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Printing with the Black Ink Cartridge Only

I am often asked if certain printers can continue printing with only one cartridge installed or with a cartridge missing. With the exception of some Lexmark printers that have the option of “Complete-A-Print ” the answer is no, I am not aware of any printer currently available that will continue printing if it does not believe it has a full set of cartridges installed.

The most common intended application of having a single cartridge installed is printing black and white documents using only the black cartridge. This in itself is not a particularly unreasonable request and you may be wondering why your printer will not let you continue.

Why can’t I print with just the black cartridge?

Contrary to popular belief, printer manufacturers do not stop you printing with the black cartridge only to force you into buying more ink cartridges. Whilst I am sure they don’t complain about the extra funds, there are several very valid reasons for your printer to prevent you from printing with only a single cartridge installed.

The main reason being that ink can dry at the point of exit from a printhead if left for an extended period of time. This not only degrades the quality of your prints, but can cause hard to remove or irreversible blockages within the printhead. Printers stop this from happening by pushing a small quantity of ink through the printhead when you turn the printer on, perform a cleaning cycle,  turn the printer off or even if the printer has been left idle for a while (on some models). If however there was no cartridge installed this ink could not be pulled though, thus jeopardising the future performance of the printhead.

Secondly, if no cartridge is installed and your printer tries to pull through ink it will drag nothing but air into the printer. This may not sound too serious, but when you take into account that printheads either heat the ink to boiling point with electrical current or push it through tiny holes using a high pressure pump you can begin to understand the logic behind stopping you printing. If you were to continue printing without ink it can result in an overheated printhead or fractured printhead components caused by vibrations within the printer.

The third reason that springs to mind is a drop in print quality from one or more of the colours being unavailable. This absence can even affect black-only prints. Many printers use the other colours at their disposal to create a dark murky colour and then use a little black ink for definition. The image below shows the original graphic with bars of cyan, magenta, yellow and black on the left and on the right a print created using a HP PhotoSmart Plus B209b with an empty black ink cartridge.

As you can see the printer has combined an element of cyan, magenta and yellow to create a base for the black ink. Using a black cartridge only can result it prints that lack definition or are not as deep as they could be. In my experience it is best to not guess how you printer/software will interpret an image as it can result in some very odd looking prints.

Is there anything I can do?

As mentioned previously your printer will not let you continue with a cartridge missing, but certain types of printers will allow you to continue with an empty cartridge. Whether or not this is an option will depend strongly upon what kind of printer you own. Firstly we need to determine whether the printhead is part of your printer or if it comes included within your printer cartridges.

The printhead is a small mechanical part that dispenses ink directly from the cartridge an onto the paper. The easiest thing to do is to look for a protrusion on the bottom of the cartridge and a copper-like strip that runs across two sides of the of the cartridge, with gold contacts on the “front”. If however your cartridge has a small circuit board or chip available and/or a simple outlet (with a felt like pad visible) on the bottom of the cartridge, the printhead is almost certainly part of the printer.

The image below should give you a pretty good idea what kind of cartridge your printer takes:

Depending strongly upon the type of printer you own, you may be able to continue printing with an empty cartridge installed or by indicating to the printer that you wish to continue. If your printer has the printhead built into the printer then it will almost certainly not let you continue

HP, Lexmark & Dell Cartridges With a Printhead

Once these cartridges believe they are empty your printer will not stop you continuing trying to use them. The most annoying thing you will have to deal with is a low ink level estimate from your printer. This makes them ideal for continuing to print using only a single cartridge.

The only exception to this rule being cartridges that fall under Lexmark’s return program. Once these cartridges believe they are empty they will self terminate and not function in your printer. These cartridges are easily identified as they have “Return Program Cartridge” in small text under the numerical code that identifies the cartridge on the label.

Canon Cartridges With a Printhead

Once these Canon cartridges believe they are empty your printer will temporarily stop printing and ask for a small prompt from you in order to continue printing. This prompt usually involves simply holding down the RESUME button for 5 seconds. We have covered this subject in more detail here.

HP Cartridges Without a Printhead

A small number of HP cartridges will ask for your permission to continue once the printer believes they are empty. This is normally as simple as clicking OK to dismiss a message as demonstrated below.

If no such message presents itself then sadly there is no other option than to replace the cartridge in question if you wish to carry on printing (see description below).

Epson, Canon, Brother, Kodak, Advent & Lexmark Cartridges Without a Printhead

Cartridges that fall under this description will simply not let you continue if they believe a cartridge is missing or is out of ink. there is no work around or solution currently available other than replacing the cartridge. Some would suggest using a chip resetter to make the cartridge identify itself as full to the printer. I personally would advise against this as you run the risk of damaging the printhead (as discussed earlier) and replacing such a component can be an expensive endeavor.

I hope you have found this article interesting/useful. If you are having any doubts as to whether your particular machine will enable you to print with an empty cartridge please let us know in the comments below.

