Why Won't My Epson Printer Print In Black When A Colour Cartridge is Empty? Sep 16, 2011 12:08 by Matt Bird

If you’ve ever had an Epson printer, it’s quite likely that at some point in time you will have attempted to print in black only to receive an error message that you cannot print until a colour cartridge is replaced.

Scandalous! Ridiculous! I want to print some work, not a multi-coloured rainbow of joy. This understandably irks our customers quite considerably, so we went and got the answer for you!


Why Can’t I Print In Black When A Colour Is Empty…

and I quote….

If ink is not in the tubes from the head to the cartridge, air will be sucked in and therefore cause damage to the print head. This is because the nozzles are in the print head and not in the cartridge.

What Epson are basically saying is… if this safeguard was not in place, and you sent a print request for black when a colour cartridge was empty, there is a risk of air being pulled into the printhead. This air will ruin the vacuum effect needed for the printhead to pull ink in, meaning your printhead would be at risk of never printing again.

Additionally, if any air is allowed go get into the aformentioned tubes from the head to the cartridge, any remaining ink will coagulate. Just in case you’re not a scientist – coagulation in a tube/cartridge is bad, and will lead to you not being able to print again with that cartridge, or to a blocked nozzle/printhead which will require a significant amount of cleaning cycles to budge.


Will Printing Black Without a Colour Really Break my Printer?

Now I’m not one to accuse a manufacture of profiteering :) …. but this does sound a legitimate response from Epson, especially considering how advanced the piezoelectric technology is in their newer range of Epson stylus printers (which it’s worth remembering lends itself to a very expensive printhead in the first place). Whether you believe it or not, the issue is there and is something to consider if you are looking at replacing a printer with a new Epson one.

Are you willing to keep replacing colours to be able to enjoy the newer range of Epson printers like the Epson SX130, which are fantastic value machines and ideal for every day printing, or would you rather not be constrained by a cartridge running empty when you’re in an important print run.

Leave a Reply


  1. Could you replace empty colour cartridges with black if that’s all you wanted to print.

    • Matt Bird says:

      Hi Malcolm,

      No, colour cartridges need to be replaced with the same colours. Even if the printer accepted different colours (which it doesn’t), you’d do damage to the printer getting mixed colours in the nozzles.

  2. anita says:

    wauw, this topic is still alive after nearly 4 years.

    anyway, had to buy new cartridges the other day so i wanted to go for the 26XL pack, thinking it would be cheaper than the normal multipack. turns out that it’s cheaper to buy 2 multipacks and an extra black, than buying 1 XL pack!
    which seems a bit strange to me, usually bulk is cheaper. Kinda makes you wonder…..

  3. Epson sucks says:

    I will never buy EPSON printer ever again.

  4. Anonymous says:

    EPSON is dead to me!!!!!!!!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Rubbish printer!!!!!..dont buy epson!!!

  6. Wendy Breytenbach says:

    Why didn’t Epson mention this fact when advertising its product? Because no-one would buy it! I bought the Epson because I thought I’d be saving money by not having to buy cartridges I didn’t use. I was better with my old HP deskjet. The cartridges were more expensive but I could always print in black as long as I had an empty colour cartridge in place. It never let me down. I shan’t buy Epson again unless they rectify this problem.

  7. Joanna Kenny says:

    I purchased a Black Epson Ink Cartridge so that I could continue to print off my assessments for my college course.
    Course runs out tomorrow and I have two colour ink cartridges empty. It wont allow me to print off my assessment using my Full Black ink Cartridge that I purchased weeks ago. Can’t believe it, I can’t even use my black ink to print off any text.
    I don’t need colour for assessments.. What’s going on ! I will never Buy an Epson again.
    Also had another bad experience with Epson printers.. They said get $30.00 cash back once purchased so instead of paying $79.99 you get your printer for $49.99 with cash back.. After purchasing new printer we used it just a few times to print off some pictures and were then unable to print for the Cash Back offer form and I had to Buy new Ink to get the Cash Back.. I never bothered, as the new ink was more expensive than getting the Cash Back.. (Clever, Crafty Epson).. To get your cash back you need to Buy new ink unless you apply straight away which takes up most of your ink anyway… (Never again) :( CHEERS EPSON.. You Lost another Buyer :) :)

  8. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t buy Epson again for this reason. Frustrating.

  9. I will never buy another epson printer because of this ridiculous problem.

  10. Anonymous says:

    never buy any Epson product again !!!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Count me in… I will not buy EPSON product anymore!!!

