Ink Cartridges and how they work

With so many different printers on the market these days the average home user has become a little perplexed in regards to which printer to buy. Unfortunately the modern printers are becoming more cleverly designed to dupe the consumer into forking out their hard earned cash on hugely over inflated print consumables. I will endeavour to explain some intersting facts about printer ink cartridges which I hope will help those who are looking to purchase a printer to make a more imformed decision !

The Basic Ink Cartridge

standard ink cartridgeThe basic ink cartridge consists of simply the plastic moulding also known as the tank. Inside of the tank are generally 2 compartments. One contains the actual ink while the other houses the sponge. The sponge absorbs ink from the main tank via a small opening at the base between the two tanks. The sponge allows ink to flow through to the opening at the bottom of the printer ink cartridge.

This is where the ink leaves the cartridge and flows into the printer and eventually passes out of the printhead. Before installing the cartridge most have a small piece of plastic tape (usually at the top) which is removed. This is a breather vent which allows air to flow in and stops a vacuum effect happenning as the ink flows from the bottom hole to the printhead. All of the ink levels etc are detected by the printer itself.

This is done in numerous ways depending on the brand and age of the printer used. Examples of this type of cartridge include ALL of the Brother inkjet cartridges and some of the older canon cartridges. Most of these style cartridges have now had a microchip attached to them so that the printer companies can manipulate the end user by changing software or even the printers firmware.

By adding the microchip the printer companies can (and do) release regular software updates which cause the printer to reject any non genuine cartridge. This in turn gives the printer companies more control over what cartridges the printer will actually allow to be used and indirectly controls their own share of the market in regards to printer consumables.

Ink Cartridges with a micro-chip

Microchipped ink cartridgeThe micro-chipped printer ink cartridges are the same as the basic Ink Cartridges, the difference being is that the ink level detection and/or cartridge recognition is done by using a small micro-chip mounted on the cartridge itself. This makes an electrical connection when inserted in the printer and tells the printer several pieces of imformation depending on the particular cartridge model.

Some of the newer Canon cartridges use what is known as an "Opto-elctrical chip" This provides a complex "opto technical signal transfer" between the ink tank and the actual printer. This enables the printer to detect ink levels and also wether the correct cartridge colour has been inserted as each cartridge colour has its own unique chip. Epson cartridges are also micro-chipped and operate in a similar way.

One of the unscrupulous tactics which Epson now use is that they are continuously changing and updating the "Firmware" in their printers in an attempt to slow down the sale of compatible ink cartridges. Basically this means that when Epson bring out new printers even though they may use the same cartridges as a previous model they change the "Firmware" so that the printer will NOT detect a compatible cartridge. Usually however a compatible cartridge with a NEW updated Micro-chip hits the market within a few months and Epson are back working on plans to change the firmware again in their next printer model.

HP recently hit the headlines when they released a massive software update which targeted generic cartridges in about 30 or more of their latest printers. Once the update was installed (and most people didn't even know about it) their generic cartridges suddenly wouldn't work any more. This sparked outrage from millions of consumers worldwide and the stories hit just about every major website.                           

Ink Cartridges with a printhead

ink cartridge with built in printheadThe most complex type of printer ink cartridge of all are the ones with built in printheads. These are typically HP, DELL and some Canon. The printhead is the part of the printer which "spits" the ink onto the paper. These cartridges contain complex circuitry which detect ink levels, compatibility and have a myriad of small resistors inside which heat up and spit the ink out of hundreds of tiny holes onto the paper.

These are also the most expensive of all cartridges to buy and most often the generic replacements are not very reliable. If you are considering buying a printer try to avoid these as most printers have the printhead built into the printer itself! Why on earth would anyone buy a printer that uses this technology. Its kind of like replacing your engine in your car whenever you decide to do an oil change. Avoid any printer which uses only two ink cartridges. All of these printers use cartridges with the built in printheads and they are very expensive to run.                   

Compatible or Generic Ink Cartridges

Generic ink cartridgeA Generic Ink Cartridge is simply a replica or a copy of a brand name cartridge. Nowadays the non genuine inks are more popular than the actual genuine product. This has been fiercly driven by the consumer not wanting to pay the rediculous prices of the brand name products. On average a generic ink will sell for between 50 - 150% less than the genuine. Often the non genuine inks actually contain a load more ink which makes them a much more viable option.

Be warned as there is a huge variation in the quality of compatible inks. Recently the market has been flooded with cheap, low grade consumables so PLEASE do your homework and look at review sites etc before parting with your money. Cheap, poor quality inks will soon clog your printers print head or if poorly moulded may even completely destroy your printer.

Sometimes cartridges are actually "remanufactured" which means they are the real, genuine cartridge that has been refilled and/or reconditioned so to speak. Once again there are various degrees of remanufacturing a cartridge and depending on the supplier they range from brilliant quality  to completely useless. Once again it pays to read reviews about the company that you are going to purchase from before taking the plunge.

 

 

Ink Cartridge Resources

Inkjet Ink Cartridges - this is a great site which helps answer many of the basic Inkjet Cartridges questions.
Epson we have a problem - Anger over the new Epson 'Intellidge' micro-chip.
Why Do Ink Cartridges Cost so much ? - an insight into the way the major printer manufacturers operate.