How to Check Printer Ink Levels and Replace When Low

How to Check Printer Ink Levels Replace When Low

If you have a printer in your office and would like to do some essential maintenance, learning to check your printer ink levels and replace them when they’re running low is easy and straightforward. 

Here are some tips and tricks on how to check and replace your ink. But before you become an expert in how to check your printer’s ink levels and replace the cartridges yourself, you should understand how a printer works. 

How Printers Work

It’s easy to overlook some of our machines’ minutiae in the fast-moving modern age, so we don’t always know how the gadgets we use work. However, when you’re attempting to fix something, it always helps to have at least a cursory understanding of how it operates.  

The modern inkjet printer’s ancestor was the Gutenberg printing press’s movable type in the 16th century. The inception of the typewriter in the 1860s provided additional insights into how to get ink on paper coherently. 

Modern-day printers convert digital images into images on paper by translating the digital file into components a printer can use. What you would like to print is then transmitted onto the paper with a series of minuscule dots in different colors. 

inkjet printer on desk

Inkjet printers’ jets do not physically touch the paper running through the apparatus. Instead, tiny ink droplets are jetted onto the paper by pushing them out of nozzles at high speeds or electrifying them. 

Instead of a mere 64 dots of ink per character, today’s inkjet printers use up to 5,000 dots per character. 

Difference Between Inkjet and Laser Printers

One of the most decisive distinctions between laser printers and inkjet printers is that the latter relies on ink more than the former. Laser printers use toner, which is a powder, and uses electromagnetics to embed the toner on the paper. 

If you have a lot of color images to print out or use your printer frequently, an inkjet printer is an excellent choice. When you need your inkjet printer to work consistently well, you should learn the signs of when you need to change the ink and how to do so effectively. To do that, you need to understand the specific types of ink printers use. 

Types of Printer Inks

Inkjet printers can use two different types of ink: dye-based ink and pigmented ink.

  • Dye-based ink–Coloration is dissolved in liquid, usually glycol or water. Ink flows smoothly onto the paper and dries quickly once it’s applied. This type of ink creates sharp, vibrant images, but it isn’t waterproof, so printouts fade in two to five years.  
  • Pigmented ink–In contrast, the color particles in pigmented ink are being held in suspension and create long-lasting images and deep colors usually preferred by professionals. You can produce different results with specific ink and paper combinations, and this versatility is handy for professionals like architects, graphic artists and photographers. 

types of printer inks graphic

If you have an inkjet printer in your office, but you aren’t using it to print large volumes of professional-grade photographs, you’re probably using dye-based ink in your printer. 

If it’s a color printer, your printer uses four different colors–cyan, magenta, yellow and black–and creates a myriad of combinations between them to produce printouts. Each ink cartridge will have different levels of ink at any given time.

Signs Your Printer Is Low on Ink

Usually, the first sign your printer’s ink levels need replacing or refilling is when the Low Ink warning first appears. If you see a notification indicating your printer ink is low on the display or control panel, you know something is up with your printer. There are other signs that you may need to re-up your printer ink.

When you have low amounts of ink or toner, the printer heads don’t get consistently covered, resulting in printing mistakes. If your printouts are coming out blotchy or smudged, that’s a fair warning you have a minimal amount of printer ink. 

You may see streaks or notice your printouts’ colors aren’t as vibrant as you’d like. Sometimes, one ink cartridge will be lower than another, so colors won’t necessarily be less vibrant but a different hue altogether. If your green images are coming out more blue than you’d prefer, you may have to change out one of your ink cartridges, if not all of them. 

Sometimes a printer that’s low on ink will skip pages or only offer minimal low-quality printing options, and it might stop working. If you don’t keep a close eye on the ink and toner levels in your printer, you could irrevocably damage your machine. 

The Dangers of Running Low on Ink

When your printer is low on ink, you not only risk the integrity of your printer, you can also disrupt office productivity. During a large print job, if some of the pages are coming out blotchy or not at all, it may be due to low ink levels. But if you only realize this during a printing job, you may have to start all over to maintain quality and consistency throughout your printout. 

Running low on ink can also damage your machine. When you have low ink levels, your ink nozzle could start to dry out and clog, causing pressure to back up in the printhead. Consequently, your printer may overexert, produce more ink and eventually break down. 

To be more proactive, learn how to keep your printer ink from drying out and check and replace your ink to avoid these issues from the start.

large inkjet printer

Anatomy of an Inkjet Cartridge

Depending on your printer’s model and size, the printhead may be difficult to access when changing your ink cartridges. Touching the incorrect printer part or inaccurately installing the cartridge can lead to clogging, a faulty electrical connection and overall malfunction. Understanding how an ink cartridge connects to the printhead can help you place the cartridge correctly, ensuring the connection is secure and optimizing the printer operation. 

An inkjet cartridge consists of four components. The nozzle plate sprays the ink from the cartridge onto the paper. The cover plate conceals the nozzles when not in use to prevent drying, leaks and blockage. The common ink chamber is the area where the ink is transferred before being ejected onto the paper. Finally, an ink cartridge has a connectivity plate which communicates between the printer body and the cartridge. 

