How to refill an ink cartridge with a small piece of tape

Photo: ChinoGypsie

Is your printer lying to you? If you own a Brother inkjet printer, that's probably a big yes. As Slate magazine reports, a clever chap over at has discovered a nasty little secret of Brother printers; a secret that could cost you hundreds of dollars over the life of the offending gadget. And yet all you need to bypass it is a small piece of tape.

I've never trusted my printer. Sometimes my wife will call me at work and say "hey, can you pick up a black ink cartridge on the way home?" In my head I'm doing the math, thinking it was only a couple of months since we bought the last one. "Maybe we've been printing a lot lately" I'd rationalize. "But I never noticed the printouts fading or streaking. Ah well, it's only about $30 for a new one. Wait...$30?!"

It's true enough that the average ink cartridge costs more than some of the lower-end printers these days. In fact, we often found it cheaper to buy a new printer, remove the cartridges that came with it, install it into our old machine and throw the new printer away. What a terrific waste that was, I can already hear Mother Nature weeping.

It's all based on a marketing principle you know well if you buy razors. The "razor and blades business model " is a classic loss-leader way of getting you hooked on a product by offering it free, or almost free. So, big companies give away the razors or printers, knowing in a few months you'll be back to buy the overpriced blades or ink cartridges. 

Now as we all know, technology may advance but that isn't always in our best interests. In this case, today's printers come with sensors that tell the prniter when it is out of ink. That shuts down the printer and it's not possible to print again until a new cartridge is installed. It's like being held hostage; "give me a new ink cartridge or I'm going on strike."

Well, someone calling himself "oppressedprinteruser" was sick and tired of replacing the ink cartridges; not only that, he was highly suspicious that the cartridge was even close to empty. So, he cleverly put a small piece of black electrical tape over the sensor on the cartridge and inserted it back into his Brother printer. Bingo! The printer thought a new cartridge had been installed and he was able to print again.

You would think this would give you some limited extra life, maybe 20-30 extra prints. But some users adopting "oppressedprinteruser's" technique have reported as many as 1800 extra printouts from the supposed dead cartridge. That's a lot of extra life, and it's not just Brother printers. HP, Canon, Lexmark and Epson are all vastly underestimating the life left in a cartridge. The BBC has reported that by ignoring warnings on Epson printers, overriding errors and using other such hacks, users were able to print 38% more pages even after the dead cartridge error; as a result, Epson agreed to an out-of-court settlement in 2006 and gave customers a $45 credit, although they admitted no wrong-doing. Ahem.

Bottom line, don't trust your printer. When it says it's out of ink, take a look at the last printout. If it's not faded or streaky (and even if it is, that could just mean it needs a cleaning), pop along to a site like fixyourownprinter or JREF and search for a solution. And if you own a Brother printer, just invest in a cheap roll of black electrical tape; it'll save you a small fortune.

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How to refill an ink cartridge with a small piece of tape


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Lynn Truong's picture

I never replace the toner/ink unless it starts printing out unlegible letters.

Some tips I learned in the office:
- If it's a laser printer, it helps to take the toner out and shake it around.

- You can also go into the printer properties and have it print at a lower quality level. It uses less ink. For most word docs, and especially if you're just printing out a throwaway map/directions/etc sheet, you won't be able to notice a difference.

- For colored inkjets, choose the black-only cartridge to print. Otherwise, it will use some of the color ink to make it look "nicer"

Carrie Kirby's picture

As I type this, the hubs is installing the new Samsung printer we just ordered. We thought our Brother -- just a year or so old -- was giving us false "out of ink" messages. He tried the tape, tried ordering some little gizmo that was supposed to fool the printer into thinking it had a new cartridge, but nothing worked. Now it turns out the thing might have been broken, not out of ink. Bah.

 But still, he found it more financially prudent to buy a new stupid printer than try buying a new cartridge for $30. Now that I think about it, I suspect that my husband was just so frustrated and annoyed by this point that he didn't want to buy a new cartridge to see if it would work.


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Paul Michael's picture

I think someone needs to write a piece about how shoddily-made many products are these days. One year is not a long time, my grandparents would have been outraged.

Guest's picture

I suspect this doesn't work for every printer, as some will not print at all without an electrical signal from the cartridge. But it's a good idea for those of us who don't have anything that fancy!

For people whose printers require electrical contact between the ink cartridge and the printer, there are other issues that result in the same error. Sometimes, you really are out of ink. In that case, you can refill the same cartridge with an off-brand ink and use it until the electrical contacts die (or pay someone at Walgreens to do it [less than the cost of another cartridge] if there's no hole hiding under the label). Sometimes, there's a chunk of dried ink gumming up the works. In that case, you can rub an ink-dissolving substance where the ink comes out, and then wipe that part of the cardtridge on a paper towel (repeat until the chunk comes out). For lumps floating in the ink, you have to empty and re-fill the whole thing. But you have to do it and keep the electrical contacts clear.

