Why and How Often Do Printer Drum Units Need to be Replaced?

Mar 30, 2020

Hand removing printer drum unit

Although laser printers are statistically cheaper in the long run when it comes to printing costs, they have some special requirements that need to be known. Under the hood, the laser printer is a very complex machine with many internal components working in tandem to create that crisp printed image on your page. With lasers, mirrors, photoconductor drums, rollers, and fusing units, all being essential to the printing process. These parts must be properly maintained and replaced as needed. While most of these parts are directly built into the machine, some of them, like the printer drum, can be removed.

It may come as a surprise for some, but drum units need to be replaced every so often to keep up the quality of the printing. Drums are the shell that toner cartridges are placed in and allow for the toner to adhere to the paper. 

Drum units are items that, alongside toner cartridges, need to be replaced after consumption.

Many consumers have the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. But the replacement of a drum unit is vital to laser printers' health. A degraded drum unit can cause streaks, smudges, and blank spots on your printed page even if you just inserted a new printer toner. While a broken drum unit won't break your printer, it will just fail to stop printing at a certain point.

Sadly, there are no special tips to get around this pesky occurrence, and it doesn't matter whether you're using a brand name cartridge or cheap printer ink replacement.

Why do I need to replace the drum in my Brother printer? Below, you'll learn why replacing them is essential to the quality of your laser printer.

What's My Age Again?

It is important to remember that drum units need to be replaced every so often to maintain good print quality. Just like their toner or ink cartridge counterpart, drum units have a shelf life as well that a consumer needs to be aware of. Much of this shelf life is dependent on the environment that they are stored in.

This includes keeping them stored in their protective bags before being used. If you have an extra printer drum unit that's been stored for over two to three years, you run the risk of having it not work by the time you insert it into your printer.

But more accurately, a drum unit's life is calculated by the number of rotations. Printer manufacturer Brother calculates your drum life by the set amount of times the drum makes a full 360-degree rotation.

Every full rotation adds to an internal counter that calculates when you should replace the unit. When it reaches its limit, it will prompt you to change the drum.

It is important to note that when replacing your drum unit, you must manually reset your drum counter as well. This allows the counter to accurately read the number of rotations in order to assess your printing activity. (If you don't know how to reset your drum unit, we have a step by step guide to walk you through it here)

If you fail to reset the drum counter, you risk not having an accurate reading leading to no automated notification that you should change the drum when that time comes.

Wear and Tear 

Think of your drum unit as a vampire; you never want to expose it to sunlight. While it won't curse you and disintegrate into dust when it's exposed to the UV rays, it will lose its potency and stop working. This includes being exposed to artificial light as well, so it's best to keep it in a dark place at all times. Drum units are made of unique photosensitive material that interacts with the laser inside the printer. Over time, this drum unit is exposed to internal conditions such as the light from the laser, which can degrade its overall quality.

Your drum unit can also become filthy and riddled with dirt and leftover toner residue. Imagine painting a wall with paint that has dust and dirt on the top layer. You may be able to paint it, but there are little crumbs and particles of dirt within the mixture that are visible to the eye. Not only that, but the dirt can affect the adhesive of the toner being printed on the page. This can cause problems on the page where the text and graphics can appear blurry and smudged. 

If you are noticing vertical stripes on your printed pages, this may be caused directly by the condition of the drum unit. Vertical stripes denote that the drum unit could have been physically mishandled or possibly scratched when inserted. Something like a physical scratch can not be repaired and often calls for the immediate replacement of the printer drum, even if it has not reached its maturity.

Service Life

Much like how you have to take your car in for an oil change every set amount of miles, you must do the same for your laser printer. The standard drum units can produce around 12,000 pages before needing to be replaced. Not every drum unit will adhere to the same guideline, so you should be aware of its total page yield before inserting it into your printer.

The math can get very hazy around these parts, and it is often recommended to know exactly when your printer toner drum needs to be replaced. Laser printer models vary when it comes to pages being printed. Certain toner cartridges will yield more pages, meaning you must replace the printer drum at an accelerated speed.

Page yield comparison line graph of brother toner printer cartridge models TN250, TN660, TN760, TN221, and TN227. Shows replacement rate for drum units

For example, many Brother printers use a printer drum with toner cartridges. Some printer drum units that use the Brother TN450 toner can use up to five cartridges maximum before needing to be replaced. Others, such as the Brother TN760, need to replace their drum unit after three to four cartridges, depending on usage.

As a general rule, you should always replace your drum unit after using three to four toner cartridges just to be safe.

Page yields are also calculated, with only 5% of the page being filled as an entire page. Depending on your usage, you may need to change your drum unit faster than before. Anything after the recommended life span can result in poor quality prints. 


Several factors come into play when assessing the life of your drum unit, whether it be wear and tear, age, or service life. Luckily, most models, such as Brother laser printers, do come with some kind of built-in sensor that indicates when you need to change the drum unit. The notification does not make the burden any less annoying, and you should always keep a spare drum unit for emergency printing situations.

Sometimes you just don't want to worry about your drum unit and when it needs to be changed. Here at 1ink.com, we provide a Special Toner Package that includes: One Drum Unit and Four Toner Cartridges for select Brother laser printer models. Every time you finish those four toners, it's always a good indication to replace the drum unit as well. Visit our website at 1ink.com to save money on printer toner and drum units. Our cheap printer ink and toner cartridges are a great alternative to the name brands and will save you a ton of money while providing excellent print quality.