Why you can’t print in black and white when your yellow ink runs out

09-10-2015 by

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We’ve all known the frustration of trying to print something in black and white, because you know your colour ink cartridges are low, and the error message cannot print, Yellow ink low pops up. When this happens, we’ve all thought “I know my yellow ink is low, printer, that’s why I want to print in black and white!”

Despite all of us thinking that this is just another way for our printers to make printing even more difficult, this one actually has a reason, unlike some other frustrating error messages we get. Every printer in the world leaves a digital footprint; tiny, almost invisible dots of yellow ink are printed to make a pattern that shows your printer’s serial number and a time stamp on every page you print.

This is put there so that every page can be traced to the printer that printed them (so you really shouldn’t print out those ransom demands or blackmail letters unless you want to get caught). This process is called digital steganography – hiding data inside data.

But why does your printer do this? The main reason is counterfeiting. The US government persuaded printer manufacturers to make their printers include this code as a way to track those who would use their trusty home printer and printer ink to literally make their own money.

The only two printer manufacturers in the world don’t include the coded dots on pages printed by their machines: Samsung and OKI.

So even though you might not be able to print in black and white while your yellow ink is low, at least you’ll know why.

As always, if you need any help or have any questions 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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