Why does my colour ink run out when I only print black?

You may have encountered the frustrating conundrum that even though you painstakingly print in black and white only to save money on replacing colour, the colour ink runs out regardless. How is this possible? You may wonder. Are other members of your family sneaking into your office to print glossy recipes with full images while you sacrifice and stare at dull, lifeless printouts? The simple explanation is that many printers require you to have all ink colours available in each cartridge in order to begin printing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, yet it’s a common problem that leaves many people puzzled, since it wasn’t explained to them when they chose the printer. Unfortunately, there are a few reasons why your efforts to mainly print in black and white to save on ink will be deemed futile. Let’s explore what these are: 

The underlying issue with ink cartridges is that they use liquid ink that can potentially dry up if unused. Therefore, some printers will purge the old ink from the printing heads when you turn them off at the end of the day. The next time you go to use the printer, it will load fresh ink into the heads to avoid the issue of dry ink sticking on the part of the printer you need to print from. So just by turning the printer off and on, you are using ink. You might think that you can get around this by leaving the printer turned on permanently, however, most printers have sensors to detect how long the ink has been left in the heads. Some printers also have temperature and humidity sensors to help avoid ink drying up on the print heads. Either way, when it comes time to print, you may hear some whirring noises and that means the print head is moving back and forward in order to reload the ink. That’s also the reason that when you haven’t printed in a while, the printer takes a long time to spit out that first page.

Top 3 reasons a printer will use ink even when you aren’t printing

1. You are printing infrequently and there is a risk of the ink drying up, therefore the printer is forced to flush old unused ink.
2. The printer has sensors which detect when to flush old ink.
3. When printing a black and white document, the printer is actually using all the colours rather than just the black cartridge.

Print Dialogue Box – Force the printer to only use black ink

5% page coverage example

MS Word Print dialogue box – ‘Black and White option’

12.21% page coverage example

Print dialogue box with ‘Black and White’ option

There is another issue that can cause colour ink to be used instead of just black. Often when you bring up the print dialogue box, there is a tick box or a drop-down menu that allows you to select black and white. The reason for this is many documents, despite appearing black, are actually made up of all of the colours and the printer uses these to create the very dark looking print. To avoid using the colours on a black and white document, make sure to still check the print options and specify ‘black and white.

(Also, see last week’s blog article on the disadvantages of cheap printers)

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Have you considered draft mode?

Another way to avoid over-using ink in general is to select ‘draft mode’ when you print. If all you are printing are notes for reference to scribble on and not for aesthetic appeal, then printing in draft mode is a great option. It will reduce the print quality so that the printer will spray a lot less ink on the page, saving you on your printing costs.

Those handy tips should help you in reducing ink wastage, however, there is a more important question to be answered. How often do you print? Inkjet printers were made to be used on a relatively frequent basis. This way the ink is used and doesn’t have time to dry up. If you print every month or less, perhaps you should consider a laser printer which uses dry toner dust instead of liquid ink. A laser printer can happily sit there unused without needlessly wasting ink. They are not as good for printing photos and images and the cheaper laser printers typically only print in black and white. This might suit your purposes and save you from seeing your colour cartridge ink be flushed away each time you go to print something.

If you do need print in colour and want to find a way to spend less on cartridges, you may need to spend a little more on the printer and purchase a continuous ink printer which doesn’t use cartridges, but uses ink bottles instead. The bottles can be a bit messy, but the ink wells have a larger capacity for ink and therefore don’t run out as often. As the replacement ink bottles are just ink, you save on having to purchase new print heads with every cartridge. This is the most affordable way of printing in colour at home or the home office.

If you have experienced any of the above issues, perhaps you should take our 5 question survey? Fill out this quick questionnaire so we can guide you through the process. The questions will prompt you to consider the five most important things you value in a printer. After we ascertain your priorities, Rob will get back to you via email with his top picks to meet your specific printing needs.

To check out our printers that use continuous ink click here, or for our laser printers, click here.

We hope you enjoyed this article: Why does my colour ink run out when I only print black? Stay tuned for our next topic in 2 weeks time.