What is a printer drum?

Sometimes print quality suffers when the toner isn’t What is drumlow. The printer may flash warnings that there is an error, but the toner is nowhere near empty when checking the levels.

While misleading enough, your printer may use a “photosensitive drum,” or a printer drum. Drums need fewer replacements than toner cartridges but can damage the printer if not replaced. ‘Office’ style printers usually have drum cartridges, although they are found in some smaller printers.

Most people are unsure of what a printer drum is, and who knew printers even had something called a drum, to begin with? These are easy questions to ask, but a simple answer is hard to find in the vaults of the internet.


The toner cartridge holds the powder creating the image while the drum unit transfers the toner powder to the paper.

There is also a difference between ink cartridges and toner cartridges, luckily, we explain these differences in a previous article through a comparative table. Inkjet printers use ink cartridges with actual liquid ink, while laser printers use a fine powder held in the toner cartridges. Ink cartridges are better for printing high-quality images while toner cartridges are better for printing high-quality text and graphics.

Toner cartridges need the photosensitive drum and there is a critical distinction between the drum & the toner cartridge: the toner cartridge houses the powder while the drum picks up the toner and smacks it on the paper— like a marching band drummer performing a drum roll, the printer drum repeatedly deposits the toner from the cartridge onto the paper to create the desired print.


Ink cartridges hold liquid ink while toner cartridges hold powder.

Some printers include the drum and toner cartridge in separate units, needing separate replacement; however, some printers have the drum and toner in the same unit, needing the replacement of only one container. If you are unsure, try searching your model on 123Ink’s Ink & Toner finder and see if the distinction is there, or try the support chat.

The cost per page is lower with drum cartridges despite the larger up-front cost of laser printers. Nonetheless, it is important to know if your printer uses a drum, and what a drum is.

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