Tri-Color or Single Color Printer Cartridges?

Published: 12th January 2010
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A quick definition of color printing: It takes a combination of four colors - Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, abbreviated CMYK - to make the span of colors we see in "full-color" (or "four-color") prints. You will always have a separate K cartridge, but you have the option today of using printers that take individual C, M and Y cartridges for color, or ones that take a combined, single, tri-color cartridge.

When you're choosing tri-color or single color ink cartridges, you are going to be using the appropriate one for the printer that you have. Tri-color cartridges are an inkjet creature (and feature), as color laser printers all have combined color units rather than separate ones. Having single-color cartridge allows you to refill one color at a time. For instance, if you run out of Cyan ink in your printer, you can simply replace that one cartridge. With a tri-color cartridge, you must replace the entire unit even when just one color runs out.

Precision users
If you create a wide, often unpredictable mix of different business documents with color printing - spreadsheets, business charts, PowerPoint presentations - then the best printer for your needs would probably be one that takes separate cartridges. This is especially true the more exacting your use becomes. That is, artists and designers who use color more precisely, and more often, will manage the process better in this way. Following that logic, some companies make printers for these more exacting, more "art-oriented" users that include a Light Cyan and Light Magenta for combined total of six cartridges. They would not make these printers unless there were a market for them among these kinds of precision users.

As the inks are not used at equal rates, these kinds of users usually run out of one color before the other, which can be wasteful and costly in a tri-color printer. They would risk throwing away quite a bit of unused ink among the lesser-used colors, and since the amount of ink being used changes a great deal over time there is no way to accurately predict replacement needs. Tri-color is not the way to go for these users.

Normal office users
If you don't do much printing in color and rarely have to change your cartridges then you might consider an inkjet printer with the one K (black) and one CMY (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) cartridge arrangement, the "tri-color" approach. Non-artist office workers in both small and large companies who print out inkjet documents all day long use K (black) ink far more than color. This is due to the lack of need for color printing. Although there may be a call for a few color documents (those aforementioned spreadsheets and charts) the color consumption is low and tri-color cartridges can make sense.

There are always going to be advantages and disadvantages with both tri-color and single-color cartridges, one of the best aspects of the individual cartridge is the one-by-one replacement. This becomes even more important when there is a requirement for multiple copies of the same document. You are much more likely to use more of one color than another doing this. This makes single cartridges a bit more economical.

Bottom lines
Since there is always the option to choose one type of printer over another, you need to remember that the most compatible ink cartridges are the ones that are made specifically for your printer. In other words, you are deciding at the time you buy a printer what kind of cartridges you will be using and replacing for the life of the printer. It is always best to decide on the printer with a good deal of consideration of what type of printing you are really going to do with it. Remember that if you are the type that doesn't really use a lot of color then a tri-color cartridge printer will probably be ideal for you.

If you print out a lot of pictures, colored documents, charts, Web page samples and spreadsheets then the best way to go is for a printer that uses individual color cartridges. You should determine the volume of printing you do as well as the kind. It is very much an individual decision, and one that might tend to either choice depending on when you make it. It all depends on the need and use of the printer that you use. This will ultimately help you decide the pros and cons of ink cartridges based on your own personal needs.

There are always advantages and disadvantages to using one over the other, which is why some offices have both kinds. A final reminder: Monochrome (black ink only) laser printers are the cheapest way of all to print one-color documents. You might consider having a laser printer for your letters and one-color needs, and an inkjet for color use. Then again, it's up to you and depends on your unique situation.John Pickering is the owner of, an online retailer of new and refilled ink cartridges for Brother, HP, Canon, Epson, Lexmark and Xerox printers. Visit us online today for canon ink cartridges and more and begin saving.

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