Sure, I know what you’re thinking: “Of course I don’t want my ink to run dry. It’s horrendously inconvenient!”
That’s very true. But did you know that dry ink can also harm your printer? Find out what happens when ink runs dry and how to avoid ruining your machine.
Dry Is Not the Same as Empty
To be clear, there is a difference between ink drying out and ink running out. If you run out of ink, it means that your ink cartridge is totally empty. Your printer probably won’t even let you print anything when this happens, but if it does, you’ll just get reams of blank (or worse, faded and incomprehensible) paper shuffling out into the tray.
If your ink dries out, it means that the liquid ink inside the cartridge is, well, dry. Or rather, the ink closest to the print head will dry out. The printer might not realize that all is not well with the ink and will therefore fail to warn you, and attempting to print with dry ink can cause some damage.
Why Ink Dries Out
So why does this happen in the first place? In a word: evaporation. You might think that the ink is safe and snug inside its cartridge, but the fact is that it is still exposed to air. The pores through which the ink exits the cartridge may be tiny, but that makes no difference. The liquid will slowly evaporate, leaving behind solids that you simply do not want to contend with.
How to Stop Your Ink From Drying
The best way to avoid having your ink dry out is to simply use your printer on a semi-regular basis. You don’t need to print pages and pages every day, but printing a page or two every couple of weeks is a good idea in order to clear away the drying ink and bring fresh, totally liquid ink down into the pores.
Much like your car battery will go kaput if you don’t start up the engine for weeks or months, your ink cartridges need to be used in order to remain useful. It may seem silly or downright impractical to print things that you don’t need, but you’ll end up spending more money in the long run if you are constantly having to replace your ink or repair your print head.
Be sure to occasionally print something in color if you have color inks—each individual ink cartridge is at risk of drying out. And if you’re not sure what to print that could be of any use to you, try printing some coupons or perhaps a crossword puzzle!
So You Haven’t Printed in Ages—Now What?
If you know for a fact that your printer has been turned off and collecting dust in a corner for ages, it’s best to assume that you have dry ink. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your entire cartridge has gone to waste, but it does mean that you’ll want to do a little bit of maintenance to clean the dried ink away from the pores in the cartridge before they slough off onto the print head and cause performance issues or lasting damage.
Some printers have a head-cleaning mode in which the machine takes care of the hassle for you. It will print a page or two laden with ink, and if everything looks good, there’s no need to worry any further. If there are white streaks or faded colors, you may need to take a closer look at your print head or cartridges.
You can buy “flush” cleaning solutions for use on the print head. This will require you to remove the print head and soak it in the solution in order to clear out any clogs. You can also buy printer cleaning and maintenance kits that will allow you to not only take care of the print head, but also any other parts of the machine that may need some attention.
If your printer model has a rather open design in which dust can easily fall into the machine, cover it when not in use. Dust can be just as problematic to the print head as dry ink.
A Long-term Solution
If dry ink is something that keeps plaguing your life, here’s something that will stop you from ripping your hair out: a laser printer. Yes, they are pricey, but the ink and toner used in laser printers is a type of powder, so it’s already solid. Problem solved!
But if your wallet simply can’t take on the cost of a laser printer, printing regularly and periodically attending to the print head should work like a charm.