Troubleshooting Epson Ink Cartridges

Every so often Epson releases firmware upgrades, changing the way their printers access cartridge chips. We try to stay as up-to-date as possible and have discovered a few troubleshooting tips. Please remember to decline all firmware upgrades from your printer manufacturer.

If you mix Epson ink cartridges and non Epson cartridges in the your printer you could receive a error “cartridge not recognized”. Some printers will even fail to recognize OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer – this means new from Epson, never refilled) Epson ink cartridges until all cartridges have been changed – even ones with ink left inside. These Epson printers mix up the “low ink” warning with the “cartridge not recognized” error (see my article on why Brother printers are better).

We found with Epsons usually the problem isn’t the cartridge, but the printer, since most of our returned Epson cartridges worked fine in our test printers. Here are some common problems and how they can be resolved.

Cartridge runs out of ink too quickly

Read here where researchers measured the actual amount of ink in Epson ink cartridges. Epson printers do not accurately measure ink levels and merely estimate. So that the printer doesn’t run on an empty cartridge (in turn damaging the print heads), the printer tells you the cartridge is empty when it actually has ink inside.

Running a print head cleaning on your printer can solve quality issues from a dried head, but it does use a significant amount of ink. Whenever you replace even just one cartridge, it runs a cleaning on every single one of them. This is why a new cartridge can appear to have lost ink. The printer runs a cleaning when it is turned on as well. They don’t use much power when idling and the power you save by switching it off is less costly than the ink lost by turning it back on. Ink also coagulates (so it can dry on paper). If you don’t print for several days or weeks, your print heads can get clogged.  Leaving your printer on will release a minuscule amount of ink to prevent clogging.

Printer does not recognize the cartridge

First ensure it is reporting the correct cartridge. Sometimes after replacing one color, it then reports an error and you assume it’s the color you just replaced – but it’s actually a different cartridge which came loose or is now empty. Try to reseat or replace a different cartridge. It’s also possible something happened to the chip on the cartridge. If it is damaged it will need to be replaced. If it is is just dirty and not reading the electrical contact well click here and follow the cleaning instructions.

It is possible that all of the cartridges must be changed before your printer will recognize them correctly. You may need to clear the printer’s memory. Remove all of the cartridges, turn the printer on and off for each cartridge (4 times for a 4-color printer and 6 times for a 6-color printer), then insert all of the cartridges. If that doesn’t do it, try inserting the cartridges one at a time and testing as each is inserted. First put in one and see if it is recognized. Press OK after each one. Then add the second, press OK, then the third, press OK etc. Often this will work.

Error cycle – first one cartridge then the next reports an error

You change one cartridge and your printer reports that it doesn’t recognize the next one. You change that one and then it reports the third. You change that one and it complains about a fourth. By the time it finally recognizes, the ink level has gone down OR
You change a cartridge and your printer complains about it, so you put in another new cartridge and it is still reporting errors on that one.

What’s going on? You may have a printer with low ink in the black cartridge, a half full cyan, a quarter full red and three quarters full yellow. You change the black cartridge. It runs through its cleaning process, which uses all four colors. Now your cyan cartridge is low, so it reports it (about either the black or the cyan). You change the cyan. It cleans again. Now the magenta is low. You change it. It cleans again. Now the yellow is low! You change that one. Cleans again. Now everything recognizes, but your black is now a quarter empty and the cyan ink levels have also gone down considerably.

This happens with OEM Epson cartridges as well. I saw someone put in a brand new cyan cartridge, then change the magenta, then the yellow, then print a single 4 x 6 photo and the printer reported the cyan was out of ink. Granted Epson cartridges don’t hold much ink to begin with, but what can you do to prevent this? Get a different printer!

Cartridge doesn’t print

The printer recognizes the cartridge correctly and shows it as full but that color does not print: Did you take the tape off the top of the cartridge? Air needs to get in for ink to flow out properly and that tape covers an air hole. Take a sharp object and gently scrape the top of the cartridge to make sure the hole isn’t covered up. If that’s not the problem, print a nozzle check pattern to see if any of that color is printing. If there is some showing, the print heads for that color are likely clogged. Run a print head cleaning and print another nozzle check. If it got better you have a clogged head. You may have to run several cleanings.

If that doesn’t help your print heads may be clogged to the point where they need repair or replacement, which will probably cost more than a new printer.

Cartridges are intermittently not recognized

Photos are intermittently of poor quality

Randomly the printer will report a different cartridge not being recognized. You take it out, put it back in and it works. Then some time later the printer will complain about a different cartridge.

You print a photo and it looks good, but you print another photo and it looks washed out with some color missing.

The printer doesn’t print directly from the cartridge, it prints from a small reservoir of ink that is replenished by the cartridge. Your printer is using the ink faster than the reservoir is being replenished. Photos can take a lot of ink so when your printer doesn’t get enough ink, it reports ‘cartridge not recognized’ instead of ‘low ink.’ What can you do? Set your printer to the slowest setting and turn off high speed & bidirectional printing. Photos will take longer to print, but the quality will be much better.

None of these suggestions work. What next?

We have a full replacement or money-back guarantee on our cartridges as long as the customer behaves reasonably. We will replace or refund for a reasonable number of open cartridges and any number of sealed ones returned to us.