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The Difference Between a Toner Cartridge and a Drum Unit

The Difference Between a Toner Cartridge and a Drum Unit

Everyone who owns a laser printer is familiar with replacing a toner cartridge. Not everyone is as familiar with drum units. So before we go any further, let’s define them both:

What’s the difference between a drum unit and toner cartridge?

The toner cartridge is the container that holds the toner powder. The drum unit is an electrically charged cylinder that fuses that toner powder onto paper to create text and images.

Both of these components are essential for producing a print. Depending on what printer you own, you might be used to replacing your drum unit occasionally, or you may have never had to replace a drum unit.  So, why the inconsistency?  It is all contingent on the design of your printer. A drum unit can be incorporated with the toner cartridge or sold separately as a single unit, depending on the consumable requirements of your printer.  Laser printers and their consumables vary across printer models. Some printers only need you to replace the toner cartridge, and others require that you regularly replace both the toner cartridge and the drum unit.  Consult your printer’s user manual to determine what consumables are appropriate for your machine.

This is what a drum unit with a toner cartridge looks like:

This is what a drum unit looks like without the toner cartridge:

Most printers use toner cartridges with the drum unit built into the cartridge.

HP Toners Have an Incorporated Drum

If you own an HP laser printer, for example, the drum unit is likely incorporated into the toner. Therefore, there is no need to replace the drum separately. Every time you buy a new toner for that HP printer, you are replacing the drum.

Brother Toners and Drum Units Come Separate

Some printers, like most Brother laser printer models, use a separate toner and drum unit. In this case, the drum unit is not built into the toner, and therefore, must be replaced. Separate drum units last quite a bit longer than a toner cartridge and typically should be replaced after the use of 3-4 toners. Your printer should inform you when it’s time to replace the drum, but you can usually tell your drum is on it’s last legs if you start to see black spots or lines across the page.

Do all new laser printers come with a toner and drum?

Yes, most laser printers come with a starter toner cartridge (and drum, if applicable) already installed.

Why do I need a drum?

Without a drum unit, the toner powder in the cartridge cannot be transferred onto the page. The two parts work together to create a print!  You can’t have one without the other and expect the printer to work properly.

Do I have to buy a separate drum unit?

It depends on the brand of your laser printer. Most HP laser printers have the drum unit incorporated into the toner cartridge. But for Brother laser printers, the drum units come separately so you will need to replace these in addition to the toner cartridges. It shouldn’t be a bother because it takes quite a bit of time before the drum unit needs to be replaced.

Which type of printer is better?

There is no real winner here in terms of a “better” printer. Printers that use toners with an incorporated drum unit work just as well as printers that use a separate toner and drum.

The only contrast worth noting is the price of consumables and how that pricing affects their replacement.

Toners with an incorporated drum tend to be a bit more expensive than a solitary separate toner. 

That price increase makes sense too, you are essentially paying a premium for a new cartridge and drum unit whenever you run out of toner.

To illustrate let’s compare two printers: the Brother HL-L2340dw printer which uses a toner cartridge and drum unit (the TN630 and the DR-630 respectively), and the HP LaserJet P1102w printer which uses an integrated toner-drum unit (the HP 85a).

Brother HL-L2340dw HP LaserJet P1102w
How many pages can each cartridge print How many pages can each cartridge print
Brother TN-630 1,200 pages $39.99 HP 85A 1,600 pages $19.99
Brother DR-630 12,000 pages $33.99
To print 4,800 pages, your cost will be:
Brother TN-630 and DR-630 combo $73.98 HP 85A $96.97

The comparison above confirms what we mentioned earlier: that the Brother printer with the separate toner and drum unit is more economical than the HP LaserJet P1102w with the integrated toner-drum unit.

Buying a new toner/drum combination every time ensures your print quality is consistent throughout the life of your printer, but that premium cost adds up, especially if those cartridges are upwards of a hundred dollars.  The price breakdown of a separate toner and separate drum unit is slightly different.  Separate toners are generally less expensive since you are just paying for the container part that holds the toner powder.  The technology is not quite as complex as a toner/drum combination cartridge, so it doesn’t cost as much to produce.

