​How Much Ink Is Left in That Dead Cartridge?

​How Much Ink Is Left in That Dead Cartridge?

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.

A number of studies and testing was done on some of the better known, brand-name OEM ink cartridges, as well as several aftermarket comparable products, and while the results range pretty dramatically, it is interesting to note that in several tests, an ink cartridge was found to have almost 50% of its ink supply remaining, while the printer was sending serious 'low in' 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.

When it comes to 3rd party and aftermarket ink cartridges, they do not have these sensors and are not able to send the same alerts for low ink warnings, and often will just completely stop printing or cause the printer to error when the supply is low but not really depleted. While you may be saving money up front on the per cartridge prices for aftermarket ink, if there is a lot of waste that goes undetected and you are literally throwing away cartridges that may have a decent amount of ink remaining but no way to know for sure or to use it in the printer, then long-term, the cost savings at the bottom line is probably minimal or worse, and purchasing the OEM product will at least give a better indication and hopefully avoid unnecessary waste.

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.

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. If you are more picky about how sharp and crisp your print quality needs to be, you would readily toss the nearly empty cartridge when any degradation in print quality is showing, while your co-worker sitting in the neighboring cubicle may be perfectly content to keep printing a dozen or more pages with some compromised clarity and sharpness before admitting it's really time for a replacement.

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