How to refill and clean inkjet printer cartridges

Filed under: Tutorials and HOWTOs by Hari
Posted at 14:56 IST (last updated: Tue, Mar 4, 2014 @ 15:04 IST)

Recently I was debating whether I would need a laser printer because our office workload has increased and I found that I required more and more refills of our printer ink cartridge. At first, I debated purchasing a laser printer, but then decided that the quantity of printing per month really didn't justify investing in one.

Buying original HP cartridges is out of the question. The price per page works out very high and considering the volume of printing we do, it is infeasible.

Pre-refilled cartridges still cost a lot of money (a little more than half the price of an original new cartridge). And while re-refilling a cartridge from the local refill store is still cheaper, it suddenly dawned on me: why not refill cartridges myself? It's not rocket science and I can get the ink at a fraction of the cost.

So I explored this option and purchased a refill kit from ebay (basically a bottle of black pigment ink and a syringe which can even be bought locally). Even the higher quality black ink is not too expensive. After a bit of research, here's what I found I needed for a complete cartridge head cleaning and refill solution:

  1. Black pigment based ink (preferably high quality). It is important to find out whether your printer uses black dye based or pigment based ink, but it appears that most consumer inkjet printers use pigment based black and dye-based colour inks. Just find out from the cartridge specifications which kind of ink your cartridge uses.
  2. Syringes with needle, for each colour.
  3. Lots of soft tissue paper.
  4. A bottle of Propan-2-ol, popularly known as isopropyl alcohol. Available in laboratory supplies stores. This is still cheaper than buying a "head cleaning solution" which uses the same or similar compounds.
  5. A flat dish that can be used as a bath.

So here's the process for head cleaning (clearing up clogged cartridges)

Cleaning the print head

When your printer starts banding or the ink flow is retarded leading to dull prints, it might be a sign of a clogged cartridge. Luckily the remedy is fairly easy.

Using isopropyl alcohol mixed with warm water (preferably distilled water or at least purified water without mineral content) as a bath in a flat dish, just immerse the print head of the cartridge in this solution and let it soak for around 2 to 5 minutes. The solution can be a 30-50% solution. Make sure that only the print head is immersed in the water.

Take out the head and then gently press the head against the tissue paper. Check the flow of ink. If the head creates a dark mark against the head, it means that the ink is flowing properly. Otherwise repeat the process. After making sure that there is no leakage or bleeding of ink, replace the cartridge in the printer and take a test print.

Theoritically this can extend the life of a cartridge until the print head practically wears off. Practically this might work out to about 8-10 refills, but I have not yet got so far...

Refilling the cartridge

This one is easier, except that original cartridges might not have the hole on top of the cartridge. This might require you to carefully peel off a label and drill out a small hole when the hole appears to be plugged. Each cartridge has a different capacity, so make sure you know the capacity of ink that can be filled in. Then simply use the syringe to draw out the ink from the bottle and insert into the indicated hole until you press it into the sponge. Slowly depress the plunger to fill the cartridge, making sure that there are no air bubbles. Replace the label or use scotch tape to cover the hole again.

Gently press the print head with a tissue paper to make sure that the ink flow is normal and replace into the printer.

The same procedure is followed even for colour cartridges, but then you have to make sure which colour goes into which hole.

Other solutions for Inkjet high volume printing

Some printer manufacturers particularly Epson have Continuous ink system printers in their product line up. This prevents the hassle of refilling cartridges and is much more economical than buying new or refilled cartridges of non-CIS printers.

Conclusion

Refilling a printer cartridge is not rocket science and can save tons of money for printing. Inkjet printer manufacturers want to make money on the supplies rather than on the device. Thus you get cheap printers with expensive ink.

Of course, if your printing needs are heavy, an inkjet may not be sufficient and it makes sense to invest in a laser printer with moderate to heavy duty cycle. However, in the meantime, you can still enjoy cheap inkjet printing at a fraction of the cost of new cartridges or refilled cartridges (and still less expensive than using the refilling service from a local store).

These instructions are quite generic, because there are so many types of printers and cartridges using different types of inks with varying capacities. And in some printers, the head is located in the printer rather than the cartridge. Specific instructions and even video tutorials are available from a variety of websites. Just google for your cartridge/printer type to find out specific techniques for refilling and head cleaning..

3 comment(s)

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  1. VSV traits to the fore! Good one Hari. I have a suggestion. Use soft white cloth instead of tissue, wash and reuse. Makes it green as well. White is easier to wash. That's why I specified that.

    Comment by Seeta Kasturirangan (visitor) on Tue, Mar 4, 2014 @ 19:14 IST #
  2. Hi Seeta. Thanks for the suggestion. Yes, soft cotton cloth will do the job as well. As far as tissues are concerned, I reuse them, in the sense that I don't throw them away immediately after wiping the cartridge. I just use the clean portion on the next occasion. But you're right. Cloth is the more eco-friendly option.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 @ 06:51 IST #
  3. According to me, Laser printer is right choice for office work or any more work because laser printer printing speed is fast than others printers and it's refilling is very easy.

    Comment by Tom C Thomas (visitor) on Mon, May 12, 2014 @ 10:16 IST #

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