Ink cartridges

All the Facts About Ink Cartridges

What Is An Ink Cartridge?

An ink cartridge is a disposable container which has the ink that is used by an inkjet printer. You can have just one ink cartridge in an inkjet printer. This can be of the color black or hold the four primary colors – CMYK – cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Inkjet printing can be referred to as a type of computer printing which propels droplets of ink onto paper or plastic to recreate a digital image. Inkjet printers are the most common types of printers and they are of all types from cheap and affordable models to expensive and branded machines.

Inkjet printing is a concept that has been around since the mid-20th century. But it was only since the 1970s that inkjet printers could be used to recreate digital images for printers made by top companies such as Canon, Epson and Hewlett-Packard.

While there are many companies that make inkjet printers, there are four brands that lead the market. They are: Canon, HP, Epson, and Brother.

Inkjet technologies make use of print heads that feature piezoelectric crystals or thermal DOD to deposit the materials on the paper, plastic or other substrates.

Most inkjet printers are based on two technologies – Continuous Inkjet (CJI) and Drop-on-demand (DOD).

Types of Ink Cartridges

There are different types of ink cartridges that you can choose from. The type of ink cartridge you need will depend on the model and make of the printer. You will have to do your research on the various options that are available and how much the replacement cartridges cost before buying the printer.

It is possible that you might end up paying more than you really wanted to, which is why you should most certainly spend time on your research. Here are the different types of ink cartridges.

OEM Ink Cartridges

OEM ink cartridges are those made by the original manufacturer of the printer. These cartridges are of a very good quality and they are also on the expensive side. You can be 100% sure that they will be perfect and fit the printer. The yield will be as high as it gets and the failure rate is very low. You should go for them if what you want is precision and durability. Do bear in mind that these cartridges are not cheap.

Compatible Ink Cartridges

Compatible ink cartridges are those that are made by another company, or a third party vendor or manufacturer, which is different from the company that made the printer. These cartridges are generally cheap in comparison to OEM ink cartridges. You can find some that are an exact replica of the OEM cartridges, but don’t expect them to be perfect. These cartridges will not give you the same sort of quality as OEM cartridges, and not the same type of print accuracy, durability and crisp quality. But they are certainly serviceable and fit the design of the printer reasonably well.

Other Ink Cartridge Types – Refurbished and Refilled Ink Cartridges

You can also choose from other types of ink cartridges such as refurbished or remanufactured ink cartridges. These cartridges are basically older products that were refilled and used again after reconditioning.

Basically, the vendor takes empty and discarded ink cartridges, cleans them up and adds ink. The quality of these refurbished cartridges will vary depending on the company that supplies them.

Refilled cartridges are different from refurbished cartridges are they are only refilled, and not reconditioned. Refilled cartridges can be quite messy and they do not have the expected quality. So between refurbished and refilled cartridges, opt for the refurbished ones.

Drop on Demand Printing

There are two types of drop on demand (DOD) printing you should know about – Thermal DOD and Piezoelectric DOD.

Thermal DOD

Most of the inkjet printers you see in the market for home use, such as those by Canon, Hewlett-Packard and Lexmark, make use of the thermal DOD process. This means they make use of thermal energy to move around minute drops of ink on the page.

Thermal DOD printers were developed by a product manager called as John Vaught and his team at the Corvallis Division of Hewlett-Packard. A similar project was carried out by an engineer from Canon, Ichiro Endo. Endo was working on the piezoelectric effect for moving the ink out of the nozzle. He observed that the ink would shoot out of a syringe whenever it was heated with a soldering iron.

Vaught made use of Endo’s discovery to develop a new type of printer that was fast and cheap. He found that the thin-film resistors used in the printer generated enough heat for firing ink droplets. The HP and Canon project were initially independent of each other, but later the two companies found that they had a lot in common and decided to share ideas

Basically, in the thermal DOD process the ink cartridges used by the printer consist of many tiny chambers. Each of the chambers contains heater, built according to photolithography. So when a droplet is ejected from any one of the chambers, a pulse of electric current passes through the heating element. This results in a fast vaporization of the ink in the chamber and the formation of a bubble, leading to an increase in the pressure.