  12. michiel says:

    I can’t even scan to the computer without the ink! So this reason from Epson may be plausible, they still implement a design that stops the printer from doing anything without ink in all cartridges.

  13. I’m disposing of my Epson Stylus SX130 whitin a few days. They are troublesome and expensive to run + rejecting cartridges even Epsons own cartridges.

  14. Barry Carter says:

    Even with all cartridges full and working, I still can’t get black only printing. I get partial yellow coming through. Even Epson help can’t give me a satisfactory answer. I have an Epson TX110

  15. Jean says:

    So why don’t they fix that then? Because it is RIDICULOUS that every other printer I have owned has had a box to check that says “use black ink only” and it never made a difference if I was out of color.

    Not this crap of “black/grayscale” that uses every color – to make your ink run out faster IMHO.

    If I had known they would pull this shenanigan I would have bought a different printer! Their perk of “replacing only the colors you need” is a MOOT point if I can’t just print in black if I want to! I am on a tight budget and ink is a luxury I can’t afford at a drop of a hat.

    There is always a catch if you don’t fork out the dough for all the bells and whistles for a printer that has the black ink cartridge only option. On this EPSON XP 310.. this is where they cut corners to make it as low a purchase price as this printer has.

    Pity. I will buy another printer before buying more ink.

  16. Binnie says:

    So glad I have found this article. After replacing several black inks and doing upteen nozzle checks and alignments and stuff, I now realise it was my other inks that were causing my black ink not to print.
    How daft is that. Now it works.
    Thanks for the tips folks.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Printers are fairly cheap. I bought a whole new xp-100 because it was cheaper than buying the one new ink cartridge I needed. MIght have to buy a cheap mono laser for everyday use, and have a cheaper inkjet as well for the few times I need a little color. I say they are profiteering on the sale of inks in a big way.

  18. Miss Haggard says:

    SO when the black ink runs out, the computer says hey do you want to use a mixture of colours to make black. But when you want to print black, you have chosen that option(black ink only), have ample black ink but cyan has run out. The computer says sorry you need to replace the cyan ink before we will print?
    Umm that is just plain stupid. Why have the Print in black ink only as an option.

  19. David says:

    Lol do you really think they will notice what’s lost due to you boycotting when they have millions of customers worldwide? Congrats you just removed the equivalent of 10 cents from Epson’s wallet.

    If you print a lot don’t buy an inkjet printer anyway, ink costs more than gold per gram lol. Just go with laser, the purchasing cost of new toner is slightly higher, but toner lasts and lasts and lasts, printing is also high quality and very fast on large batches once it’s warmed up after the first page, spits out page after page without pause. Even a decent cheap laser printer will not disappoint you.

    I got a Samsung colour laser printer on sale for just 90 eur 2 years ago, colour and greyscale prints are marvellous, it’s fast and despite printing huge amounts in the 2 years I haven’t had to replace any toner yet.

    Inkjet printing is a costly scam compared to laser printing.

  20. Ryan says:

    My printer has actually stopped printing black altogether, I’ve tried new cartridges, official ones, head cleaning, nozzle cleaning, printing through using large fonts to try and prompt some action, changing it to photo quality and then putting a print run through of big bold black letters, all this has done is waste my time and money, as I still can’t print black with my recently bought Epson XP-305. The next step is taking it to the tip and starting again, unless I can find an actual solution to this…..

    I fee that the issue is, when the black ink got low it asked me if I’d like to merge the other colours to create a black alternative, which I did a few times prior to replacing the black ink. When I did put the black ink in, all of the above applies. I cannot get it to register any black at all, even though it says the cartridge is there and full.

    Any ideas?

    • Matt Bird says:

      Hi Ryan,

      You need to find out if it’s the settings or the nozzle/printhead.

      When you do an alignment check it should print some dashed lines of the 4 colours. Is there any black on this page? If there is, it’s something in your settings blocking printing black. If there isn’t, it’s likely an issue in the printhead (if the printer is brand new it is likely in guarantee and Epson should be able to help).

      • Ryan says:

        Hi Matt,

        How do I find out if it’s the nozzle or print head please? I’ve cleaned both and ran their tests, the dashed lines print only the colours not the black half. As it isn’t printing the black as explained in your reply, I take it my printers knackered then!? So it’s a case of reverting to the Epson guarantee yeah?

        Thanks for taking time to reply.


