When my printer cartridges are empty, is everything frozen?

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Alejandra Rangel
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Not being able to print a black and white document because a color ink cartridge is empty: this does not make sense and yet most older generation inkjet multifunctions literally block all printing, or even scanner functions, if the ink runs out in one of the cartridges.



A reader interested in a WorkForce model asks us about this point, asking us to investigate.

Object : When the cartridges are empty

Hello, I'm very interested in this all-in-one and thank you to the team for introducing me to it. The test is quite complete but it still lacks information for me. Maybe TechnologiesTips can investigate: - When the color cartridges are empty can we still print in black and white? - When the cartridges are empty can we still use the scan function? - Once the cartridges are inserted in the printer, do they expire? after how long ? - When the cartridges are expired can we still print (at our own risk)?

Epson WorkForce WF-7620DTWF Introductory price €399



Note TechnologiesTips (26) read the test In the absence of offers find out


  • Epson Expression Premium XP6100 Best price: 138.95 € See the test
  • Canon PIXMA TS5351 Best price: 79.99 € See the test
  • Canon PIXMA TS8350 Best price: 189.99 € See the test
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See more offers Epson Expression Photo XP-950 Introductory price €350



Note TechnologiesTips (5) read the test In the absence of offers find out

  • Epson Expression Premium XP6100 Best price: 138.95 € See the test
  • Canon PIXMA TS5351 Best price: 79.99 € See the test
  • Canon PIXMA TS8350 Best price: 189.99 € See the test
  • Canon PIXMA TS7450 Best price: 89.99 € See the test
  • HP Envy Photo 7830 Best price: 149.99 € See the test
  • Canon PIXMA TS6350 Best price: 129.99 € See the test
See more offers

Asked, Epson first responds that it is quite possible to print in "black only" when a color cartridge is empty. This is the case for all current products in the Home, Premium, Workforce ranges and for the XP-950.


This functionality (which is generalized on Epson products) is a troubleshooting function, so that the user is not blocked if he does not have a spare cartridge on hand. This gives him time to get some. The printer will not work indefinitely in this mode, it will require the color cartridge to be changed after a few days, or when changing the black cartridge if it is also at the end of its life. The driver (or the product in the case of an MFP with screen) warns the user and asks him to confirm if he wants to print his document in black only.

There is also a feature to preserve the black cartridge if it reaches the end of its life when the colors are not: again, the driver will ask the user if he wishes to print in "composite black" (composed of a mixture of cyan, magenta and yellow) in order to preserve the black cartridge and thus prevent the printer from jamming.

Separate cartridges

Moreover, it is possible to use the other functions of the product even if the cartridges are empty. Likewise, it is possible to scan while the printer is printing, and vice versa. The various functions of printers are now quite distinct and can operate independently of each other (which was not always the case several years ago).

When the cartridge is inserted into the printer, air enters it and comes into contact with the ink. Epson recommends using the cartridge within 6 months of inserting it into the printer. This is only an advice, to avoid that the user is confronted with a possible drop in print quality, or even that he damages his product. But the printer will continue to print, even if the cartridge has been inserted for more than 6 months: there is no blockage. It is extremely rare for the ink to dry out in the cartridge, provided that the storage conditions of the product are not extreme, even well after the six months recommended by Epson.
The date on the cartridge packaging is a "best before" date, not an expiration date. This means that the cartridges can be used, even after this date (the printer will not refuse them). Epson cartridges are vacuum sealed during manufacture, preventing the ink from drying out. The only risk is a small drop in color quality (but let's be honest, that wouldn't even be noticeable to the naked eye).

On the other hand, even empty, the cartridges must be present in the printer.

These replies from Epson go to show that the trend is changing when it comes to print blocking. Epson has often been singled out for this practice, like other manufacturers (including Canon) who imposed the blocking. At Canon, the latest models now allow forcing printing by selecting "grey printing".

Canon printer driver interface: grayscale printing.

There is, if not, another method but which only works for a time: shaking the cartridges.

Be careful though: if the possibility of printing or scanning despite the lack of ink is becoming more democratic, it remains for the moment a functionality on a case-by-case basis. Some models still crash completely if one of the cartridges is empty.

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