Cartridge refilling

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With the prices of new cartridges for many printers, like the new Canon Pixma's, being so expensive you soon start casting around for other ways to reduce your printer costs.. One of these is the ever messy refilling using bulk ink...

This guide is intended to give you an idea of what questions to ask, what information you need and how to find it, and help you avoid some of the pitfalls. Plus it provides an alternative viewpoint to the " Don't refill" guide that is posted on ebay as well.

Can you refill?

Sounds like a daft question but there are a number of printers (Hewlett Packard deskjets are a good example) that can only really be refilled once or twice before they become unusable. As a rule of thumb if the printhead is built into the cartridge you probably won't be able to refill more than once or twice. It's the way the cartridges are designed.

Will refilling have other implications?

Some printer manufacturers and/or companies (even ebay sellers) may well refuse to honour any warranty repair/replacement claims if you use 3rd party inks . A good example of this are the now common Canon Pixma printers that will detect refilled cartridges and only work after you either repent and buy new OEM Canon cartridges or, confirm and accept that you void your warranty if you continue.

Are you confident and willing to experiment?

Refilling, as noted earlier can be very messy and it's very easy to get things wrong so you need to be sure that you are confident enough to try your hand at new skills and not panic at the sight of ink (or blood if you cut yourself in the process ;-) ). You also need to be aware that things can go wrong so you need to be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them. The good news is that there's a lot of help out there, but you can do some serious damage to the printer if you're unlucky or not careful.

Once you've decided you can/want to continue, you need to get your materials

Getting your ink

You need to choose a good quality ink supplier that has more than just good eBay reputation but is also backed up by other reviews, etc.. on the net.

Various specialist forums and enthusiast sites exist on the web with knowledgeable individuals willing to share their experiences (without wanting to sell you anything). It pays to research so do take the time to look around before you leap. It pays in the long run..

Avoid Universal Inks

As a rule universal inks (ie: inks that claim to be compatible with any printer) are not a good option . To give you a quick crash course.. Epson uses a cold process to shoot out ink, Canon boils it's ink to form a bursting bubble to do the same thing.. Common sense dictates they they need inks with different chemical properties so you really want to be getting something specifically formulated for your printer model.

Universal inks have a poor reputation and tend to result in clogged and thus useless printers hence the warning.

Getting the tools

A lot of sellers on ebay will provide you with the tools you need to refill successfully and in the main the core things you'll want are:
  • 10 - 20cc Syringe
  • Blunt needle
  • Electricians tape (to help seal any holes)
    ... Or... the orange covers + rubber bands to seal the ports on Canon cartridges
  • A chip resetter (usually for Epson or HP cartridges)
For a first timer, you'd be wise to get a refilling kit with all the bits you need.. There are plenty of examples on eBay and elsewhere.. Of course you may want a few extra bits to help you along so here's just a few other bits that can make life a little easier...
  • Drill with appropriate sized bit (if you have to drill into the cartridge to refill it)
  • Glue gun (to seal the hole again)
  • Absorbant tissue, cloths, etc..
  • Newspaper and other "Ooops" spill control
Depending on your printer you'll also want a few other bits (see "specific methods" below)

Which cartridges?

Your first thought might be to refill cartridges you've bought and used already but there's a few things to consider if you do this:
  • The original ink in the cartridge may not react well to the ink you plan to fill it with.. Poor reaction often = clogging
  • Some cartridges are better suited to refilling than others
It may be worth considering buying cartridges specifically designed to be easy to refill. These often come with an easy to open/close fill hole and this alone can make refilling a lot less messy and easy to complete.

Finding good instructions

This guide isn't intended to replace the sheer volume of good information out there already on refilling so get out your search engine and start looking for detailed guides that emphasise good practical tips on refilling.. Keywords to use are:
- refill, bulk ink, kit
- Your printer brand eg: "Canon", "Epson",
Cartridge reference number eg: "CLI-8" or "CLI8" for the Canon cartridges of that type
Useful forums to look up: "nifty-stuff", "stevesforums"

Often bulk ink and refill kit sellers will provide some instructions but it can be a life saver if you have more than one guide to refer to. Some instructions tend to be vague and assume a higher level of experience than you might have, so looking for other guides is well worth the effort for first timers.

Specific Methods

Here are a couple of very useful keywords so you can google some useful refilling guides for specific printer brands.

Canon: Google: "German Durchstich method"
: Google: "epson_oem_refill_kit" (look for the small instructions link)

(Nb: Ebay have a policy of not allowing non-ebay links which makes guide writing a tad difficult so apologies for the fact you have google things yourself)

Other factors

Inkjet cartridges, like any other mechanical component have a lifespan that can be extended with careful maintenance and care... Some of the other things to watch out for include:
  • Algae
    Believe it or not, printer ink provides an environment in which algae can grow and this can, over time result in reduced ink flow. Sponged cartridges (which most cartridges are) are especially favourable environments for this.

  • Sponged Cartridges drying out
    The sponge, inherent in most inkjet cartridges, is there to stop the ink just flowing straight out of the cartridge into your printer. However, the sponge will, over time, dry out as it comes into contact with the air replacing the used ink. This drying effect culminates in the sponge reducing the inks ability to flow and encourages algae growth so it's often wise to regularly top up ink levels in your cartridges to keep the sponge damp and air to a minimum.

  • Cartridge flushing/cleaning
    This is often the best solution to algae, solidified/dried ink and dried sponges thus it helps keep the cartridge in working order.. It isn't possible with all cartridges and even then it's easier with some than others because of factors like the size of the ink ports that feed the printer. Instructions and advice on this sort of thing are available from various enthusiast websites (keyword search: "nifty-stuff cartridge flush ")

Why do it at all?

There are a number of benefits to be had from refilling cartridges.. These include:
  • Much lower cost of printing
  • The ability to choose the ink you use and thus pay for ink quality without all that extra plastic
  • Reduced waste
There are costs involved, such as time, the learning curve, etc.. but for many it's proven well worth the outlay.

Hopefully this guide has helped you understand a little better what's involved in refilling, some of the key questions you need to answer before you fork out and place to look for information, assistance and resources. Ultimately what makes for a good or bad experience is preparation, good quality inks and patience...
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