      • Matt Bird says:

        Yeah your best bet is Epson (or if you’ve recently used 3rd-party inks, the supplier you got them from), as something is likely causing a blockage in the printhead.

        Good luck getting it sorted :)

  21. matt says:

    This is a totally unbelievable response from Epson. Either way you look at it, whether they are giving an excuse or profiteering or dumb enough to develop a printer that doesn’t print a black and white option when it runs out of color ink. The TX110 my partner purchased is just a toxic piece of plastic land fill.

    • Elaine Wills says:

      Yes, we have just put our EPSON printer on the footpath for the council pick up for the plastic landfill!

  22. Mark says:

    This is not good for Epson. I love to tell everyone I meet when and when not to boycott things. Guess what Epson, you just made my list of things to avoid and I treat 30 patients a day- good luck recouping all the lost revenue. You get what you give!

  23. Anonymous says:


  24. Phil says:

    This really is a dirty trick from Epson. I know I will never buy another Epson product in the future and I would persuade other people to do the same. I print very rarely and in the first 12 months I have already spent twice as much as the printer on these poorly designed cartridges. EPSON HANG YOUR HEAD IN SHAME!! I’m disgusted!!

  25. pablo says:

    the same happened to me an dmy epson xp -401, i run out of black ink, i bought a new one but now i cant even use the new black, just couse i need to buy also the othor extra color, that es ridiculus, es super estupido loq pasa con estas impresoras, son una mierda , and my black ink is full, and i cant print anything this is F………s….t…

  26. Lukas says:

    printing black without color- if printer can print black using mixture of color inks when black ink is out, there is no problem witn air getting into the printer head. So i think that same happens when You run out of one of color inks. It should be possible to print black, Epson think that we are stupid? And even worse- it is not possible to use T1295 large cartridges, i found out today at saturday evening. The cartridges cost me more than printer itself but they are not recognized. Same size, only more ink. Stupid marketing trick from Epson making printinkg with this printer very expensive. I will never ever buy anything from Epson!

    • B says:


  27. Elaine Wills says:

    Thank you for this article. My Epson Stylus TX110 infuriates me when I cannot print in black and white only just because a colour ink cartridge is empty. My Canon printer does this with no trouble at all! Strange that. I will not be buying another EPSON. Not versatile enough.

  28. simon says:

    I agree so much I’m NEVER purchasing another epson, honestly every time I want to print something it seems to need another cartridge, As soon as I can afford it I’m going to by a Mono Laser Jet, Soo bored of this also why don’t they just run the cartridge dry and try to keep going thats fine by me

  29. canon says:

    Complete and utter bull. They could have designed a printer where this wasn’t an issue easily. This goes way beyond normal designed obsolescence practices. I can’t even refill my carts because they have micro chips on them to prevent me using the same one again only refilled. My black ink cart is full and I can’t print a letter in black or grey-scale because one of my colours carts is out, even though I haven’t printed any colour prints since replaced all the carts. I’d love to through the thing through the manufactures office window. Capitalism sure can suck sometimes.

  30. Sanjay Mehmi says:

    I ran across the same problem with my Kodak printer. As several people have pointed out, when printing in Black ink, it also takes some of your Colour ink for some reason.

    If, like me, you just needed to print off a few pages in Black ink and still had a little bit of ink left in your Colour cartridge (like 5%); try following the advice from this YouTube video (it’s only a few steps): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3m92GdFrhQ

    It seems to bypass the error message; however, printing with cartridges that are low on ink apparantly can lead to damage if overused – which is probably why these messages are shown in the first place – so it’s best to only use when needed and put the option that’s shown in the video back on once completed.

    Hope this helps.

  31. maryshelley says:

    Is there a black only printer about to buy? A good quality but not too steep one?

  32. jack120 says:

    The out of ink warning is a scam of it’s own. I reset my cartridges and can still get tons of ink out of them.

  33. Techno Rage says:

    I’m not alone then! I have an XP-305 whatever that means to anyone. It came with starter cartridges and I bought a 4 pack on a ‘special offer’. The Cyan was the first to go and when I opened the pack it had 2 black cartridges instead of a yellow one! Now the yellow is empty and I can’t freakin print!
    It initially said I could print in black and white, then the dialog box kept popping up requesting me to buy a new cartridge.
    The cartridges have a different groove pattern so you can’t use another in a different slot.
    I feel like throwing this printer against the wall or better still at the head of Epson in charge.