When this happens the droplet of ink is propelled onto the paper. The surface tension of the ink and the condensation and contraction of the vapor results in the rushing of the ink into the chamber through a tiny channel that goes through the ink reservoir.

The inks used in these types of cartridges make use of colorants such as dyes and pigments and are water based. The inks consist of a volatile component which is responsible for the formation of the vapor bubble; this enables the ejection of the ink droplets. There is no special material used in them and the print head is not too expensive.

Piezoelectric DOD

Most of the industrial and commercial inkjet printers such as those made by Epson and Brother make use of piezoelectric material in the chambers behind the nozzle of each inkjet cartridge rather than make use of a heating element. So when you apply voltage to this, the piezoelectric material shifts shape and creates a pressure pulse in the fluid. This leads to a droplet of ink rushing out of the nozzle.

The Piezoelectric inkjet consists of a wide variety of inks, far more than what you will get with a thermal inkjet. The reason for this is that this type of printing technology does not consist of any volatile components and there is no problem with the buildup of ink residue. The only issue is that the print heads cost much more because of the lead zirconium titanate and other piezoelectric materials that are used.

Ink formulations

The main issue with inkjet inks is that you have to decide between coloring agents that stay on the surface compared to the fast disbursement of the carrier fluid.

You may be familiar with the inkjet printers that you use at home or office, which are based on an aqueous ink, which consists of a mixture of dyes, glycol, water and pigments. These inks are cheap to make but not easy to control when on the surface of the paper, plastic or other media. They require a medium that is specially coated for this.

The HP inks, which you may have used in the past, consist of a sulfonated polyazo black dye and other compounds such as nitrates. The aqueous inks that are a feature of many printers make use of thermal inkjet heads and they require water to work.

In this context you should know that aqueous inks offer the highest range of colors and the brightest colors. But they are not waterproof unless you add lamination to them after the print job. Dye -based inks on the other hand, are cheap and can fade fast when you expose them to light or ozone.

Here’s a look at the different types of ink formulations.

Solvent inks

The most common ingredient used in solvent inks are what are called as VOCs or volatile organic compounds. These are organic chemical compounds with a very high vapor pressure. You can obtain different colors using pigments instead of dyes with these inks. This is why they are resistant to fading.

The biggest advantage of using this type of solvent inks is that they are cheap and allow you to print easily on uncoated and flexible vinyl substrates. That is why they are used in the printing of billboard ads, banner ads, car and truck graphics and adhesive decals.

The drawbacks are that there is a vapor generated by this solvent and you will need to get rid of the used solvent. It is a hazardous material and cannot be allowed to remain as it is. The prints obtained from solvent inks are UV-resistant and waterproof, so you can use them for any outside use without any waterproof coatings.

UV-curable inks

UV-curable inks are made from acrylic monomers and come with an initiator. When the print job is completed, these inks are cured by exposing them to strong UV-radiation.

This exposure leads to a chemical reaction in which the photo-initiators force the ink components and cause them to cross-link to form a solid. Usually, a UV LED or a mercury-vapor lamp is used in the curing process. A strong power is applied for a brief period of time so that the curing inks can settle on the thermally sensitive substrates.

The UV inks once applied cure and set on the substrate, they do not evaporate because of the chemical reaction. This is all of the delivered volume is used in the coloration process and none of the materials are removed or lost due to evaporation. The chemical reaction is pretty fast and the graphic or anything that is printed as a result of this is dried almost instantly. You won’t have any solvents penetrated through the substrates and the prints that you get are of a very good quality.

Dye Sublimation Inks

Dye sublimation inks are special types of inks that contain sublimation dyes. They are used to print on to materials such as fabrics either directly or indirectly. They have a high percentage of polyester fibers. When you put these inks through a heating process, they sublimate into the fibers. What you get is an image with powerful and vivid colors which is also long lasting.

