How Laser Printers Work

Toner Basics

A developer bead coated with small toner particles
Photo courtesy Xerox

One of the most distinctive things about a laser printer (or photocopier) is the toner. It's such a strange concept for the paper to grab the "ink" rather than the printer applying it. And it's even stranger that the "ink" isn't really ink at all.

So what is toner? The short answer is: It's an electrically-charged powder with two main ingredients: pigment and plastic.


The role of the pigment is fairly obvious -- it provides the coloring (black, in a monochrome printer) that fills in the text and images. This pigment is blended into plastic particles, so the toner will melt when it passes through the heat of the fuser. This quality gives toner a number of advantages over liquid ink. Chiefly, it firmly binds to the fibers in almost any type of paper, which means the text won't smudge or bleed easily.