Why does my printer use color inks when I’m only printing black and white documents?

Updated: 2021-06-06

Have you ever noticed that even though you have black and white printing set up, your color cartridges are running low? Did you want to save money turning off color cartridges but you ended up with an empty  cartridge anyway?

Some inkjet and even laser printers use up color ink or toner even when printing in black and white. This is not a mistake, but a standard setting. Why is this? Is there any way to change this setting?

Gray scale is NOT BLACK

You might expect that only black cartridge will be used to print black. However, this is not always true.

When printing shades of gray, the color inks are almost always mixed into the black ink. In addition, color ink cartridges are also consumed during printing when it is necessary to smooth the edges of the printed text. When you use watermarking, yellow toner is usually used.

Laser printers watermark without you knowing it

Watermarking is a feature that virtually every laser printer does. This watermark is called a Machine Identification Code (MIC) and often it is referred to as printer steganography, yellow dots, tracking dots, or secret dots.

Many color laser printers and copiers use this almost invisible digital watermark on every page of a printed document. 

Some ink is spent just for the printer calibration and not for printing

Also of note is the fact that a little ink is taken by the printer at power-up before the actual printing to calibrate the print heads.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with all of this as long as the printer keeps printing despite running out of the toner. The majority of the time, however, this is not the case.

Why is that? Business is to blame, of course – printer manufacturers are pushing to buy new (ideally genuine) toner, thus increasing their profits.

How to print with color ink only when black ink cartridge is empty

How to reduce the consumption of color toner when printing in black and white? Is there any way to reduce this “waste” of color toner or ink?

Leaving aside the option of buying a black and white printer for black and white printing, there are a couple of options.

Set up the printer

Some printers allow you to set whether they will also use color toner or just black toner when printing in black and white. Check the instructions to see if your printer has this option, and if so, set it to use only black toner.

A lot of expensive printers also allow you to continue printing when one of the toners runs out. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t leave empty toner in the printer for too long, or the print head may be damaged.

Check the print settings before each print

It may seem like a trivial suggestion, but some programs ignore your printer settings and try to print in color. If you print text often, you won’t notice anything until the printer tells you that one of the toner cartridges is empty. It is therefore important to check that black and white printing is enabled (forced) in the dialog box before you print.

Make sure you do not turn off the printer unnecessarily

Upon turning on the printer, you are required to perform a printhead calibration, the process of which takes a little bit of ink from each cartridge. It is recommended that if you print throughout the day that you leave the printer on all day.

In both the black and white and color printing process, printing one document uses more toner than printing multiple documents. If you can, collect the print materials and then print them all at the same time.

Even if you stick to the tips above, you can’t avoid the occasional replacement of color toner even when printing in black and white. As I mentioned, some inkjet printers, take far more ink or toner than necessary for the printhead calibration.

Sometimes you have to refill or buy a new colour cartridge

In this respect, inkjet cartridges have the advantage of being refillable and reusable. However, even laser printer toner cartridges may not always be original.

There are a number of compatible toners or ink cartridges on the market that are of comparable quality.