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Keeping Your Printer Ink From Drying Out: A Helpful Guide

Jan 28th 2020

The Dreaded Dry Cartridge

Knowing that ink cartridge refills are close to the cost of your printer, you should probably try to print conservatively. A concert ticket here, a page to proofread there, maybe an article to send to your grandpa who still doesn’t use email. So it can come as a shock when, one day, you sit down to print your plane tickets and you get a page of striped, faded lines—or worse still, you get a notification that your printer is out of ink.

How can ink cartridges dry out so quickly? You might ask yourself. After all, you may have only purchased the last refill a year ago.

The unfortunate truth is that inkjet ink cartridges dry out over time, and if you’re not careful, yours might dry out long before you’ve printed as many pages as the manufacturer projected you could. If you’re wondering how to keep your printer ink from drying out, this guide is for you.

How Inkjet Printers Work

You never need to worry about your ink cartridges drying out in laser printers. Laser printers use dried ink made of powdered polyester, so they stay functional as long as your printer does.

If you use an inkjet printer, though, it’s another matter altogether: most inkjet cartridges will expire two years after their date of manufacture.

The way that inkjet ink cartridges function leads them to dry out over time. An inkjet cartridge:

  • Contains liquid ink
  • Uses heat or vibration to force ink out of a nozzle and onto the page
  • Prints extremely small dots, allowing for high-resolution images
  • Leaves your pages slightly wet after printing, so smudging is possible

An inkjet printer is great for a variety of reasons. It’s been the go-to choice for homes because the printer ink cartridges are less expensive than toner for laserjets. In addition, their print quality is unparalleled.

However, just like any other liquid, the ink in your cartridge can evaporate over time.

How Long Should Your Cartridge Last?

While inkjet cartridges expire two years after the date of manufacture, that doesn’t mean they always last a full two years. The lifespan of your ink cartridge depends on:

  • How often you print
  • What you print
  • Environmental conditions affecting evaporation

Most print cartridges are labeled with an expected page yield. Say, for example, you have this canon cartridge with an estimated page yield of 4425 pages. This estimate assumes most pages you print will only be 5% to 20% covered in ink.

4425 may sound like a lot of pages, especially if most of your print jobs are small and contain low ink coverage, just as the pages in the estimate. So if you print less than 2000 pages a year, your cartridge likely will last for two years. To accurately predict your cartridge’s shelf life, you’ll need to look at your actual printer use.

Beyond Page Yield

No matter your cartridge’s estimated page yield, it may stop earlier than you expect. Any of the following scenarios could impact your cartridge’s health:

  • You print more — if you print a large batch of family photographs that are 100% covered in ink, your cartridge might be empty within a year.
  • You print very infrequently — if you only print a few times a year, your cartridge may become clogged and stop working properly.
  • You live in an arid climate — your cartridge may dry out faster than expected.

No matter your printing habits, there are easy steps you can take to keep your printer ink from drying out.

Ink Storage 101

If you stock up on ink in advance, you’ll always have ink when you need it—unless, that is, your cartridges have already dried out in storage!

When you buy new ink, be sure to store it in its original packaging. If for any reason you’ve already opened the package, store the cartridge upright in a sealed container with a piece of a damp cloth.

Keep your ink in a cool, dry place, and do not expose it to excessive heat or cold.

Your New Printer Protocol

The way you print can have a huge impact on your ink cartridges. When your printer is used properly, the ink cartridge is always sealed off, preventing air exposure and evaporation. For best results:

  • Print at least once a week. It may seem counterintuitive to print more, but this can keep your nozzles from becoming clogged.
  • Run the printer’s maintenance cycle. Sometimes, you can trigger this cycle simply by turning the printer off and on. Otherwise, you can select it manually from your computer.
  • Turn the printer off. When you’re not using your printer, this does more than save electricity: it keeps the printer’s heat from evaporating the liquid ink.
  • Make sure it’s off! It’s worth repeating: before you unplug your computer, make sure you’ve hit the power button and waited until all lights are off. This ensures that the cartridges are capped.

Solutions for Thirsty Printers

Never let an important print job wait again: Supplies Outlet provides lighting-fast shipping on all of its products. Supplies Outlet stocks a large selection of inkjet cartridges at value prices, as well as inkjet refill kits.


AZ Central. “Good Way to Store Ink Cartridges When Not Used Often.”

Computer Hope. “How to Save an Inkjet Cartridge from Clogging or Drying Up.”

How Stuff Works. “Heat vs. Vibration.”