inkjet cartridges. They contain a dry mixture of ultra-fine plastic powder mixed with either black or coloured pigments (colouring agents). Laser cartridges may contain black toner only or may also have cyan, magenta and yellow toner in addition to the black. There are a series of different rollers, gears and plastic or rubber strips in each unit as well as a reservoir or hopper which holds the toner powder and a photosensitive drum. A retractable plastic flap covers the drum to protect it from light before it is installed into the printer. The mechanical complexity of laser cartridges makes them more expensive to manufacture than inkjet units and, consequently, they are usually more expensive to replace than their inkjet counterparts.

What Options Are on Offer?

The manufacturers of laser printers and copiers make replacement laser cartridges for the machines that they manufacture. These are known as OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) cartridges and are manufactured to strict quality standards and will usually produce prints as good as the original unit that the printer was supplied with. They also come with a warranty. They are typically more expensive than some of the alternatives available.

New laser cartridges, made by third-party manufacturers, are also available. These are essentially copies of the OEM units made by a company other than the original manufacturer of the printer. They are generally known as “compatible” laser cartridges. They may offer acceptable quality for a lower price than OEM units.

Remanufactured cartridges are OEM units that have been recycled. They are stripped, cleaned and worn and damaged parts are replaced. They are then refilled with the remanufacturer’s own toner formulation, re-packaged and sold.

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