2 Cartridge Vs. Multi-Cartridge Color Printers

All color printers, as well as some grayscale printers, utilize a combination of four basic colors to create graphics. As printing technology has evolved, companies have taken different approaches to supplying ink for these printers. The two primary ideologies include a separate in cartridge for every color, or a system that includes only two cartridges — one for black and another that includes all colors.

Overall Cost
Many of the first personal color printers, and many new “entry-level” inkjet printers sold as of the date of publication, utilize a single “tri-color” cartridge. This cartridge contains cyan, magenta and yellow inks. Other printers, particularly color laser printers, use separate cartridges for each color. The tri-color cartridge typically costs less than the sum total of the three color cartridges — from approximately $20 for a tri-color to at least $36 for all the necessary color cartridges in a multi-cartridge inkjet. No two-cartridge, color laser printers exist. Some printers even use multiple catridiges for “black,” employing a separate gray cartridge to increase color range.

Tri-color cartridges offer the benefit of individual replacement. Depending on what you print, one color usually depletes faster than the others. In a tri-color cartridge, the depletion of one color forces you to replace the whole cartridge. By contrast, multi-cartridge printers require you to replace only the depleted color cartridge. In high-volume, color printing environments, this can mean greater cost efficiency than a single tri-color cartridge, as you are able to use all available ink regardless of work load. Multi-catridge systems often have higher capacities as well.

Multi-cartridge setups typically include a different type of architecture for print heads. Print heads — or the rollers, in the instance of laser printers — are the parts of a printer which make contact with the paper. In a multi-cartridge printer, the heads and rollers are often separate from the cartridge itself. With a two-cartridge system, however, the head is typically integrated into the cartridge. As a result, replacement of the cartridge also include replacement of the head. In a multi-cartridge environment, you might have to periodically buy and replace separate print heads. This adds to the overall cost.

Quality and Options
Tri-color cartridges are typically limited in how far they can go with quality and options. Photography professionals tend to prefer multi-cartridge printers that include additional types of ink. Epson UltraChrome technology, for example, uses eight separate cartridges to print smoother, crisper photographs. Hewlett-Packard’s PhotoREt technology similarly uses six cartridges to create both more dots of ink per pixel, as well as lighter grays. If high-quality graphics are an important part of your print load, you’ll likely need to invest in a printer with a multi-cartridge system.

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