    • Stinkers says:

      I had the same problem. I took the two colour cartridges out that were apparently low, spat on the heads out of contempt, and then put them back in.
      It then allowed me to print black and white.
      Maybe this method is not a good idea… but i really needed to print stuff for tomorrow morning

    • Simonski says:

      After wasting an hour trying to get this steaming dump to print ten pages regardless of colour and quality I just put my fist through the scanning bed which shattered into a thousand pieces but felt really good. Now I don’t have to worry about this pile of shit Epson anymore. That nonsense about sucking air into the nozzle is a load. If they can’t avoid that then they have no business being in this business. I’m off to buy a “laser” printer and it won’t be Epson. Epson used to make great Printer Fax Scanner Copiers. Now they just make Scammer Clipyers!!

  34. Ross says:

    New colour ink will cost more than the low level HP printers, £19.99 vs £24. As I only ever use black Epson can just fuck off. What a waste of money that was. Never heard of something so dumb, will never buy Epson again.

  35. […] In fact, many of you readers will know that the vast majority of home printers nowadays will use a small amount of colour when printing black, which leads to the incredibly frustrating scenario of being unable to print a plain black document if your colour cartridge is empty. (If you are interested in why printers do this, read details of why printers use colour to print black.) […]

  36. kim says:

    thanks for your help, same problem as everyone else, brand new black, now need colours, will have to wait till payday, may just buy new printer, but not epson…

  37. noragoodman says:

    I just want to replace the cyan ink I am having problems

  38. Ændrew Rininsland says:

    I call b******t.

  39. Robert says:

    Seems I am in similar company. I replaced my Cannon, which lets you print in black when colours run out by selecting greyscale in the printer properties, by the SX130. Like the photocopying option but the problem not being able to circumnavigate the empty colour cartridge is a pain

  40. John friesen says:

    I had it with Epson printers, I replaced all cartridges and still won’t print.
    I don’t know how they can get away with it.

  41. Ed Williams says:

    I’ve kind of the opposite problem. Black ink head seems knackered but the colours are working fine. Would like to combine the colours to form black as black is virtually useless. I’ve tried head cleaning a number of times.

  42. John says:

    Never again EPSON!!! My colour cartridges dried up, as I never used them and now I have to spend money to replace something I never use in order to print in black and white.

  43. Steve Hopper says:

    I’ve got the SX235 with the same problem. A really cheap “Throw away” printer that Epson cleverly ensured needed lots and lots of loverly cartridges bought for it before the end of it’s very short life.
    Even when new not the best printer at it’s highest speed it leaves lots of print gaps. At it’s “Fine” speed (which I needed to ensure quality print) it is painfully slow, 40 A4 pages of print takes almost 3/4 of an hour.

    Yes, I tried putting black cartridges into the cyan, didn’t work !. Then I tried putting a small jole in the top of the Cyan cartridge and introducing some black ink from a spare cartridge I had. A Ha! It works.

    Cyan cartridge now thinks it has Cyan ink inside it and the 8 black cartridges I bought off ebay for £8.99 are not wasted.

    Best advice ?——– DON NOT BUY EPSON

  44. Nisse says:

    Spent the last hour figuring out this sh***.

    F***ing Epson! Never buying their printers again.

  45. Haggar says:

    I have SX130 and it’s not fantastic value machine. Except that I cannot print in black if other collors are empty, it is also very (and I mean VERY!) slow machine. It’s cheap printer, but my old one was also cheap,But with old one I printed books and books (some of them had 600 pages) and it was very fast. This new machines that are printers/copies/scaners all in one, are garbage. They purpose is to force user to spend alot of money on original collors.

  46. DAVID says:

    What a rip off, Why have four individual cartridges at all? As most of us plebs don’t understand the amount of each colour used to acquire certain shades , it leaves the sx130 owner to always carry a full set of spare cartridges. Will no-one in the industry stop this shameless profiteering. I will never again buy Epson! Back to HP for me!

    • Rachel says:

      Most newer mid-range inkjet printers have this same “problem” regardless of brand. It isn’t an Epson-only phenomenon, I know of many HP, Brother, Canon and various other brand inkjet printers that do the same.

      The issue exists not only in the underfilling of ink in the cartridge in the first place, but also the “intelligent” chips underestimate the level of ink left in the cartridge themselves. Any cartridge that uses a chip cannot be refilled using the old syringe and ink method, because the chip would need to be rewritten to re-estimate the amount of ink in the cartridge.

