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I'm looking at the potential to use residual laser toner as a replacement for colored embossing powder; they're pretty similar (given the caveat that toner is messy stuff to handle and clean up). I couldn't find anything in online searches.

Embossing powder is used in several ways. What might be the most practical for toner is melting it in a melting pot and pouring it into molds as a casting resin. But I don't know if toner is formulated to flow as a liquid when it melts.

The main way embossing powder is used is to add a 3D appearance to ink (i.e., embossing). That may be a challenge for toner. One big difference between the two is grain size.

Embossing powder has much larger grains. They're small and light enough to stick to the ink, but large enough to melt and flow together to form a raised plastic layer.

Laser toner has microscopic grains. They melt and stick to the paper, but a layer of toner particles is so thin that it doesn't form a raised layer. A big issue with toner would be getting a thick layer to stick to the ink.

People do color clear embossing powder by adding colored powders to it. So toner could theoretically be added to clear embossing powder. However, the tiny particles may interfere with the embossing powder sticking to the ink. Also, this doesn't seem like results would be consistent, and the toner color would be greatly diluted. This solution also requires expensive embossing powder in order to use the free toner.

Has anyone explored toner as a replacement for embossing powder (for either embossing or casting), and can provide insights on doing either one successfully?

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You should not handle toner powder at all without a high quality filter mask and potentially safety glasses. Loose toner is a health risk for the respiratory system due to it's particle size. It's not toxic, but some studies compare it's effects to the fine dust of diesel exhaust or even asbestos. You should at least expect an irritation or even inflammation of the upper respiratory system. (Source1, source2)

In any case, have a look at the material safety data sheet of the toner cartridge you want to open before exposing yourself and others to the powder.

Apart from the health issues, the melting tempetature of toner is 120°C / 250°F (which is lower than that of embossing powder) and at that temperature it should have a viscosity of oil (Source, PDF). But I doubt that you could cast anything in toner, especially left-over toner from an empty cartridge, because the volume of melted toner is much less than the powder would suggest.

I have no experience with embossing, but as far as I know it works pretty much like laser printing. You make a powder stick to certain areas on paper, then melt the powder to fuse it with the paper. You should be able to achieve the same effect with toner. I just propose using a heat source that doesn't blow the toner all over the place like a heat gun would do. Due to the small particle size I wouldn't expect it to feel any different from a laser printed paper.

A more practical approach could be binding the toner in a liquid and using it like an ink. You should be able to stack up a thicker layer of toner that way and achieve the desired 3 dimentional effect. In this video she mixes loose toner powder with isopropyl alcohol and a bit of school glue to get a fairly liquid ink / paint. And in this one she uses a different recipe for toner paint, and at around 13:20 minutes you see how shiny the toner got from being melted.

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  • Some great finds; thanks. I was aware of the health risks, but for any readers landing here, I'm glad you included it. BTW, the residual toner isn't just residue in the empties. If your printer dies and your new printer doesn't take the same cartridges, you can have almost full cartridges, or even a supply of unopened ones. But you're probably right that it won't go very far if you melt it down. I had thought about spreading a thin layer on a silicone pad, heating it just enough to fuse some of the particles, then grinding and filtering to get a grain size close to embossing powder. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Sep 21 '19 at 22:44
  • But mixing it with a liquid carrier sounds like a much simpler approach. In the video, alcohol did a better job of wetting the toner than water, but it didn't become a useful liquid until some glue was added. It's worth experimenting so see if a usable ink could be made; something to hold the toner together until it's heated. Adding toner as a colorant for glue, then using that with stencils would be a good way to get a thick layer, and the glue is a lot cheaper than embossing powder. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Sep 21 '19 at 22:45
  • In the video, the mixture dried to a flat finish (maybe because toner is similar to the fine powder added to finishes to make them flat). It got shiny by running it through a heat laminator and molding the melted mixture against a shiny release sheet. That may have been mostly the glue. But it would be easy enough to try a heat gun and see what happens (or just replicate the laminator and release sheet). – fixer1234 Sep 21 '19 at 22:45

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