Keep in mind, the drum unit will need to be replaced eventually, as we mentioned previously, a drum is typically replaced after the use of 3-4 toners.  Drum units can cost at least a hundred dollars or more, so an added expense will ultimately come into play. What type of printer is best is all up to customer preference.  Some customers prefer paying a bit more for toner with an incorporated drum, that way they don’t have to worry about diminished print quality over time, or need to go out and buy a separate consumable whenever their prints get spotty.  Others might prefer the immediate cost savings of a separate toner cartridge, and don’t mind investing in a new drum occasionally.

Whichever printer type you go with, make sure you factor in the price of the cartridges and the drum (if required), so have a clear understanding of replacement costs over the long term.

To save more on laser printers, you should consider using compatible toner cartridges and drum units. For instance, a compatible Brother DR-630 drum unit only costs $33.99 whereas an original Brother DR-630 will run you $67.69 making the compatible option 99.15% cheaper.

To get a better understanding of how a separate toner cartridge and drum unit install in a Brother laser printer, check out our video below.  If you are wondering why we don’t have a similar video for a toner with an incorporated drum unit, it’s because the installation process is as simple as installing a toner cartridge, all you have to do is slide the toner into your printer!

We hope you found this explanation helpful.  If you have any questions about your toner or drum cartridge, or have a laser printer that you’d like to recommend, drop us a line in the comments section below.

Cartridge Series
Thank you for reading this post! This article is written by a team of ink experts at LD Products - a Long Beach, California-based company that specializes in compatible ink and toner.  With over 20 years of printing expertise, we’re committed to helping you save money on printer ink without sacrificing quality.  If you found this content helpful, we’d be grateful if you supported us by visiting for all of your ink and toner needs.  We appreciate your support!


  • Hi,
    I just replaced drum in Brother HL2270DW with your LD DR420. I replaced current toner cartridge that is not empty into new drum. There is a squeaking noise as it prints. The toner cartridge is a replacement cartridge from EPS TN-450. What should I do? This is the first drum replacement from the original. The toner cartridge the 2nd replacement used. Other wise have been using Brother brand cartridges. Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

    • Hi Martha,

      Have you tried reinstalling the drum unit into the toner? It may not be seated properly. Hope this helps! If you still have trouble, all of our LD brand products are backed by a lifetime guarantee, we’d be happy to get a replacement out to you.

  • Hello. I was trying to replace a Brother toner TN-2380. The printer supply shop in Danang Vietnam said the compatible toner was TN-2385. I am having difficulty fitting this in… any advice?

    • Hi Catherine,

      I looked up the Brother TN-2380 and it looks like it is compatible with the following Brother printers: HLL2320D, HLL2360DN, HLL2365DW, DCPL2520D, DCPL2540DW, MFCL2700D, MFCL2700DW, MFCL2740DW. Do you own one of those printer models? Since we are a U.S. based company, we aren’t very familiar with Brother printers that are sold in Vietnam. If you do have the correct toner and are having trouble fitting it in the printer, you may need to remove the drum from the printer first. Then, insert the toner into the drum and reinstall them both together as one unit. You can see a demonstration of how to install a Brother toner into the drum unit in our installation video here: Hope this helps!

  • My new HP laserjet said I’m low on toner, but the drum has 100%. What does that mean?!?
    I ordered a drum because it seems to get more copies for the dollar. Now it seems I should have ordered a toner cartridge instead!!
    Why does this have to be so confusing?! I just want to be able to print. Now I’m afraid I have to return the drum and buy a cartidge and will probably lose ability to print in the meanwhile.
    Please help

    • Hi Peg,

      Great question! If you are low on toner, you’ll want to replace the toner cartridge. The drum unit only needs to be replaced after the use of 3-4 toner cartridges, so if your drum life is showing 100% you definitely don’t need to replace it yet. It sounds like you were probably looking at the drum unit yield when you were researching copies for dollar. The drum unit yields more copies because it can be used for at least 3-4 toner cartridges. After you use a couple of cartridges you should notice the drum life percentage start to decline and eventually, you’ll need to replace the drum. Hope this helps!

  • How much developer does a Xerox Phaser drun # 108R01418 hold?

