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How does an ink cartridge work ?

Jul 11, 2008
An inkjet cartridge is the replaceable component of an inkjet printer that contains the ink used when printing. The ink cartridge can also contain the print head itself. Every ink cartridge is made up from one or more partitioned ink reservoirs and some producers also insert electronic contacts and a chip that transmits information to the printer.

The printing depends on the smooth flow of ink, which can be hindered if the ink begins to dry at the print head, as can happen when an ink level becomes low. Dried ink can be cleaned from a cartridge print head by rubbing gently with isopropyl alcohol on a swab or folded paper towel.

Most of the time ink cartridges tend to be quite expensive, so customers started to use "compatible" ink cartridges. These cartridges are produced by companies other than the printer manufacturers. Compatible ink cartridges can come at the same quality as the original ones, depending on the manufacturing company. However, all compatible ink cartridges are cheaper than original ones. Many people use modified printers that allow the use of continuous ink systems. These printers use ink from external ink tanks. People can also use aftermarket inks to refill their cartridges, or take them to local refillers.

Consumers are often surprised at the price of replacing their printer cartridges, especially when compared with that of purchasing a brand new printer. The major printer manufacturers, Hewlett Packard, Lexmark, Dell, Canon, Epson and Brother often break even or loose money selling printers, and expect to recoup their losses by selling expensive cartridges over the life span of the printer. Since much of the printer manufacturer's profits are made up of ink and toner cartridge sales, some of these companies have taken various actions against aftermarket cartridges. Sometimes, even legal action was taken.

Recently, many printer owners prefer to refill their used cartridges or even buy remanufactured cartridges from third parties rather than buying expensive new cartridges. Since they only need to buy the ink and a few other small raw materials, it is much cheaper and quality is almost the same. Customers can find different qualities and types of refilling. However, some of them can damage the printer and lead to low quality prints. People take their empty cartridges to refillers or remanufacturers, or simply buy store branded ink.

Another option is for the consumer to refill the cartridges. Instructions for most cartridges are available on the web, as well as sources who sell "bulk ink" in pints, quarts, and even gallons. This can be extremely cost effective if the consumer is a heavy user of cartridges. One pint (473 ml) is sufficient ink to fill approximately 15 to 17 large cartridges of a typical 27 ml capacity. At the price of an original cartridge, you can buy at least one pint of ink.

Generally speaking, Brother, Canon, Dell, HP, and Lexmark cartridges are not difficult to refill (sometimes a syringe and ink are enough), while Epson cartridges usually require the additional purchase of a chip resetter to reset the counter chip inherent in the Epson cartridges. However, since it involves handling ink, the refill process can be inherently messy until some experience has been acquired.

Laser/toner cartridges found as "compatible" are, in most of the cases, refilled cartridges. However, you can find many third-party newly manufactured cartridges. On the other hand, inkjet cartridges sold as "compatible" are newly produced. "Remanufactured" inkjet cartridges have been used by consumers and then refilled by a third party. Be very careful what you buy. Used cartridges may not work as newly manufactured ones.
About the Author
Andrew James can supply a lot of informative information about ink cartridges as well as articles about other topics to do with printing consumables including inkjet cartridges
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