How to Tell if Your Ink Cartridge Is Empty

closeup shot of printer toner

In the growing world of technology, printers play a very large part. There is a wide range of printers available based on the needs of an individual or company, and their capabilities have only grown as their need continues. Nowadays, printers easily print and scan files, create high-quality photos, and even have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities for wireless printing.

However, a printer is only as good as its ink cartridges. Without a good supply of ink and toner, printers are rendered useless for printing out files, photos, and other forms of media. It’s always good to know ahead of time when your printer is running low so that you’re not left disappointed with documents, graphs, and other projects that have faded ink, weakened colors, or no printing at all.

To avoid the problem of having no ink when you need it most, it’s a good idea to know when you’re running low. This way, you can head out for some reinforcements long before you start to notice faded printing. To help, consider the following suggestions to learn how to tell if your ink cartridge is empty.

Visual Changes

The first and most obvious way to tell if your quality ink cartridges need refilling is by recognizing when your printed documents start to lose their luster. Often you’ll notice that reds start to become faded pinks and blacks start to lighten into grays. The colors will often become streaky if you need to refill, and some areas may be more faded than others, making the image unreadable.

If you have a laser printer, you might notice that there are clumps or streaky lines and missing sections, which is a sign that your toner is low. As soon as you notice the quality of the printed documents getting lower or more faint, it’s likely time to invest in some more cartridges.

Print a Printer Report

person using printer to print paperwork

Search your computer for the printer and scanner applications. It may be under Settings, My Computer, or some other basic application. On Macs, this can be found under System Preferences, under Printers & Scanners.

Here you can request to have a Printer Report printed, which will help you to determine if your printer is performing at its highest. The report includes various lines of color, including pink, yellow, and blue, as well as a series of patterns and numbers. If you notice that the report isn’t clear or if it’s faded, then your cartridge or toner needs refilling.

Ink Level Updates

Some smart printers such as the HP will notify you when your HP ink cartridge or toner levels are low via a phone app you can download. This is another one of the perks to investing in a newer model, but older ones might also offer ink level visuals on your computer screen while printing.

How to Replace Ink Cartridges

Printers come in a few different shapes and sizes, but they all generally work the same way when it comes to replacing ink cartridges. First, you’ll want to turn the printer on, and then open up the main flap of the printer. Here you should see the cartridges, as they often sit in this position when the printer is on.

Be sure that you write down the correct make and model before shopping for replacement cartridges so you get the right ones. You’ll need to have the replacements ready to go before removing the empty ones, so as not to let the printer dry out.

To remove the cartridge, be gentle and check for any clips that are holding them in. Usually, cartridges will lift up and out or forward and out. Shake the new cartridge beforehand, and make sure to remove the sticky protective strips. Slide in the new cartridge in the exact same manner that the old one came out.

Print a printer report to ensure that the cartridge is in full working mode and that you’ve done it properly.

Disposing of Empty Cartridges

color printer ink cartridges

Many people are not aware of the fact that ink cartridges should be recycled. It can take more than 450 years for an ink cartridge to decompose in a landfill, and some pieces will take up to 1,000 years to break down entirely. Even though over 75% of waste is recyclable, the world is only recycling about 30% of that amount.

There are a few options for recycling cartridges. The first is to take your empties to a local company in your area that gathers ink cartridges for recycling and re-distributing. Some manufacturers of cartridges also have their own recycling systems, and you can send yours right back to their main address for proper disposal.

Last, but not least, toss your ink cartridges in your recycling bin on garbage day. If you notice that others on the street aren’t recycling their cartridges, feel free to spread the word or offer to collect their empty cartridges for safe disposal.


Ink cartridges are a critical part of the printing process, so it’s important that you know how and when to replace them and how to dispose of them properly. If you’re not sure if your cartridge is empty, consider the information provided to learn more about your printer and the signs to look for when your ink needs replacing.