About the author

Matthew Stevenson

I have been involved in the printer industry since I was 18 and have been an employee of Refresh Cartridges since early 2009. I am a dedicated family man, gamer, music fan and friend to all. I write the majority of the content here on Igloo and am responsible for its upkeep.

14 comments

  1. abel

    Thanks you for you knologed about printers I solved problems with 3 of my own printers thanks one more time

  2. Evona York

    Thank you so much, Matthew! Your material has given me a lot of insight on how my Deskjet printer works, and how to care for the cartridges–which means a great monetary savings. In these times when we are all struggling to save everywhere we can, that's very important. Your answer on AllExperts.com was extremely helpful, and I gave you top rating as well as a nomination for Expert of the Month.. Thank you for taking the time and effort to help.

  3. Peter

    I am in desperate need of some help regarding my SX415 which is being run on my Intel Mac running Mountain Lion.
    I have been using compatible cartridges for some years with my SX 415 Epson printer, today although I have plenty of ink in all of the cartridges suddenly it will not recognise Black Cyan or Yellow. Can you please offer any solution such as turning off the " monitor"? I am unsure if my Mac has such a monitor. Every thing was working fine after I replaced the Yellow cartridge earlier today then several hours later I am stuck.
    Many thanks in anticipation

  4. Mike Rogers

    Hello Matthew, I use a Canon Pixma 450 ink jet printer which has four different colour inks, but most of my printing is for black text and I have tried to find a printer which uses only black ink. however, no success so far. Do you know whether such a single ink printer is available in the UK? Thanks. Mike

    1. RefreshCarts

      Not aware of any commercially avbailable printers that just use a black cartridge. However all of the printers listed below will continue to print with an empty colour cartridge as described in this article.

      Canon Pixma MG2150, MG2250, MG3150, MG3250, MG4150, MG4250, MX375, MX395, MX435, MX455, MX515, MX525, iP2700, iP2702, MP230, MP240, MP250, MP252, MP260, MP270, MP272, MP280, MP282, MP330, MP480, MP490, MP492, MP495, MP499, MX320, MX330, MX340, MX350, MX410, MX420

      HP Deskjet 1000, 1050, 1050A All-in-One, 2050, 2050A, 2050s, 2510, 3000, 3050, 3050A e-All-in-One, 3055A e-All-in-One

      HP Officejet 4500, 4500 Wireless, J4524, J4535, J4540, J4550, J4580, J4585, J4660, J4680, J4680C

      I hope this helps.

  5. dsppushpendra

    hello , i just bought a canon mg3250, first i choose to grayscale printing but i think it still eating my colour cartridge, can u help me out to suggest me how can take or set it to black print out only so it wont eat my colour cartridge
    thanks

    1. RefreshCarts

      Your printer will always use a certain amount of colour ink as covered above. It is used both for definition when printing black and when your printer is performing cleans etc. to keep the printhead fresh.

      1. dsppushpendra

        should i replace my printer with laser printer if I need to take print out around 200-300 per month … does it a cost effective decision or not

        1. RefreshCarts

          If you only print in black, then a mono laser printer may be a worthy investment for you. 200-300 a month seems like an adequate yeild for a laser printer. Plus with a laser printer you would have the added bonus of the ink not being able to dry up if it was only used once a month for printing.

          1. Jonathan

            Hiya

            I've got the MG3250 as well, and for some reason, even when I select grayscale, it prints in colour. Is there any way of avoiding this? Cheers

  6. Hobsonn

    Got a canon pixma mg3250 which has been acting up with error E05. I was wondering, could it be that this is because I'm attempting to use it without the colour cartridge? I've tried two different black cartridges on the chance one was broken so it seems unlikely that that's the problem.

    1. RefreshCarts

      Error E05 indicates that the printer cannot recognise an ink cartridge. If you are attempting to use your printer with only one cartridge installed this would seem a likely cause.

      You genuinely have to have both installed for your printer to even attempt to print. You can however just install an empty colour cartridge if you wish.

  7. Vivian

    Hi am using Canon Pixma MG3550 with original ink, however it just staried saying low ink level even i havent prited not more than 50 sheets. Would you suggest to replce with compatible ink or reman ink once the original one run out. Original inks for MG3550 is too expensive for the amount sheet it produce.

  8. Lazza

    In the section regarding Brother cartridges you wrote:

    «there is no work around or solution currently available other than replacing the cartridge»

    Yesterday I "fixed" my compatible cartridges (for Brother DCP-J140W) which were labeled as empty (with "cannot detect") message. I was mad because there was still about 20% of ink in all of them, but my printer only recognized the yellow one. I solved the issue by covering the sensor window, using a marker.

    Funnily enough, this solution was suggested by a couple of pictures posted on the Brother help center for another printer, here: http://www.brother-usa.com/FAQs/Solution.aspx?FAQ
    (last two color photos)

    After doing this, the printer performed a print test and all four colors were perfect.

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