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Ink: Lifespan, Expiry & Storage

For the purposes of this article we are referring to bulk inks supplied in bottles and used to either refill cartridges, CIS systems or some variation thereof. The guide does not refer to remanufactured, third party or OEM cartridges.

Expected Lifespan

  • Bulk inks are usually expected to last around 2 years from manufacture under reasonable conditions

Storage Recommendations

It’s possible to maximise or even extend the life of your bulk inks by choosing the best environment to store your inks.

These factors include:

  • Dark – UV light in particular can break down inhibitors and degrade the colourant in inks.
  • Cool – Warmth (particuarly high temperatures) quickly break down inhibitors and encourage biological growth at a significant rate.
  • Dry – Damp environments encourage spores which in turn encourage biological growth
  • Mould/Spore free – Moulds/Spores = biological life.

So, with this in mind a few common places to avoid:

  • High Shelves (hot air rises)
  • Window sills
  • Near radiators/rads/heaters
  • Damp cellars

Special Considerations

Hopefully this is common sense but storing or leaving inks in a location/situation where they could be mistaken for food should be avoided, especially if young children are present.

While desktop printer inks do not, as a rule, contain toxins they will certainly make a person ill if ingested and as such should be stored as a hazardous household item.

CIS system reservoirs

This probably doesn’t occur to most end-users but if your CIS reservoir (the block of ink containers attached to your printer) is located in a place that exposes it to light and/or heat it will suffer the negative effects equally. Reservoir materials do not naturally shield the inks from the environment.

As such you need to consider placement carefully along with appropriate shielding against UV/heat. Something as simple as an upturned corrugated cardboard box will do the job but, remember the reservoir still needs to breath so, remember to include vent holes.

Indications of Expiry/Age

Please note that many of the indicators provided below can also be the result of clogging (through lack of use), air ingestion, or some other factor that is not age/algae related. As such avoid making assumptions but explore other options/causes before purchasing replacement ink.

  • Ink purchase date:
    • If your ink was purchased more than 18 months ago, you need to keep an eye out for early warning signs.
  • Signs of Ink Starvation:
    • “Gradient” effect where colour output appears strong as print starts but suffers fading/gradient effect as printhead crosses and/or moves down the page
    • Paler colour(s) than normal
    • CIS system shows consistent blockage/clog
    • Attempts to draw ink through cartridge outlet (cartridge or CISs) difficult
    • Evidence of a “pop” release if ink is forced back into reservoir/cartridge via outlet port
  • Significant changes in printing success after refilling:
    • Output shows signs of ink starvation after refilling with bulk ink
    • *Assuming a high level of user experience with refilling
    • Starvation issues continue after purging
  • “Deflection” of nozzles / “Scatter”
    • Nozzle checks in particular shows a non standard pattern/grid as if nozzles were being deflected
    • Particularly prevenlant in Epson dye ink types
  • Evidence of solid matter in fluid (dye inks)
    • Signs of solid strings/webs of biological matter in the ink
    • “String” evident at end of needle or probe after refilling/dipping in ink
  • Clogged Needles
    • Unable to push ink through needle (uncapped)
    • Flow feels restricted compared to previous experience
    • Replacement of needle appears to solve flow issues initially then restriction/pressure-change repeats


Being Pro-Active

Cheap Bulk vs’ Usage Expectations

It’s obviously very tempting to purchase ink sets, refill bundles or single bottles of ink with the maximum volume for the cheapest per ml/floz price but unless you are actually using all that ink within the lifespan of the ink, the potential waste quickly wipes out any saving so it pays to be sensible about your expectations.

Look carefully at your current and anticipated printing usage and extend that out to what you’ll use in a year. As a rule of thumb Epson and Canon cartridges assume a very rough average of 10ml per cartridge and work out how many cartridges you have bought in the last 3-6 months, then do the maths.

Multiple Smaller Volumes

All our 50ml, 100 and 125ml volumes are sealed which improves the ink life expectancy as no new spores, or other detrius are being introduced to the ink. Purchasing in smaller volumes that you can keep stored, un-used rather than one big bottle is worth considering.

Updated on 11 February 2022

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