Difference Between Print Head & Ink Cartridge

by Christina Martinez - Updated September 26, 2017
Print cartridges and print heads are different.

Inkjet printers are small, convenient and widely available. There are different styles, including printers that scan, fax and print photos. Inkjet printers are composed of several parts like print heads and cartridges. While print heads and ink cartridges may seem similar, they serve different functions and are installed differently.

Print Head

The print head on your printer sits below the ink cartridges. It takes ink droplets from your cartridge and places them at precise points onto a piece of paper. The print head is the brain of the printing process, while the ink cartridge is the body.

Ink Cartridge

The ink cartridge on your printer is the reservoir that holds the liquid ink. It sits on top of the print head and moves with the print head. The cartridge squirts ink through its nozzles to the print head.

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Where to Buy

A print head is more difficult to replace. However, depending on its manufacturer, you may be able to buy replacement print heads and do it yourself. Print heads are bought separately from ink cartridges. You can buy cartridges at most retailers, but print heads have to be purchased usually through the printer’s company.


Ink cartridges are easier to install than print heads. Replacing an ink cartridge is easier and there are usually directions written right on the printer. You need to place the cartridge in its designated carriage and adjust it until it fits. There will usually be a piece that comes down on top of the cartridge to hold it in.

Software Maintenance

Maintaining print heads will prolong their life. Check on your computer for a self-cleaning method through the printer’s software. This will clean the cartridges and the print heads. The software can usually be found by clicking on your printer on the computer. There will be several maintenance options.

Cleaning Them Yourself

If you don’t have this cleaning software, you can clean your print heads with a cotton swab. Remove the ink cartridges and rub the print head with isopropyl alcohol or hot water. If there are rubber gaskets on the printer, avoid the alcohol and use hot water to not dry them out. You can also clean your ink cartridges as well. Take a cotton swab with alcohol and clean the bottom of the cartridge where the ink comes out.

About the Author

Christina Martinez has been writing professionally since 2007. She's been published in the California State University at Fullerton newspaper, "The Daily Titan." Her writing has also appeared in "Orange County's Best" magazine. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications and print journalism from California State University.

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