Often referred to as ‘Black Gold’ or sometimes as liquid gold, printer ink is expensive. In fact, the cost of your printer, over its own lifespan, can account for as little as ⅛ of the cost you’ll spend printing- the majority of the other ⅞’s comes from the ink itself. Hewlett-Packard printer ink is so expensive, that it’s previously been shown to be more expensive per ounce than Russian caviar or a 1985 vintage Krug champagne.

Given how expensive it is, it is no wonder that offices everywhere find themselves trying to stretch their ink to last drop, and many others try turning to alternative sources for ink purchasing.

You’ve been there before- your printer keeps flashing a warning that it’s time to change your ink cartridge, but you’ve kept printing and continued to have perfect prints for days, perhaps even weeks.

You’ve likely experienced the opposite too, and found that as soon as the warning light flicks on, your printer shuts down and refuses to print entirely- but you suspect there’s remaining ink in there yet.

It ranges from surprising, to enraging, the amount of ink that is sometimes left in a cartridge when that replacement warning light comes on. Whether it be manufacture-branded or third-party type cartridges, some printers force users to replace black ink when the cartridge is half full, and >others report 20-25% remaining ink in the cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges.

Other groups report that intermittent use, versus printing in large batches, can often times print 20-50% fewer pages, which more accurately reflects most printer-owners use patterns. Consumer and manufacturer tests and estimations fail to account for this leading to further discrepancy in the numbers.

Manufacturers report some valid reasons for this, for example Brian Hilton at Rochester Institute of Technology, holding nearly 30 inkjet patents has said that- “Many inks, if they run dry, can cause significant damage to the printer. You always want to leave a buffer in the tank so that the printer never runs dry. There should always be a factor of safety included.”

So is it dangerous to use your printer after the warning light has come on? Potentially yes, it could damage your printer or the recyclable cartridge. However, the ink costs you far more in the long run than the printer itself ever will, and printers can force you to be wasteful by telling you to change out ink cartridges earlier than should be necessary. So the choice comes down what you value more.

While considering the disposal of ink cartridges or printers, you might want to look into green disposal options.