Toner Cartridges vs Printer Drums Explained

The term printer drum is often mentioned when discussing laser printers and toner cartridges, but what exactly is it? There can be a little bit of confusion as to the role the drum plays in the printing process, and we aim to clear the confusion up on this page by explaining the drum’s purpose and how it differs from the toner cartridge (a part it works in conjunction with).

Printers consist of many different parts, and ensuring you have a basic knowledge of what they are, where they are located, and what they do, can help you to solve an issue if it arises (or at least know where the issue is stemming from!).

What is a printer drum?

Printer drums are a part of laser printers. A printer drum is a cylinder that is electrically charged and is responsible for transferring toner onto the paper via heat and pressure. The image lines drawn on the drum are created by laser beams, and contain electrical charge. These images become negatively-charged, which lets the positively-charged toner cling to the drum’s surface. These charged lines pick up particles of toner when the drum unit passes over them. This then creates the images and text we see printed out.

The printer drum can also be referred to as the “photosensitive drum”.

Toner cartridges and printer drums: what’s the difference?


It’s less a case of the choice of either of these parts (as both components are present in modern laser printers), and more of the differing roles each play. In simple terms, the main difference is that a toner cartridge holds the toner powder, while the printer drum transfers the toner powder onto the paper.

Depending on the type of laser printer you have, these two components could be housed together or separately. In order to find out which type of configuration you have, it is best to look up the specifications of your make and model of laser printer.

How long do printer drums last?


Much like with inkjet printers, your laser printer should inform you when it is time to change the drum. The amount of pages that can be created from a single drum can be as many as 50,000, but this all depends upon the specific printer. By researching the type of printer and drum you have, you should be able to find out the estimated time your printer drum will last for.

How do you know you need to change your printer drum?

While your machine should let you know when it’s coming up to time to change the drum, you may also be able to tell due to spots or lines appearing on a printed page. Some other tell-tale signs that a printer drum needs replacing include blurry prints, blank prints, or error messages. Like many elements of printers, the signs that you need to change your drum differ from make/model to make/model.


How do you remove a printer drum?


In order to change the printer drum, you will need to remove the old component and replace it with a new one. The steps to change the drum depends on your specific printer. Generally, there is a door that you can open to access the toner and drum unit, and a button or switch that releases the part. If you are looking for information on how to change the drum for your laser printer, have a look in the instruction manual that can with your machine, or if you’ve misplaced the leaflet, Google the make and model and find the instructions online.

Examples of printers that contain printer drums


All modern laser printers contain printer drums. Some examples of printers that contain drums are shown below:


Brother Mono Laser MFC-L2750DW

View our MFC-L2750DW toner cartridges

This laser printer can print pages at speeds up to 34 pages per minute. It is monochrome, and has a built-in NFC reader, automatic 2-sided printing and scanning, and is enabled with wireless and Wi-Fi Direct. The MFC-L2750DW can print, scan, copy, and fax, and has a 6.8cm touchscreen display.

HP LaserJet Pro M180nw


View our M180nw toner cartridges

The M180nw can print, copy, and scan pages. It can create documents both in black and white and in colour, and is compatible with Apple AirPrint, HP ePrint, plus more. It can print both colour and black and white pages at speeds up to 17 pages per minute, and has a 2-line LCD display.

Printer drums are a vital part of a laser printer. They work in conjunction with the toner cartridge, transferring the toner onto the paper, to create prints. All modern laser printers have a printer drum, and as this component will likely require replacing sometime during your ownership of the printer, it is important to know a little bit about it so as to not get caught out!

Time to replace your printer’s drum?


If you think your printer’s drum might require replacing, or would simply like to know how to change the drum in your specific printer, check out the instruction manual that came with your machine. If this had been misplaced, you can search for a copy of your printer manual online for instructions.