The Internet buzzes. Do big printer manufacturers make more money on ink and toner than on printer sales? Certainly, consumers spend significantly more on ink and toner cartridges over time than the initial cost of buying the printer. Some people sell or recycle their unused toner cartridges for cash back. Consequently, those people end up asking the same question; does printer ink “expire?”

Shelf Life Lessons

Most well-known, reputable manufacturers (think HP, Brother, Dell, etc.) are not just putting arbitrary expiry dates on their ink and toner.  If a product has a “best if used by” or actual expiration date printed on it, it’s because the item has a shelf-life. At some point, after that date, the item will lose its potency or freshness.

Companies print an expiration date on products to insure integrity and quality. However, expiration dates on ink and toner cartridges are not exact. In many cases, these items will perform quite well for 1-2 years beyond any dates displayed on the package.

Dying A Slow Death

When your printer ink “expires,” it doesn’t automatically go bad on a specific date. Instead, ink dries up slowly until it can no longer be used. Attempting to install and use an expired cartridge shouldn’t harm your printer.  However, over time, they can get clogged. This causes the printer to work harder. The end-result may be expensive printer repairs. Once installed, it’s best to let an ink cartridge run its cleaning course. This keeps the nozzles unblocked. Cartridges can go bad before their expiration dates if your printer is not getting a regular workout. Never leave an unused ink cartridge in your printer for too long! Try printing a page or two a week to keep your cartridges active.

Because ink and toner can be so costly, there is a tendency to stock up. We all want to save or take advantage of great deals. Within reason, this strategy may be fine. But it’s important to realize that where and how you store your printing supplies also affects their lifespan.

In general, exposure to air and climate changes can degrade the ink or toner’s composition. Nevertheless, you can certainly keep unopened ink and toner supplies up to about two years after purchase, if they are stored properly. Keep your ink and toner in its original, factory-sealed packaging. Store them in neutral conditions, such as a well-ventilated storage closet. Keep printing supplies away from direct sunlight to help prevent evaporation and maintain the integrity of the ink for longer time period.

Think Before You Buy

Business owners may need to think twice about ordering cartridges in advance. Those that don’t do high volume printing might be better off making purchases as needed.

Buying genuine, OEM ink and toner cartridges also offers a better chance at quality and longevity. Tose printed dates on a name brand manufacturer’s package can be used as a guide. When buying ink or toner that has been refilled or from off-brand or generic companies, be aware that the product most likely has been altered in some way. There is no guarantee it will produce consistent results in the long term. Any expiration dates on such items may be meaningless.