How Does a Computer Printer's Ink Cartridge Work?

Written by steven symes
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How Does a Computer Printer's Ink Cartridge Work?
A printer's ink cartridge is made up of several parts. (printer cartridge image by hugy from

Unlike laser printers, inkjet printers use liquid ink that is sprayed onto paper as it passes through a printer. Inkjet printers coordinate the use of ink cartridges and other components to successfully print what is sent by a connected computer. While the entire inkjet printing process can be complex, an ink cartridge itself involves several parts to make the printing process happen successfully.

Ink Storage

Ink is kept in the ink cartridge's main ink tank. Each ink cartridge can hold a specific amount of ink without any of the ink spilling out. This amount varies from one ink cartridge to another. Some ink cartridges have a foil bag inside that is vacuum sealed. As the ink is sprayed out of the cartridge, the bag compresses, keeping air out of the ink. Other ink cartridges use sponges to make sure the ink stays in the ink cartridge and is distributed evenly.


A circuit that is attached to the backside of the ink cartridge communicates with the printer. The printer coordinates all of the workings of the individual ink cartridges, making sure each cartridge does its part to form the text or images the computer has sent to the printer. Colour inkjet printers coordinate multiple colours at a time, combining them in layers to create more colours and hues.


There are numerous nozzles at the bottom of an ink cartridge. These nozzles are the actual area where the ink begins to exit the ink cartridge. The number and configuration of the nozzles depends on the individual ink cartridge. The nozzles are about the width of a human hair, allowing the ink cartridge to spray very small dots of ink to create more precise images.


A heater or what is sometimes called a resistor is behind every nozzle in an ink cartridge. When a heater is turned on it creates a tiny bubble in the ink behind the nozzle. Then the heater is switched off, causing the bubble to burst and make its way through the nozzle.

Print Head

On the underside of the ink cartridge is a print head assembly. The print head is the final area where the sprayed ink passes through before finally contacting the paper to form text or images. The print head can become encrusted with dried ink that did not make its way out of the ink cartridge. Cleaning the print head from time to time may be necessary to maintain the print quality of the printer. Some printer manufacturers do not place the print head in the ink cartridge, putting it instead in the printer. The fact the same print heads are used over an extended period of time instead of being changed out with each new cartridge can make these printers' print heads more prone to clogging.

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