Inside Your Ink Cartridge – A Closer Look at Printer Ink

21-04-2015 by

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We all know that ink cartridges are not just a container for ink, they’re actually fairly complicated pieces of equipment and the ink inside of them is a complex mix of chemicals. Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at the inner workings of your ink cartridge.

Water makes up about 95% of the liquid inside your ink cartridge, but it’s not just every day tap water. It’s super-pure deionized water, it costs about $3 per millilitre (about R36) and it’s this that makes replacing your printer ink so expensive.

When the water in your printer ink saturates the page, it causes the cellulose fibres in the paper to swell and breaks the bonds between them. When the paper dries, new bonds form and shrink, causing the paper to curl. Butyl urea slows this process down and stops the paper curling up.

If your inkjet printer is capable of printing on PVC or other polymers, your printer ink most likely contains cyclohexanone which is an organic solvent that helps the ink stick to the polymers. To get the bright colours in your colour ink cartridges, manufacturers add several dyes to the ink suspension.

Reactive Red 23 is added to make magenta, Direct Blue 199 makes cyan and Acid Yellow will give you yellow ink. To get black ink, carbon black is usually added to the mix. All of these dyes on their own can be dangerous, which is why you’re always cautioned to never swallow ink or to handle a printed page that is still wet.

Ethoxylated acetylenic diols are used to maintain the surface tension of the ink inside your cartridge. Too little surface tension and the ink pours out of the cartridge, too much and the ink won’t move out the cartridge properly.

Finally, EDTA stops the impurities in the adhesive strip that protects your printhead from getting inside, while ethylene glycol keeps the dyes in the solution and slows down evaporation which keeps the printhead free of clogs.

Hopefully this in depth look into your printer ink helps you understand the complex process your holiday snaps go through when you want them printed. If you’d like a more in depth look at what makes up your toner powder, check out Inside Your Toner Cartridge – A Closer Look at Toner Powder.

And remember, if you have any questions about, or need any help with, your printer cartridges, you can always contact us.


Nic Venter

About the author

Nic Venter+

 is the founder and director of He started the business in 2009 with the idea to sell ink and toner cartridges online and to provide you with a quality product, value for money and convenience. He regularly blogs on about printing and technology. Part of his philosophy is having fun and making sure that he and his team think everything ink, so you don't have to.

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