Head design

There are essentially two types of inkjet head designs – fixed head and disposable head. Each of these designs have their pros and cons.

Fixed Head Ink-Jet cartridges

When it comes to fixed head designs, you have an inbuilt print head which is also called as a gaiter head. This is built in a way to last the printer permanently. The philosophy behind this design is that you don’t need to replace the head every time the ink is exhausted. So the costs of printing can be made lower and the head itself can be made more efficient than a low cost disposable one. Also, this requires no calibration of any sort.

However, the problem with fixed head design is that if the fixed head gets damaged, getting a proper replacement head is not easy. It is expensive to begin with, and the removal and replacement of the head is not so easy either. Often in this case, the printer itself has to be replaced.

Fixed head designs are preferred in high end printers used for business or industrial use. They are not used in those that are used for home or office use.

Disposable Head Ink-Jet cartridges

Disposable head design-based inkjet cartridges are used in printers meant for home use or office use. These print heads are supplied along with the replaceable ink cartridges. So every time the printer cartridge runs out, the cartridge and the print head are both replaced by a new one.

The problem with disposable head design is it leads to a higher consumable expenditure and it is not so easy to manufacture a high precision head for a good price. The print heads made with this design are sometimes clogged and damaged after a lot of use, but that should not be too much of a concern as you can get them replaced easily without spending too much on it.

Hewlett-Packard is a leading maker of printers and printer cartridges; that has always preferred disposable print heads. Canon was in favor of this design as well, but not so much these days. Many printer manufacturers are choosing this design model as a way to compete against third party makers of ink cartridges. The reason is many of these third party vendors do not have the capacity to make specialized disposable print heads.

Hewlett-Packard inkjet printers make use of a disposable ink tank attached to a disposable head. This is replaced once in every ten ink tanks and is preferred in low-volume applications such as at homes and offices.

Cartridge Manufacturers

Here’s a list of the leading cartridge manufacturers in the printing industry…

  • Brother
  • Canon
  • Dell
  • Epson
  • HP (Hewlett Packard)
  • Kodak
  • Konica Minolta/QMS
  • Lexmark
  • Panasonic
  • Pantum
  • Pitney Bowes
  • Primera
  • Ricoh
  • Samsung
  • Sharp
  • Xerox

Let’s review a few of them briefly.

Epson Ink Cartridges

Epson makes some of the best printers on the market and they have an excellent collection of inkjet printer cartridges. Their cartridges such as T1285, T0807, T0715, and T0711 are of a very good quality and ideal for the popular Epson Stylus series.

HP Ink Cartridges

Hewlett-Packard is one of the biggest companies in the world, one that has been behind many of the cutting edge technologies in computing. They also make excellent inkjet cartridges. You can choose from a range of high quality HP inkjet cartridges available at an affordable price.

Dell Ink Cartridges

Dell is one of the leading makers of computers and computer accessories in the world. Dell printers are not the best, but for a cost conscious consumer they are good enough. You can choose from a range of Dell inkjet cartridges to do with the inkjet printers made under the Dell brand.

Canon Ink Cartridges

Canon makes the very popular line of Inkjet printers called as PIXMA. They also make top-rated ink cartridges under the Canon brand, such as the CLI-521 CYM, PG-510, and PGI-5.

Brother Ink Cartridges

Brother is a maker of affordable Compact Color Inkjet Multifunction Printers which are specifically meant for homeowners. They make high quality ink cartridges to go with that.

Lexmark Ink Cartridges

Lexmark is another company that makes top-rated inkjet printers such as the Color Jet, Optra and Medley inkjet printers. You can also choose from efficient ink cartridges to go with these models.

Panasonic Ink Cartridges

Panasonic is one of the highest rated brands in the printing industry. They make highly advanced inkjet printers and as you might expect, even their ink cartridges are of a very good, almost faultless quality.


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