Why Does My Printer Need Color Ink to Print Black?

Apr 03, 2020

You're about to print some documents for an important presentation tomorrow morning. Luckily, you've bought a brand new black HP 63 ink cartridge to put in your printer. It should be smooth sailing from here; you get your documents printed, present them to your boss, and get that big raise you deserve. From the corner of your eye, you hear a beeping noise coming from your printer. 

breaking printer

There goes the dreaded "Replace Color Ink" error message. Being restricted by your own printer can be an oppressive experience. You already have the black ink cartridge, but why do you need the color cartridges to print? The thought of it alone can drive you mad. But before you decide you curb stomp your printer into oblivion, you need to understand why this occurs.

Is there solid reasoning behind this? Or is this just a marketing ploy to boost more printer ink sales? Below will inform you of everything you need to know about your printer's color ink consumption.

Color Mixing

The average consumer does not have much in-depth knowledge when it comes to CMYK color theory. Granted, unless you're a graphic designer, you really don't need to know much about it to get you through the day. We've all seen the color wheel as a kid and know that mixing two colors will result in a completely different one. But there is so much more that is left unexplained.

Your printer uses CMYK to print documents. The CMYK Color model stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (k), and their relationship with each other to create different colors and shades.

Color mixing circles

There are hundreds of shades for every color, including black. So although it may look like pure black ink on the page, it may be composed of Black, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. In theory, these color combinations can be used infinitely to create different tones of color. 

CMYK uses a sliding scale of 1 to 100 on each of the four-color categories. These combinations can produce around 100 million different colors in total. While comparing certain colors to each other, some are so similar that they are physically indistinguishable to the naked eye.

There are a lot of shades of black. Once again, some indistinguishable to the human eye. Depending on the specific printer model and your settings, the black being printed on the page can be consuming all of the ink cartridges in your printer. 

Depending on the printer, these ratios can vary. For example, some printer models have been proven to use this exact CMYK formula:

100%K, 33%C, 33%M, and 33%Y. 

Let's break this down to understand it easier:

The ratio of 33.3% Cyan, 33.3% Magenta, and 33.3% Yellow, produces the color black from the color ink cartridge.

They are also using the darkest shade of black (100%K) from the black ink cartridge.

Your printer is printing the color black on top of the color black to produce a "different" shade of black. And quite honestly, there's no reasonable explanation for this.

Printer Manufacturers have gone on the defensive when asked about the unnecessary color ink consumption when printing black—mostly claiming that the mixing of colors produces a "richer shade" of black.

While they are technically right, most of us are not able to differentiate the color black from a richer shade of black. Some printers even have "Black Ink Only" mode that can be enabled, in which the results look nearly identical to the default setting that uses color cartridges.

Maintenance Cleaning

Do you ever turn your printer on and hear that loud "whirring" sound. Well, that's called printer maintenance cleaning. This is an automatic cleaning process that ensures your printer is ready for use without any technical issues. This process propels printer ink through the inner system to expel any dried up residue that may restrict the printing process from the printhead.

Maintenance cleaning is a helpful tool for those who have not used their printer in a while. It allows them to start it up and have it running like new, even after months of being dormant. But there's a small catch to it...

As mentioned before, these maintenance cleanings do require ink to start. Some ink will be wasted by performing these cleanings. The problem is that many printers automatically require maintenance cleaning every time you turn them on. Even if you have used your printer within the last hour, turning it back on will prompt this cleaning. 

According to HP's customer support page, Your printer is designed to perform periodic servicing tasks to prevent clogs in the printing mechanism and other print quality issues. This process requires that all ink cartridges in your printer have some ink available in them.

The worst part about this practice is, some printers will refuse to print anything without first being cleaned. That means if you're missing a single color cartridge, you will not be able to print at all. This affects a large portion of HP OfficeJet and HP OfficeJet Pro printers, as over 32 models were confirmed to stop regularly printing without all ink cartridges present.

This has led many to adopt a new practice of leaving their printer on at all times to override these cleanings. Some will swear by the results, and others will lament over the outrageous power consumption and high electric bills.

It's really a catch-22 situation with no sensible solution. It really comes down to which printer model you have and the frequency of your print jobs.

Pseudo-Monopolized Market

We live in a world where predatory practices are often seen as normal. If a company sells you their printer, they want to make sure that you buy their ink to accompany it. The problem with this market is that large manufacturers can charge outrageous prices for printer ink. As a consumer, you have no other options besides pony up and purchase these cartridges or else risk rendering your expensive printer useless.

This problem has prompted the rise of third-party ink manufacturers to step in and help alleviate the pricing issue. Dubbed as Remanufactured or Compatible cartridges, these alternative cheap printer ink options cost significantly less than the name brand competition while maintaining the same print quality. 

Remanufactured ink comes in the exact same cartridge as the name brand. These are recycled name brand ink cartridges that are professionally cleaned, quality inspected and refilled with the same quality ink. They just cost a considerable amount less than the name brand.

Much like how generic medicine brands have created an affordable alternative to name brand medicine, remanufactured, and compatible discount printer ink cartridges aim to do the same. 

When you buy Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) ink cartridges, you are paying for the brand name only.

Printer manufacturers have been doing everything they can to stop third party ink companies from providing affordable cartridges. This case was even brought to the Supreme Court in 2017 with Impression Products v. Lexmark, in which the SCOTUS ruled in favor of third party manufacturers having the right to sell remanufactured ink cartridges. 

Here at 1ink.com, we believe in your right to choose a quality product with full transparency. We have affordable remanufactured and compatible ink cartridges that fit all popular printer brands such as HP, Lexmark, Brother, Canon, and so many more.

Our ink cartridges can cost less than 85% of some of the name brand competitors. If you're in the market for cheap ink and toner cartridges that deliver high-quality results, look no further! With a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee and free same-day shipping on select items, there's no wonder why we've been in the business for over twenty years. Visit our website at 1ink.com for an additional 10% off coupon for your next purchase.