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Can Printer Ink Dry Up? And Other Risks to a Dormant Printer Fleet

Bryant Hays
05/18/2021
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Printer cartridges don’t last forever, but how long can they last? As more and more workers return to the office, they may find equipment that hasn’t been used recently isn’t performing at full power. Here’s what you need to know about keeping your printers from drying up.

First, be aware that most of this article applies to inkjet printers. Laser printers use toner which will not dry out the same way an ink cartridge does. Unlike ink, which is liquid-based, toner is a dry powder composed of plastic components so it will not dry out.  You can leave a toner cartridge in your printer for weeks untouched and it should still print.

However, people who don’t use their ink printers frequently enough will find that cartridges dry up quickly and can easily become clogged as a result. There are a couple of reasons why ink may go bad.

Using Expired Cartridges

Most of us don’t know that printer cartridges have expiration dates and using them after this date can lead to problems with printing. We generally advise to never store cartridges longer than 12 months to avoid any issue, and make sure to store them in cool, dry areas away from direct sunlight.

Manually Refilling Cartridges

If you try to refill used-up ink cartridges, you can accidentally get air into the mix, drying up the ink and clogging nozzle heads.

Storing in Hot Places

Always ensure that your printer and refill cartridges are kept in a room with a stable temperature. Heat can affect the performance of your ink cartridges.

Using Old Ink

Ink cartridges can dry out over time.  If they are sitting in your machine for an extended period, they will eventually dry up and become unusable.

The simplest way to combat this problem is by printing more frequently or running regular cleans and ink tests to ensure the nozzles remain clean. We recommend printing at least once every couple of weeks to keep your ink cartridges operating smoothly. A printhead cleaning can usually get an idle cartridge up and running again. If dried up ink is causing a clog, the cleaning function works to prime your cartridges.  

How to Keep Your Ink Fresh

The shelf life of a printer cartridge is the approximate amount of time a cartridge will last in its sealed package.  The shelf life for an original printer cartridge is 24 months and the shelf life for a compatible cartridge is usually 36 months.

As mentioned above, expiration dates are included on cartridges to encourage users to print before their printer ink becomes susceptible to clogs or print quality issues.  Dates can be found on the side of the cartridge or on the cartridge box. Many factors, not just the expiration date, contribute to the eventual deterioration of a printer cartridge, including how it’s stored, the temperature of the storage environment and whether it’s in a sealed package or not.

Cartridges last longer when stored properly in the correct environment. Most last for at least two years after the purchase date if they remain in their sealed package. An expired cartridge could potentially clog your printhead, which can be an expensive to fix, depending on what printer model you have.

Cartridges can also dry up if they are not used properly. To get the most out of your printer cartridge, make sure it remains sealed and is stored upright in a cool, dark space like a desk cupboard.  Once installed, be sure that you run a print job at least once every couple of weeks to keep the cartridge primed.  

In addition, there is a better way to manage your ink and toner. Just-in-Time delivery uses an algorithm that factors in both ink usage and print volume on a particular device to deliver fresh supplies. A Just-in-Time strategy means you don’t have to buy and stock toner yourself. Instead, toner inventory is managed through a local service and distribution center and delivered as needed. You will not need to store or manage an inventory of your own.

If you have any questions about caring for your cartridge or if you’d like to learn more about GFC's Just-in-Time Toner Replenishment Program or how our Managed Print Service can help your company, reach out to us today for a free assessment.  

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