When your printer sends you an alert that it's time to change the cartridge or toner, do you run to your supply shelf to swap it out, or do you try to hedge your bet, dismiss the warning message and continue printing as long as is absolutely possible?
Do you find yourself wondering, “How do I know when this little thing is REALLY empty?”
Well, the answer is unfortunately about as clear as mud on this one, yet there are certainly some basic pointers and tips to help you get clued into when you're actually in need of a refill.
Understanding Ink Levels
Several studies and tests to determine the ink levels were conducted on brand-name OEM ink cartridges and third-party comparable products.
The results varied significantly, with some tests showing that an ink cartridge had nearly 50% of its ink supply remaining despite the printer issuing 'low ink' warnings.
Importance of Heeding Warnings
Despite this reality, there are good reasons not to ignore all warnings and let the ink completely drain down to the last drops.
There is a risk of causing significant damage to your printer if the wells run dry, so best to play it safe and don't take it quite that far.
Some OEM ink cartridges are designed by the manufacturer to leave a 'safety reserve' or buffer to avoid serious damage to the printers.
Certain OEM cartridges actually have an ink-level sensor to more accurately report ink levels and will prompt the user at a realistic level to change the ink supply, so in such cases, it's likely a good time to take action.
Differences in Aftermarket Ink Cartridges
Third-party and aftermarket ink cartridges lack sensors and cannot send low ink warnings. They may stop printing or cause printer errors even when the ink supply is not fully depleted.
While saving money on upfront per cartridge prices for aftermarket ink, the potential for undetected waste and discarding cartridges with usable ink remains a concern. In the long run, this may result in minimal or even negative cost savings.
Opting for OEM products can provide a better indication of ink levels and help avoid unnecessary waste.
Indicators of Low Ink Levels
Your printer may display a warning message as the ink level dropped, but never force you to replace the cartridge.
Eventually, as you continue printing, the output will begin showing signs of low ink — overall lighter print, areas that are blurry or even random lines printing instead of or in addition to the text.
Depending on whether you are an Apple or Windows user, you can get a good sense of your ink supply by going to a tab under hardware, or the devices and printers link from the control panel, where there is usually an option to find ink levels.
Most printers also have a display panel somewhere that visually indicates how low your ink supply is.
Here again, the visual may be showing you are low, or even 'dangerously low' on ink, yet you will still be able to print many more pages before any signs of low ink reflect on your output.
Maximizing Remaining Ink
Before you say 'uncle' and swap out the cartridges for new ones, it's worth an extra effort to actually remove the cartridge from the printer, and give it a little rock back and forth to get as much of the ink to the bottom as possible.
This can often even out the remaining ink and extend the printing life that much longer. Lastly, this all may be subjective when it comes to the determination of just how “dead” is that cartridge.
Print quality preferences vary among individuals. Some people who prioritize sharp and crisp print quality would promptly replace a nearly empty cartridge as soon as they notice any degradation.
On the other hand, others may be content to continue printing several pages with compromised clarity and sharpness before acknowledging the need for a replacement.