Guest's picture

I would recommend buying a Laserprinter instead of a new ink cartridge.

In my experience the toner last longer and is far less messy to deal with then an ink jet printer.

And these days they aren't that expensive either. You can find good ones for 120-160 $

I got my mom a Hp laserjet 10xx printer and now still 2 years later it still printing on the same toner cartridge it came with.

She only had to take it out and shake it around one or two times.

And yes, a new toner cartridge will cost you 30-40$ but it will yield roughly 3000 pages.

Guest's picture

We recently switched to refillable cartridges for our Epson printers. Because the original cartridges are really hard to refill, we bought (for about $6) new cartridges that are designed to be refilled. One advantage of these is that they're made of translucent plastic. So we don't have to rely on the printer to tell us when a cartridge is empty. Also, with these, if we remove them and reinsert them, it resets the "counter", fooling the printer into thinking that the cartridge is now full again.

You can see a picture of this cartridge here:

So we're saving money, and we're able to use the ink up completely. Turns out Epson is a good printer for refilling, because the ink cartridges don't include the print heads, so they're pretty simple.

Paul Michael's picture

I'm going to check that out. Thanks for reading.

Guest's picture

Buying printer ink used to be a problem. They just cost very expensive. But here in Philippines, we used refillable ink cartridge from Korea. This way, we get to save mother earth by not throwing the cartridge, but just refilling it with precious ink juice. The quality is not bad by the way.

Regarding the idea of putting tape to do the trick, that's a new one. Will try that. Awesome hack by the way!

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Guest's picture

We have a huge old as dirt HP 4v laser printer. We got it for free when a bank in town was tossing it out. We have had the printer since about 2004 and have bought two refilled toner cartridges for $20 each since. This included all of my hubby's work and business printing when he worked out of the house two years out of that. So it averaged out to $10 a year.

Guest's picture

Dell does the same thing. While the ink levels say one thing, the cartridge says another. When it says extremely low or empty, I can usually get 30-60 prints more.

Guest's picture

I ignore the on-screen warnings and print untill I can't see anything on the page (or read anythign) before installing a new cartridge. In general though, I try to keep as much in digital form as possible- the printing thing is a scam


Guest's picture

...however, the Brother MFCs stop printing when the ink level drops below a certain point. So printing until the ink is almost gone is impossible.

Guest's picture

The same thing happens with my Brother printer. If I am printing black and white, set it to grayscale only, and one of the color cartridges are out of ink, it won't print anything at all. Even if the color option is turned off.

Guest's picture
Hu Chou

I would like to share with everybody that the "black tape" trick works on Brother DCP-130C. The ink cartridges used are LC57 type of cartridges. LC57 is for use with the following models: DCP-330C, DCP-350C, DCP-540CN, DCP-560CN, FAX-2480C, MFC-240C, MFC-440CN, MFC-465CN, MFC-665CW, MFC-685CW, MFC-885CW, MFC-3360C, MFC-5460CN, MFC-5860CN.

Guest's picture

I just had a cartridge refilled, but they couldn't
reset low ink warning. Now its shut down because
black ink is out. Any body have an answer?

Guest's picture
Express Sign

Tape trick worked like a charm on a cyan cartridge for an old Brother MFC 5100C

I may never have to buy a color cartridge again since I only print in black with this printer.

Thanks for the tip-

Guest's picture
Big AL

Just thought I'd let you know the tape trick you've listed DOES NOT work on Lexmark 7300 Series printers. When I taped the contacts, the regular low ink messages popped up and I just clicked through them. Suddenly, the printer began to print. What came out was a "blank" piece of paper.

Guest's picture
Brother MFC-5100C

Mabe its because your actually out of ink! And you don't tape the contacts you tape the cartridge, the contacts are what communicate with your printer. The trick worked on my Brother MFC-5100C. It Worked on the Black, Cyan, Yellow and the Magenta Cartridges. Yeah even the color ones, amazing because I used Black electrical tape.

Guest's picture

Dittos on the Brother 5100 C. It works! I used duct tape. It was a little hard to get the cartridge back in because of the thickness of the tape. I pushed it in to get an imprint, then stretched the tape where it needed to fit. Works great!

Guest's picture

On Brother 240c, the tape over technique worked. I used regular color (beige?) masking tape cut into suitable tiny strips and push snugly in to cover the 2 depressions of each of the 3 so-deemed empty cartridges. Install my new black cartridge and it worked after some 5 cycles of 'cleaning'. For w while it did not seem to work, but it may take more than 5 cleaning cycles.

Guest's picture

OMG, the tape trick worked for my Brother LC75 & LC71 cartridges. took some time to cut tape to perfect size, but it worked!!! Now I taped all the colors and it showed full levels. Now I will but ink when I am totally out. THANKS a bunch!!

Guest's picture
Helen, guest

A great article, but very incomplete. I have no idea where the electrical tape is supposed to go. Where is this sensor located on the cartridge?