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The top printer ink cartridge issues (and how to resolve them)

Most printers work smoothly — until they don’t. Printer frustrations don’t stop at paper jams. Blurry text, smudged or streaky images, and other ink issues can make a quick print job frustrating or downright impossible.

In many cases, perhaps surprisingly, the issue is under-usage. When printers aren’t used regularly, the ink dries and the ink nozzles clog. To avoid these issues, print a test page once a week.

If that doesn’t fix your issues, these troubleshooting tips will help get you back to clean, perfect printouts in no time.

The top printer ink cartridge issues (and how to resolve them)

The printer doesn’t recognize the ink cartridge.

When your printer doesn’t recognize a new ink cartridge, there are several steps you can take. First, verify you purchased an approved cartridge. Some printers only accept original equipment manufacturer (OEM) cartridges.

Next, swap the new cartridge for your old one to see if your printer still recognizes the old cartridge. If it doesn’t, the issue may be with the printer. Remove the cartridge and unplug the printer. After 10 to 15 minutes, plug it back in and replace the new cartridge.

Your printed page is streaky or smudged.

Blocked or clogged cartridges can cause streaky or smudged pages. A fully clogged cartridge might not print at all, while a partially blocked cartridge can cause skips, streaks, and smudges. This often occurs when an open ink cartridge is removed from the printer and exposed to air, or if the printer sits unused for several weeks.

Consult the manual for your printer or cartridge for directions on how to clean the heads. In general, try removing the cartridge from the printer and wiping the head with a clean, soft cloth. Use distilled water to rinse the cartridge head, wipe, then reinstall.

The printed colors don’t match the colors on screen.

You view a file on your computer, and it looks great. But when you go to print, the printed colors are dramatically different. What’s the deal? One potential cause is that one of your ink colors may have run out, which can cause colors to be off, so first check your ink levels.

A common issue is that monitors use different color settings, so unless you spend the time and money to properly calibrate your monitor, the colors will never quite match. However, there are steps you can take to get as close as possible.

  • Use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key) colors on your computer when designing instead of RGB (red, green, and blue). CMYK is the color setting printers use, so your monitor and the printed version should be closer.
  • Use high-quality paper. The type of paper you use can have a significant impact on how colors look. Colors on glossy paper, for example, tend to look more saturated.

Black and white images have specks of color.

Many printer models use a mix of colors to achieve the perfect balance of black, white, and gray, so seeing bits of color in a black and white image isn’t unusual. However, it can be frustrating.

Bits of color in black and gray printing can be caused by clogged or blocked printer nozzles or cartridge heads. To fix this issue, remove the ink cartridge and wipe the head with a soft, damp cloth. If your printer has a nozzle or printer head cleaning function, run it.

Printed text looks blurry.

Several issues can cause text to look blurry, though the most common is clogged or blocked cartridge heads. Remove the ink cartridge and wipe the cartridge head with a clean, damp cloth.

If that doesn’t do the trick, check your ink levels to ensure you have enough ink. Next, check your printer manual for directions for aligning your print head position. Finally, check your printer drivers and make sure they are up to date.

The ink cartridge leaks.

A leaky ink cartridge may make a huge mess. Your printer could be jamming, printing blotchy pages, or smearing ink. Leaky ink cartridges can be caused by overfilling your cartridges or a poor seal. If you refilled your ink by hand or purchased refilled cartridges, you may need to use a syringe to remove overfill.

A poor seal can also cause leaks. To fix this:

  1. Remove the ink cartridge. Be sure to hold it level to avoid spilling more ink.
  2. Wipe the cartridge down with a clean cloth, then wipe the contact point in the printer as well. You may need to wipe several times to fully remove all the spilled ink.
  3. Press the tape seal on the head of the cartridge, then squeeze the ink cartridge gently to see if the seal is in place.
  4. Reinstall the cartridge and press down gently until it snaps into place.

Final thoughts on fixing your ink cartridge issues

These tips will help you fix most standard printer issues. Even if you don’t know for sure what the problem is, cleaning the printer heads and ink nozzles will solve most issues. Don’t forget to ensure your printer drivers are up to date, too. Finally, make sure to keep backup ink cartridges on hand so you’re always ready to print.

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