  • Thank you!
    Very informative.
    Toner Cartridge=Holds toner powder
    Drum unit=Holds holds toner cartridge

  • Do you have to replace the drum every time you change the toner

    • Hi Harold! No you don’t have to replace the drum everytime you change toner unless you have an HP toner cartridge which usually comes with an integrated drum unit. Drum units have longer lifespans (higher page yields) than toner, you’d usually go through three toner cartridges before needing to replace the drum.

  • Hello,
    I’ve just put an LD toner cartridge, CF210X, in an HP Laserjet 200 ColorMFP. It replaced a prior black LD cartridge that worked just fine. Now the pages print almost black over the whole sheet, edge to edge. Can’t find anything online like it for troubleshooting. Can you help? Please!

    • Hi Steve, Have you tried cleaning the drum unit?

  • My HP P1102w is a wonderful workhorse but lately, the prints are getting paler and paler. I only use HP cartridges but it’s getting hard to read my pages. Is it time to replace the printer or what could be the problem? (It is well over 5 years old but my Dad’s HP laserjet lasted 15 years!)

    • Hi Pam, you might try cleaning the transfer roller inside your HP P1102w. Toner can sometimes build up on the roller and create light prints. You can gently wipe down the transfer roller with a dry cloth, but you will need to turn it to ensure the entire roller gets clean. Also, try not to touch the transfer roller with your fingers, you don’t want to get finger print oils on it. Hope this helps!

  • What is the purpose of the green tab on the drum that slides across and back?

    • The green tab on the drum is the corona wire. This projects an electrostatic charge onto the drum to attract toner onto the page. If you are having print quality problems, you can slide the tab back and forth a few times to try and resolve the issue.

  • Hi,
    A have a LEXMARK E260dn model of printer.
    I have to change toner at first time. I would like to ask if I put the replacement toner Xerox model without drum it’s will be OK.
    And if I will put the Xerox replacement toner instead of Lexmark it will be working without any problems? Thank you in advance your answer.

  • I have Samsung CLT-3185 printer that is printing faintly. What is your recommendation.. Do I replace entire cartridge with toner or just replace the drum?
    My name is Somashekhar my memail address is [email protected]

    Thanks in advance

    • You’ll probably want to replace the toner first since it is usually the first to go. How many toners have you gone through? When was the last time you replaced the drum?

  • I have a samsung ml2525 and have been happily buying (and recommending) your mlt-d105l cartridges (and also your Brother ink packs) for years. Does the cartridge have an incorporated drum?

    • Hi John, glad you are happy the MLT-D105L cartridges! Yes, they have an incorporated drum!

  • My Brother MFC-L5800DW started printing evenly spaced smudges (2.5″ apart, and about 1″ long and 1/4″ wide) along the left edge of the page. I replaced the toners but didn’t help. Could this be the drum? Are there rollers to clean? Thanks.

  • So I gotta say I love this .
    I really have enjoyed my brother and it has really replaced my love for each of my many HP printers for sure, as I’ve had to replace my HP printers multiple times and it runs out inc super fast and the brothers quite the opposite.
    the drawback being that I don’t print color but nowadays that’s not what’s important to me
    . It was interesting to note that you were saying that the drum needs to be replace at least like the 2nd or 3rd time you buy toner something tothe effect, but I’ve only had to replace mine once since I initially bought it and am wondering if that may be something I need to do more often. I haven’t seen spots or lines but like I said I only had to change it from the initial one once.
    I have replaced the toners multiple times and recently it’s started having some issues with duplex thing which is another thing I love about brother is the ability to duplex with little to no paper jams my HPs ate not add capable at it so if you have any thoughts about that I would be all yours.

    • Hi Dawn! It’s interesting that you already needed to replace the drum unit once–I don’t think that’s a bad thing. As long as your prints are coming out fine, I don’t see anything wrong with that. What kind of problems are you having with duplex printing?

  • Are there different colour drums for different colours of toner?

    • Hi Tamara,

      It depends on your printer. Most color laser printers that use a toner cartridge and a separate drum unit require a separate color drum for each corresponding cartridge, so the black toner cartridge would have a black drum unit, the cyan cartridge would have a cyan drum unit, etc.

  • I have HP LaserJetPro M127fw series printer since 2015 which takes 83A cartridges. I’ve looked in the manual & screen menu for EOL on any separate drum unit and cannot locate. I replace the toner cartridge annually and it’s about $130 CAD. Does this mean the drum is included? Pls advise thanks very much Martha S

    • Hi Martha, yes the drum is built into the toner cartridge for the HP 83A cartridge series, so every time you replace the cartridge you are also replacing the drum.

