Why are the colour inks used when I am printing in black?

Each Epson inkjet printer is designed to produce high quality prints in both black and colour. This is achieved by a combination of the print head unit and the ink cartridges used with it.

When printing standard black text, the printer will normally print using black ink. However, even if you generally print just black text, ink from the colour ink cartridges will be consumed with general use of the printer.

When the printer is first switched on, or used after a period of inactivity, the print head performs a self-check process, which gets the ink ready to be used and helps to keep the ink system lubricated.

This process will use some ink from the cartridges. Also, running head cleans uses ink of all colours to clean the nozzles, the amount used depending on the number of cleans performed.

"I am selecting 'Black Ink Only' or 'Grayscale' in the printer driver but the colour inks are still being used. Why is this?"

The 'Black', 'Black Ink Only' and 'Grayscale' driver settings instruct the printer to print black text only, in draft mode, or to print colours as shades of grey. These settings enable you to print a "black and white" version of a document that contains colour, e.g. web pages, photos, headed letters and flyers.

The use of the black ink depends on the paper selection that you make, for example the colour inks may be used if you select the Epson Photo Paper setting. Ensure you select the appropriate Paper Type/Media Type option for the kind of document you are printing.

In order to produce Grayscale (various tones of grey), Cyan, Magenta and Yellow must be mixed in equal proportion; Black is only used for mid tones and shadows. At times, the system can intelligently mix Cyan, Magenta and Yellow in maximum quantities to produce a composite Black.

Other driver settings that can also affect the colour ink usage when selected include:

Print Quality - Draft or Economy mode:

  • Selecting the Draft (or Economy) quality setting means that the printer will print at 180 dpi, which is a very low resolution.

    This is half the number of dots per inch (dpi) that the Text quality setting uses, which is 360 dpi.

  • Some draft modes can make punctuation and line art difficult to recognise. In order to enhance resolution at their fastest printing speed, Epson's Claria ink printer range use a composite black when operating in Draft mode.

    Composite black printing uses a small amount of the colour inks together with the black to achieve better print definition. By using composite black it is possible to achieve the optimum combination of excellent resolution and low ink densities at very fast printing speeds.

    When using higher quality print modes pure black text can be achieved, at the expense of print speed.

  • Accidently printing a black and white document in Photo mode may result in some colour ink being used. Ensure that you select an appropriate print mode for the type of document you wish to print.

Black Ink Save Mode

  • For some Epson printers, a 'Black Ink Save Mode' is available in Windows printer drivers when ink is low: EPSON Status Monitor prompts you that the black ink is low and offers the option to save black ink. Selecting this option results in the use of colour ink, as this setting uses a mix of the coloured ink to conserve the black.

"The colour ink levels in Status Monitor appear to be dropping faster than the Black level"

The ink levels displayed by EPSON Status Monitor are an estimate of the remaining ink, as the software does not measure the ink being used. The calculation is based on the resolution of the print job and the size of the document being printed.

A more accurate indication of ink levels is given by the printer itself:

  • When the red/amber Ink light starts to flash, the amount of ink remaining in the indicated cartridge is low. For printers with an LCD panel, the appropriate warning message or warning picture is displayed to indicate that ink is low.

    This is a good time to get a replacement cartridge ready for when the cartridge is expended.

  • When the solid red/amber Ink out light is displayed, the indicated cartridge is expended. For printers with an LCD panel, the appropriate error message or icon is displayed to indicate that an ink cartridge is expended.

    Action to take: Obtain a replacement cartridge.


    You will not be able to print using black ink only if a colour cartridge is expended, even if other cartridges still contain ink. To ensure that air is not sucked into the print head, which may potentially damage the printer, the printer requires all the black and colour cartridges to be installed and to contain sufficient ink. You will need to replace the expended cartridge before printing.

"I am not using the 'Black Ink Only' or 'Grayscale' setting and want to select this when printing colour documents. Where can I set this?"

To print in "black" you will need to select the 'Black Ink Only', 'Grayscale' or 'Black' print mode option in your printer driver. See Related Article "How do I select the 'Black Ink Only' or 'Grayscale' print mode?" for assistance.

  • Fields vary considerably based on images printed, print settings, paper type, frequency of use and temperature. For print quality, a variable amount of ink remains in the cartridge after the "replace cartridge" indicator comes on. The printer ships with full cartridges and part of the ink from the first cartridges is used to prime the printer. The same amount of ink will not be taken from subsequent cartridges.
  • Stylus Photo and Stylus Pro range printers using the Ultrachrome K3 ink set offer an additional feature called Advanced B&W Photo Mode. For more information on this setting see the following Related Articles: