Cartridges can get expensive, so it is understandable why you’d want to make sure they are properly taken care of. Not only will it help save you money, it will keep your printer happy and healthy too. A couple of simple cartridge care tips can make a huge difference, resulting in better print quality, longer lasting ink, and less troubleshooting when you’re in the middle of a major print job.
- Handling your ink cartridge.
Proper care starts the moment you bring home a new cartridge. Before you install the cartridge, be sure to inspect it. Gently shake the cartridge or tap it on a hard surface a couple times to prime the ink. On the top of most cartridges, you’ll find a piece of plastic tape that covers the vent hole and a plastic clip that is protecting the cartridge while in transit. Not every cartridge will have a clip or tape, but if they do it’s important to remove them before you try installing your ink. We recommend doing this over a trashcan as ink can sometimes escape from the cartridge when you remove the tape.
On the side of the cartridge, you might notice a gold contact chip. This chip is very sensitive, as it is the electric component that communicates with the printer once it is installed. If you do accidentally touch it with your finger or notice a bit of dust, gently wipe it clean with a Q-tip or lint-free cloth.
- Installing your ink cartridge.
When it comes to installing a cartridge, every printer is a little different. Before you try to install your ink cartridge for the first time, be sure to reference your printer’s instruction manual. If your printer didn’t include an instruction manual, you can usually find a PDF version available for download on the manufacturer’s website. Youtube is another great resource for cartridge installation videos, troubleshooting and printer reviews, just search by your printer model.
- Storing and protecting your ink cartridge.
If your business buys in bulk, you’re going to want to know the best way to store those extra cartridges. First, we recommend keeping the cartridges in their sealed packaging until you need them. If you remove a cartridge from it’s packaging and it is sitting out for a period, it will eventually dry out. Storing them upright in a relatively dark closet is also preferred. Cartridges left on their side might shift the ink to one side, which could affect your print results once installed in the machine. If you happen to have an opened cartridge lying around reseal it as best you can. If you have the protective tape or clip, reapply it before storing.
- What if I’m getting poor print results?
Poor prints are usually the result of a depleted ink cartridge. Before you throw in the towel and go out and buy a new cartridge, there are a few troubleshooting tips worth pursuing that may get more life out of the cartridge. If your prints are looking light or streaky, your cartridge might just need to be primed. Prolonged inactivity can cause the ink to settle, which might temporarily dry up the printhead.
Different ink cartridges will be primed in different ways. For cartridges with integrated print heads, such as the HP® 62, we suggest trying the paper towel method:
First, grab a damp paper towel and a dry paper towel, folding both into quarters. Take your cartridge and blot it onto the damp paper towel a couple of times with the printhead side down. The printhead is gold or copper strip located on the end of the cartridge and ink should appear on the paper towel as you blot. Be careful not to mistake the print head with the gold or copper contacts or dots, which are where the printer interacts with the cartridge.
After blotting the printhead with the damp paper towel, hold the cartridge against a dry paper towel for about thirty seconds to a minute. This will wick out the dried ink that may be clogging the head.
Once completed, you’re ready to slide the cartridge back into your printer and run a test print. If you still aren’t getting good results, try this process again.
If your printer uses individual color cartridges, like the HP 564XL series for example, the paper towel method won’t be effective. Instead, we recommend running a printhead cleaning, which is a function that is built into the hardware of most machines. Consult your printer’s user guide to run the printhead cleaning, it can usually be found under the “Tools” or “Maintenance” section of the printer menu.
- How do you know when it’s the printhead that’s the problem?
Like any other machine, printheads have a life span for use before they need replacement. The first sign your printhead may be nearing replacement is a loss of print quality. If the issue is a simple printhead clog, running a cleaning cycle or two should clear out all the dried ink. If you replace the ink cartridges after the cleaning cycles and the print quality hasn’t improved, your printhead may be the culprit. Most printers today offer up some type of warning that there’s a structural problem with your printhead, indicating on the LCD screen with a warning like “printhead problem” or “printhead appears to be missing or damaged” to take a lot of the mystery out of your problems. Most printheads are easily replaceable, but they can get expensive. In many cases, replacing the printhead will cost as much as purchasing a replacement printer. And in other cases, installing a new printhead can be complicated and require some technical skill. Before you purchase a new replacement part, consult with the instruction manual to see whether or not it’s worth it. Often, a failed printhead is the perfect opportunity to pick up a unit that is better suited for your business, helping you save money in the long term.
- Getting the most from your ink cartridge.
Printing with regularity keeps your cartridges primed and ready to go, lowering the likelihood that your ink settles. It will also prevent the ink in the nozzle from drying up and creating clogs.
When printing articles or emails, print in draft mode. This uses less ink per page and will actually print faster than regular mode. Unless you’re printing photos or something for a presentation, there is usually no need to print in the highest quality setting.
Don’t run the print cleaning too often. Cleaning your printhead is designed to prevent clogs and maintain the quality of your prints but running it repeatedly can quickly deplete your cartridge’s ink supply. If you are attempting to fix a quality issue and have to continuously run the cleaning function, it may be time to get a new cartridge.
Always keep a full set of cartridges in your machine, even when you aren’t regularly printing in color. Open spaces on a built-in printhead can introduce air into the machine, which will dry out the cartridges over time. Even an old cartridge that is empty is better than leaving a gap.
Keeping up with regular maintenance helps you get better quality prints with less headaches in the long run. When you turn these tips into regular habits, you'll prolong the life of your cartridges and save a bit of money too. If you have any questions about cartridge maintenance, let us know...we'd be happy to help!