How to Check Ink Levels with Your Computer

There are a few specific ways to check your levels of ink and toner. You can do it through your computer or check manually through the printer.

To check your ink levels, select Devices and Printers from the Windows Start menu. Once you’ve selected Printers in your search bar, you should be able to see the different printers to which your computer is connected. When you click the printer model you’d like to check, you should see, toward the bottom, a subheader that reads: Status. This area will display your printer ink levels. 

check your ink levels graphic

Some manufacturers require users to register with the company online after purchasing and installing a printer for the first time. Registering and installing the printer software allows your printer to send automatic alerts when the printer ink is getting low, providing you with ample time to replace your ink cartridges.

How to Check Ink Levels on the Printer

There are a lot of different printers on the market. To successfully keep an office printer running, learn how to check and replace Inkjet ink in all types of printers, like HP printer ink and Dell printer ink

Luckily, they’re all very similarly designed, and checking and replacing ink is reasonably straightforward for each. You don’t need to understand the development and characterization of ink for an Inkjet printer to swap out the printer ink.

  • HP Printers–With Windows, you’ll need to download a specific HP Print and Scan Doctor program. With this software installed, you will quickly check ink levels from your computer. When the application is open, click on the tab that reads Printer/Supply Levels to check the ink.
  • Dell Printers–On your PC’s control panel, choose View Devices and Printers from under the Hardware and Sounds menu to find your connected Dell printer. From here, select the services tab to check the levels of various inks and toners in your printer. 
  • Canon Printers–You can check levels of ink on the printer itself with Canon products. Open up Canon IJ Status Monitor to look at the levels of ink and toner. 
  • Epson Printers–These types of printers have a Status Utility Monitor to help provide insight and information about your printer. From the Start menu or Home Screen Dashboard, find the printer drive, displaying various print statistics, like paper jams and other errors. However, if an ink cartridge has broken, the printer drive will not provide information about the ink breakdown. 

how to check ink levels graphic

Step 1: Preparation

You can’t change the ink cartridges unless you have suitable replacements prepared. Double-check the model number and brand when you’re purchasing ink cartridges to ensure you’re getting the correct ones. 

The first thing you should note before changing ink cartridges is your printer’s brand and model number. The model number will be on the printer itself, either outside or inside the housing. It will also be in the product user’s manual and warranty you received when you bought your printer. The owner’s manual is a useful tool, and you can also find reliable resources online in the form of PDFs. 

Step 2: Opening the Printer and Accessing the Cartridges

If you haven’t already, open the lid or flap on the top of your printer. If a movable piece isn’t delineated on the printer itself, it should be fairly central and easy to access. 

When you open the flap, the cartridges should automatically slide to the center, or you should be able to do it without obstruction. Do not force any part of the machine to do something that doesn’t seem natural as you could easily break it. 

If the cartridges don’t move on their own, or you can’t easily slide them yourself, look for an “Ink” or a “Drop” button. Once pressed, you should be able to take out the cartridges for easy maintenance. Avoid aggressively pulling the printhead out of its housing. 

open printer cmyk cartridges

Lastly, note the numbers on the cartridges and ensure they correspond to the numbers on the cartridges you’re going to replace them with unless you’re changing colors. 

The numbers and labels on the ink cartridges will vary by manufacturer. If you’re looking for the same proficiency level, you want the same cartridges and ink in your printer. If you’re unsure, you can contact the printer manufacturer or a store with printers and supplies for guidance. 

Step 3: Swapping Out Cartridges

Depending on what kind of printer you have, there should be several different cartridges to choose from which you should be able to remove by gently pulling. 

Some cartridges have clips that keep them locked in place, so check either side of the cartridge before pulling too mightily. To release them, push the top part of the clip to remove it. Many cartridges eject from their casing at a slight angle to the point of attachment. 

If you haven’t gotten your cartridges refilled or haven’t purchased replacements yet, hold off on taking the cartridges out of the printer. If you leave a printhead empty for too long, it will dry out and become unusable.  

Once you’ve determined which cartridge is going where, replace each cartridge one at a time, shaking them before installation. Ensure the flexible circuit on the exterior of the cartridge faces the printhead. 

When you slide the cartridge home, you should hear a click and feel resistance if you try and pull it out again. Once all the cartridges are in the locked position, they will all be the same height. 

Close the lid and print out a test page to ensure all the inks are firing correctly. It may take more than one run-through to get the inks flowing. 

yellow cartridge pulled out of printer

The Final Word

If you work from home or in an office, you may rely on an inkjet printer for your printouts. Learning how to check and swap out your ink cartridges in your inkjet printer can save you time and money, with minimal effort.  

At InkJet Superstore, we have all the resources you need to manage and maintain your home or office printer effectively. Browse our range of authentic and remanufactured ink cartridges online, or contact us at (888) 745-4316 for customer service and support. 


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