      The excuse that the printhead could suck in air without filled cartridges present is nonsense, and something that a small redesign of the nozzles would fix should the printer manufacturers care to. Not only is it nonsense, but the use of ink to clear and moisten the printhead will eventually lead to maintenance issues with inkjet printers. The ink used to clean the printhead is deposited in a device called the “spittoon,” which will eventually harden and can often build up enough to touch the printhead and cause jamming, even when the parts of the printer it can clean itself are well maintained and present no visible problems.

      Whilst the initial cost of a laser printer is often higher than the more common inkjet, in the long run the print cost is much lower if you do a lot of printing. A “mono” laser printer is even better if you frequently only print in black & white.

  47. Ernest Skublics says:

    Nobody asked the obvious question: Can you simply put black cartridges into the place for colour cartridges, so all your cartridges are black?

    • Matt Bird says:

      Hi Ernest,

      Good idea but unfortunately it won’t work…. clever machines know which cartridge is which. Maybe if you did some swapping of the chips… but even if it did work, your printer may never print colour properly again. Definitely wouldn’t advise it.

      • Topov81 says:

        This is ridiculous… just ran into a very similar problem. Even more annoying is that the Cyan cartridge (which cannot be recognised) is actually full of ink.

        So I’ve got to by a new Cyan cartridge to replace my existing Cyan cartridge (full of Cyan) ink, despite me only wanting to print something in black.

        Never buying Epson again if this is standard practise. I remember my first dot matrix… if that ever ran low you’d just use a black felt tip to colour in the ribbon lol… those were the days.

  48. buster price says:

    Same problem new black cartridge no chance of printing. Epson has lost a customer I will never buy a Epson product again. I vote with my purse!

  49. Liz F says:

    I totally agree – have just run into the same problem. My online order for a colour cartridge has taken longer than expected to arrive, and I can’t print off documents in black and white which is absolutely infuriating. Epson should warn customers about this issue when they purchase a printer. Thanks for highlighting this issue – what a shame Epson don’t seem to have responded as yet.

  50. Epson Ink Jet Printer says:

    why can’t my epson NX 130 print even if all the colour cartridges are full and the black ink is empty. Doesn’t the colour cartridges make a colour (dark blue) … this is utterly ridiculous considering the cost of the ink!!! HELP ME If you have an answer please let me know

    • Matt Bird says:

      Hi there. It is quite frustrating, but when reversed to not printing black because the black is empty, Epson is actually doing you a favour, -ish. If you’re concerned about the cost of ink, combining all 3 colours to make a black to print will essentially triple your black printing cost so maybe it’s best it doesn’t let you do it!

      • Kristy Weir says:

        No, it’s not a favour in an emergency. Let me decide that. If it was true that rubbish about protecting the heads than they would let you swap out any colour for full cartridge. In my case I have 4 full cartridges but missing a black one. So no printing for me. Epson can take a hike, it’s sad they will all end up as landfill due to their completely inflexible product and obvious consumer scam.

      • Templar says:

        With all this technology, supposedly protecting us from ourselves, you’d think Epson could engineer it so that you could at least replace one colour with another, thereby circumnavigating the apparent vacuum problem. Hardly a technological leap forward I would’ve thought. All sounds like flannel and milking the profit from accessories – maybe that’s the price we pay of a cheap / inferior printer.

  51. vanessa says:

    this is bonkers as they say u print in black only if you wish…. why should i have to shell out for coloru cartridges when i never use them…. i would love to SWEAR

  52. Lisete says:

    I am really frustrated because i need to print something in black and though I have a full back cartridge I cannot do so because the cyan is empty. Next time I buy a printer I will check out for this meanwhile I will warn people !

  53. I just ran into this problem. So infuriating. Now I may as well use the cheaper printing at uni. What a waste of money…

    • damn stupid epson sx130 says:

      Exactly same problem – color cartridges are empty, but black is brand new and full, and sx130 does not print with grayscale setting ON. ****ing Epson. Last one of this brand for me – for sure.

    • Jane says:

      Just ran into this fabulous problem whilst trying to print my sons homework. Just one page, in black but no can do. I actually asked when buying if it would print without colour cartridges and was told “yes”. So I bought a big black ink that is now sitting, uselessly in an equally useless printer. Last Epson I will ever buy, how stupid do they really think we are? Rip off Britain as usual. Thanks Epson for being just like the rest of the money grabbing, couldnt care less industries that now run the world.

      • Anonymous says:

        hello all.
        I have a new Epson NX 230 printer, I wonder if there is way to use this printer only with black ink?