Ink cartridges contain some of the most expensive liquid on the planet, but what is ink actually made of?
The ink itself, after being sold in cartridges at brand name retail prices, can reach upwards of $3 per milliliter which is around $235 per cup or $11,350 per gallon. No doubt, that is expensive any way you look at it and some even compare modern printer ink prices to fine caviars and gold. A lot of printer inks now cost even more to replace then the printer originally cost, begging the consumer to ask, why not just purchase a new printer instead of replacing the ink?
To answer the latter question, printer manufacturers do not advertise the amount of printouts that are possible with the cartridges found inside the box when buying a new printer. This is because they are starter ink cartridges and are intended for consumers to get an idea of what the printer output is like or capable of and not necessarily how much ink will be in a replacement cartridge. Thus, replacement ink cartridges will always yield more printouts then the included cartridges when purchasing a new printer.
Most ink compositions are a fairly basic mixture of fine pigment particles dispersed in a solvent which is generally a liquid or aqueous solution, although the solvent can be organic. Some formulations will also have colorants when the pigmented materials do not apply to the desired color. And with advanced formulas of inks such as the ChromaLife 100+, DURAbrite, UltraChrome, and other specially named inks, further ingredients are added to improve the overall chemical composition.
The additional ingredients found in these specialty cartridges have a specific purpose from reducing foaming action to controlling surface properties. The addition of pH modifiers will help to control the acidity levels of the mixture so the composition does not corrode the metal printheads inside the machine. Humectants can be added to keep the mixture from prematurely dying a substrate or surface while surfactants act as wetting agents, helping to control surface properties. Defoaming or antifoaming agents can also be added to regulate foam formation, as foam creates air pockets and uneven ink flow. Thickeners or rheology modifiers can also be added to provide needed viscosity to the jetted out liquid ink. Perhaps the most common addition to ink compositions is the polymeric resins or polymers which give pigments or colorants a glass-like coating that protects, reflects light, and keeps particles from binding or clumping together. And to prevent fungal and bacterial growth that can spoil chemical ink compositions, biocides are also added.
Black ink cartridges still use carbon to achieve the black tonal output as past attempts at substituting carbon for other metals failed due to toxicity or financial reasons. Most white ink formulations have titanium dioxide, being rutile or anatase crystals in tetragonal form. Both anatase and rutile are just different forms of titanium dioxide known for their rich color and luster. Moreover, specific metallic pigments such as copper-zinc alloy powder and aluminum powder have been used in novelty gold and silver inks which are very rare. Some other miscellaneous inorganic pigmented metals have also been used in various photographic inks to provide luminescent and pearlescent effects.
Cyan ink cartridges get their bright blue hue from Direct Blue 199 dye which is made of copper phthalocyanine and sulfur. This substance is a direct dye, being able to directly contact and bond to fibrous substrates like paper and cloth without needing a binding confounder or fixative.
The Magenta vibrancy comes from Reactive Red dye 23 which is a dark red powder that has a high pH level and high lightfastness (resistance to fading in light). Many formulations containing Reactive Red Dye 23, will need both a pH modifiers and a confounder to help hold the mixture to a substrate before the dye reacts and adheres to cellulose like material.
The Yellow coloration comes from Acid Yellow dye 23, which is also known by chefs and food fanatics because it’s a common coloring agent used in foods. And although Acidic Yellow Dye 23 is found in foods, this dye has been known to trigger allergic reactions such as asthma attacks, hives, and contact dermatitis so do not try to ingest this yellow ink as it may be hazardous unlike its more natural cousin, yellow food coloring.
Cyclahexanone is an organic solvent or colorless oil that helps ink adhere to polymers, making this chemical ideal for outdoor use and application on smooth surfaces. Cyclahexanone is also a precursor to creating nylon when oxidized with nitric acid. This substance is also commonly found with reactive dyes as it will hold the pigments in place until they naturally react to cellulose like material.
Ethoxylated acetylenic diols is the most common surfactant that is responsible for the viscosity or reduction of surface tension in most ink formulations. This substance is a low foaming wetting agent that also improves freeze-thaw stability of acrylic systems. Ethoxylated acetylenic diols is also an excellent, oil in water, emulsifier.
Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, more commonly known to be abbreviated as EDTA, is a colorless water-soluble solid used to dissolve limescale and keep the printheads clean and bacteria free. EDTA acts by creating covalent bonds on the printheads, effectively trapping contaminents from ruining or clogging printheads.
Furthermore, Ethylene glycol is also used frequently in ink cartridges to slow evaporation and to help prevent print nozzles from clogging.
Further Reasons for Expenses
Hp claims the reason for the lavish prices is due to the technology put into creating a cartridge that can deliver superior results. Not only does each cartridge contain multiple chemicals, each one is carefully measured out and thoroughly tested to ensure the output results can be replicated naturally. This means, you’re not really paying for the liquid so much as the labor put into designing, creating, and testing the cartridge. Some manufacturers also add other elements to cartridges such as smart chips and piezo crystals which also increase the retail price.