Can Empty Ink Cartridges Damage Print Heads?
Keeping your printer running smoothly can prevent productivity losses and unnecessary repair costs for your business. One of the worst ways to damage your printer is to leave an empty ink cartridge sitting in it, or to allow a cartridge to go dry while you're printing. An empty cartridge can damage and clog a printer's print heads. At best you'll have to replace the cartridge and do some maintenance; but you could end up damaging the print head so badly you'll need to replace it.
In thermal inkjet printers, the ink in the cartridge serves two functions. First and most obviously, it provides the pigmentation for printed imagery. Secondly, it acts as a coolant for the printer head. Thermal inkjet printer heads contain a small heating element that vaporizes a tiny amount of ink to create a steam bubble inside the nozzle and produce the force to push a droplet through the nozzle onto the paper. With no ink to act as a coolant, the element can begin to burn out in the head and cause permanent damage that often necessitates replacing the entire print head.
Epson printers use a piezoelectric vacuum system. Instead of a heating element, the piezoelectric crystal is located in the nozzle. When a current is applied to the crystal, it vibrates and creates a momentary gap for the ink to drip into the nozzle before the seal is closed once more. When the cartridge is empty and the printer is run, air is sucked past the crystal, breaking the vacuum seal. As a result, even installing a fresh cartridge will lead to poor results -- or none at all until the vacuum is restored by forcing the air out of the head.
Leaving an empty cartridge in the printer can result in little more than clogs, which can inhibit performance and over time potentially damage the print heads. But when the printer is left for long periods of time without being used or with an empty cartridge, ink residue on the head can dry out. This forms clots of ink on the head, which, in turn, can clog the system and lead to poor performance. Many printers have a head-cleaning mode that may be able to clear the clogs at the expense of wasted ink. However, when these modes are insufficient to clear the clogs, all you do is waste ink and potentially cause lasting damage to the heads by forcing more ink though them than during normal operation.
Preventing damage via empty cartridges is fairly simple. The easiest way is to not let the cartridges run dry -- your computer will usually let you know when your ink cartridge is running low. If not, you can usually tell due to the appearance of white streaks, faded colors or otherwise poor quality prints. By replacing the cartridges when they are low instead of empty, you reduce the risk of print head damage. If you're not going to use your printer for a long time or it will be a considerable amount of time before you'll replace an empty cartridge, you'll want to preserve the print head. Remove the printer head from the printer and seal it in a plastic bag with minimal air and a few drops of water to maintain moisture in the bag. This will keep the head from drying out and creating clogs during long periods of inactivity.