March 15, 2022 

Life of a Thermal Inkjet Printer Cartridge: How Long Should It Last and What Affects It?

An example of a thermal inkjet printer cartridge.
Image Courtesy of Squid Ink

Unlike large bottle-like continuous inkjet cartridges, thermal inkjet (TIJ) cartridges are small in size, a design choice that allows TIJ models to be highly compact, lightweight, and easy to move. Additionally, the printhead built into every TIJ cartridge greatly reduces the possibility of nozzle problems, in turn reducing the need for time-based preventive maintenance. Finally, cartridge compatibility with both water-based and solvent-based inks allows many TIJ printers to print on a variety of porous and non-porous substrates. With these benefits, TIJ users can rely on their printers to complete a variety of applications with ease. 

However, to get the most out of a TIJ cartridge, it’s important to know some technology basics. For example, all TIJ users should have a working knowledge of:

  • The average operating lifespan of a cartridge.
  • How to properly use the cartridge.
  • What environmental conditions are appropriate for TIJ cartridges.
  • Cartridge storage best practices.

If you’re new to thermal inkjet printing, or if you could use some brushing up on your TIJ knowledge, read below to learn about how to make your cartridge last as long as possible.

The Lifespan of Thermal Inkjet Printer Ink vs. Thermal Inkjet Printer Cartridges

First, it’s important to understand that all thermal inkjet printer cartridges do have set lifespans. Both the ink in the cartridge and the cartridge itself will eventually expire due to evaporation and gradual wear-and-tear. It’s necessary to make this distinction because many TIJ operators do choose to refill their cartridges once the initial ink is used up. 

To avoid confusion, we will first address the lifespan of TIJ ink and then address the lifespan of the physical TIJ cartridge.


Generally speaking, TIJ ink will last around six to eight months if the cartridge is stored properly when not in use. Thermal inkjet printer cartridges should be stored upright in a dimly lit storage space that is kept at room temperature (i.e. around 68–76° F or 20–24.5° C). If the cartridge has been used, we also suggest placing it in a sealed plastic bag to maintain proper moisture. During this time, it’s important to always make sure that the cartridge’s cap is in place. 

To keep the ink viable for as long as possible, users should always place open cartridges in the above conditions during periods of downtime that last longer than two days. If the downtime period is shorter than that, we recommend simply wiping the cartridge’s nozzle. If it’s a water-based cartridge, moisten a lint-free wipe with water and then clean the nozzle; if it’s a solvent-based cartridge, moisten a lint-free wipe with the appropriate cleaning solution and then clean the nozzle. By doing so, users can prevent ink from building up on the nozzle and thus reduce the possibility of misprints. 

While the ink’s lifespan will not be affected by the user opening the cartridge, if solvent-based inks are used, the ink will eat away at the cartridge’s nozzle over time. 

TIJ Cartridge

Although cartridge lifespans will vary on a product-by-product basis, it is generally agreed upon that TIJ cartridges last around two to three years. During this time, operators can refill the cartridge nine or 10 times, which amounts to around 400-500ml of fluid. 

How many prints a cartridge can produce during its lifespan depends on a few factors. Some of the most important elements include:

  • DPI resolution: The higher your DPI settings, the more ink the printer will use per print. For machine-readable markings (e.g. barcodes and data matrices) and images/logos, high DPI resolutions are a necessity, but for simple text and variable data information, lower DPIs can be used.
  • Operating temperature: Most TIJ printers specify an operating temperature range of around 45-95° F. Although some printers can print slightly above and below this range, operating temperatures above 95°F often require users to turn on the printer’s split function to keep nozzles in proper working order. However, this choice does lead to increased ink consumption.
  • Font type and size: The user’s choice of code font type and size can have a major effect on ink usage. For example, switching from Gothic to Arial can affect ink usage by up to 20%. As such, many printing companies will suggest evaluating font options before adjusting DPI resolutions when attempting to reduce ink output. 

By continuously working with these elements and making periodic adjustments, you can help your TIJ cartridge survive for years until the nozzle inevitably deteriorates from ongoing use.

Want to learn more about thermal inkjet printer cartridges? Stay connected to C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. With information on hardware, formulas, and other important marking topics, our newsletter will keep you updated on the latest industry developments. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.

C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

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