Inkjets : Ink waste and Clogging

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Updated: December 29th 2011.

Inkjets ALL waste ink to some degree and usually this is when they run a "head cleaning" routine either automatically or as part of a manual process. As with all things wet, the ink can dry up and because the ink in the nozzles is exposed to the air, it tends to dry up in the nozzles. QED: You get a clog in the nozzle.

Clogs are bad because:
  • You get lines or "banding" in your printing so you have to reprint
  • You have to run one or more cleaning routines
All of which wastes ink

Add to this, clogs will damage your printers nozzles and the printhead over time (especially in HP, Lexmark and Canon printheads) which can mean you need a new printhead or even printer!

So, here's a few tips on ways to make your inkjet cartridges and ink last a bit longer... plus avoid the costly implications of nozzle clogging...

1. Use your printer regularly (ideally once every couple of days).
Common sense dictates that the best way to conserve ink is to print as little as possible and only when you really need to. Right?... Wrong... The reason for this is that most inkjet printers left for extended periods of time will:
- run a cleaning cycle to push any solidying ink out of the jets.
- have clogged nozzles and require more cleaning (QED: More ink wasted)

So forget common sense, it actually saves you more ink in the long run if you print off the odd picture or even a nozzle check pattern every couple of days just to keep the nozzles exercised.

2. Take some time to find a good quality ink supplier
This is a no brainer but there are so many different ink suppliers out there that it's hard to work out the good from the bad. Taking a little time now, to check for reviews on ink manufacturers (not just ebay feedback!) will save you in the long run. A "bad" ink supplier will use crap quality chemicals that promote clogging and ruin your printer.

3. Try to use the same ink supplier/type
Inkjet inks can differ quite considerably in consistency and chemical make-up and just like putting milk in your lemon tea (Yes, I've done that) you can create a mess that will clog your printer if you are unlucky enough to use a new ink supplier that reacts badly to the old ink. Being consistent in your supplier should avoid this.

4. No replacement? Leave the empty cartridge in
If one (or more) of your cartridges has run out and you haven't got a replacement yet, then leave the old cartridge in the printer until you've received or bought a new cartridge to replace it. This protects the ink feeding nozzles from drying out and causing yet more problems.

5. Try to buy replacement cartridges BEFORE the ink runs out.
Because you don't want to leave your printer without ink, keeping the nozzles wet, it's best to anticipate the need for replacements and have them ready. If you wait too long you're going to end up having to run cleaning cycles to unblock dry/clogged nozzles.

6. Get a printer that has low ink wastage in the first place.
Maybe too late to find this out, but there are some printers that waste ink like it's going out of fashion so a little research before you purchase your inkjet is always a good idea.

Epsons are notorious for ink waste but while there's plenty of conspiracy type theorising that it's good for business (more waste = more cartridges = Epson Profit!) it's also partly by design to avoid the heads clogging. Either way, some printers are worse than others.. The PX700W being a prime example!

7. Watch out for Cartridges that "expire"
This is a very unwelcome issue but there are some printers  (HP especially) that use consumables with chips that "expire" the cartridge (and in some cases, the printhead!). As a result you want to avoid stocking up on too many cartridges because you may find you haven't used them all and can't because they've gone passed their "use by" date.

8. Disable "Automatic printhead maintenance" (cleaning)
Some printers (eg: the Epson PX810FW) have a feature that automatically attempts to clean the printhead which normally can be quite useful, but if the printer has been unused for a considerable period of time, has had a poor reaction between different inks, etc... this can quickly turn into a pointless exercise that just wastes ink without really clearing the clog.

Details on how to disable this function are provided on the relevant support pages for your printer model.

The key thing to remember with inkjet printers is that regular use to a printer, is like regular exercise. Regular use, a little ink management and forethought can save a lot of problems with clogging and as a nice bonus, reduce your ink use too..

If you find this guide useful please remember to vote for it.. If you don't, please let me know why rather than just voting it down. Thanks.

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