  • Hi,
    I have a Samsung M2885FW. I have inserted a new Imaging Unit and a new cartridge. The display still says ‘insert new image unit’ and ‘insert new cartridge’; it doesn’t recognise that I have already put them in. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Mary,

      You might try doing a hard reset on the printer. With the toner/imaging unit still installed, power down the printer and unplug it from the wall for about a minute. Then plug it back in, power it back up and try reinstalling the toner cartridge/ imaging unit.

  • Thank you; I have tried that, but sadly still not recognising I have inserted unit, and so still not working.

  • i just replaced a drum and toner on my brother MFC-L2740DW and one week later it’s showing change drum and will not print but it will print a test page nicely.
    what can I do to get it to work? It’s nearly brand new so don’t feel I should have to replace the drum so soon. I do normally get 3-4 toner use before having to replace a drum as mentioned.
    Can anything be done short of replacing the drum so soon?

  • I need to replace the toner cartridge in my Brothers printer DCP-L2550DW. I don’t need to replace the drum. I have only used one toner cartridge in the printer since I bought it. (It came with but one toner cartridge). When I go online, I am consistently offered drum/toner cartridge combos, but can’t seem to find sales for toner cartridges alone. Why is this? I don’t want to by a drum I don’t need. I wanted to order online because local stores are not accessible due to pandemic regulations. It seems I’ll have to wait until stores reopen to buy toner cartridges without the drum. This seems like some kind of money-grabbing scheme to me.

  • I am using Brother HL-L5200DW. Recently, it gives me message that I have to replace drum. The drum is very expensive and it costs almost more than half the price of printer. Please advise
    1. Can I use compactable drum with Brother genuine ink and toner cartridge ( Because I just start this cartridge which is still 95% full
    2. Or should I just use original Brother drum
    3. If I use compatible drum with genuine toner cartridge, would it affect the lifetime of printer and the quality of printing?

  • Does the Canon MF264dw come with the Toner and Drum Cartridges?

  • I have an HP LaserJet P1005 – best small printer ever – have had it for over 10 years and with no drum it just runs and runs and runs. I used to have a Brother and I was consistently replacing the drum – usually 400 to 500 dollars.

  • Allow me to make the most ignorant tech-confession of all time. I have been trying to discover all evening — a hell of a way to spend Saturday night — why my new Brother toner cartridge will not work in my very old and and dependable printer. I just discovered that when I turned in my old toner cartridge, I failed to separate it from the drum. The new cartridge will not work solo. So much for being ecologically aware! — SSK

  • I found this article to be very informative and helpful. Thanks!

  • Very clear and helpful writeup. Thank you!

  • I bought a drum for my Brother laser black only. printer from LD products so I would. have it when it was needed. It quit on me with a beep beep beep.
    I went to replace the drum, and it wouldn’t fit. Is there a phone number I can call and see whether I can get one that does fit?

    • Hi Mike, sorry to hear you having trouble with our drum. Give our customer service team a call at 888-321-2552 and we would be happy to help you with installation.

  • Hi I have replaced my ink and toner cartridge however it let me use it for about 30 pages and now it’s showing “no toner”. Do I need to replace the drum unit.

    I have not replaced the drum unit since I purchased it a year ago.

  • My Brother MFC 7360N printer prints correctly from the PC, but when making a copy from flatbed or feeder, the results are extremely dark. I have tried to change the printer settings (front of printer) to lighten = brightness/contrast, etc but nothing helps. What could be causing this COPYING problem??

  • My printer is a HP Color Laser Jet Pro MFP M177fw 1.1.2

    Does it require a separate imaging drum? When I did the Supplies Status report it says that its supply level is very low.
    I have had this printer for years and all I have replaced before are the cartridges. Currently 2 of them are also “very low” and the other 2 are OK.

    • HP LaserJet toner cartridges come with an incorporated imaging drum unit so you automatically replace the drum when you replace the toner.

  • I have a brother printer. The whole machine, toner and drum is new. A week later toner congregated and is stuck on the drum. It looks like a car tire drove the length of the paper.
    How do I keep this from happening?

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