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Fit to print: don't be duped! Your empty ink cartridges might still be ...

Ink jet printers have revolutionized the way we use computers. We can produce a high-quality document with a machine that costs almost nothing. Unfortunately, we get hooked and it's hard to believe, but a replacement set of colour and black ink cartridges can often cost more than the printer. Sure they have a built-in printed circuit board and ultra-precise printing nozzles, but how can it cost more than a few bucks to produce one. I learned many years ago when I bought my first HP Desk Jet printer that all it took to re-ink those cartridges was a hypodermic syringe with a long needle and a bottle of Sheaffer Jet Black ink. Just put 10-15 mL in the syringe; stick the needle through the vent hole and push the plunger. Reinstall the cartridge and it's back in business. If it's in reasonable shape it might take half a dozen refills.

Obviously, HP didn't like this and they fought back with a new high-capacity cartridge. You filled these at your own peril as pushing the needle through the vent hole punctured a bladder and ink went everywhere. Not to be outdone, the next series of refilling kits included a rubber plug and told you where to drill a hole. Since then refilling kits have taken off with new ones appearing almost as fast as the printer and manufacturers could come out with new cartridge designs. Some are very good; others are not. I have had varying degrees of success. I always succeeded with black, but experienced several disasters with colour cartridges. If you plan to do any photo-quality colour printing you really want to be able to refill those colour cartridges as that photo mode sprays ink so fast you can almost see the level dropping in front of you.

This time I decided to go for a quality kit from a reputable manufacturer. I chose Island Ink-Jet in British Columbia (, a Canadian company with kiosks across the country, including one in a neighbourhood plaza. My printer is a Lexmark Z35 that uses a 10N0016 black cartridge and a 10N0026 colour cartridge. I had recently purchased a Z33 on special for $39.95 just for the cartridges and gave the printer away. That gave me a spare pair to fall back on if I went wrong. I started by re-inking the pair myself. My kits had enough ink for three refills and hypodermic syringes for each colour. The black kit also included a drill to expand the vent hole to accommodate the hypodermic needle.

I started with the black cartridge and added 10 mL of black ink; wiped it clean with a damp paper towel and in a couple minutes it was reinstalled. It kept going for a few months until it needed another refill. It's had five now and is working so well I bought a bigger bottle of ink. The colour is much more difficult as the top must come off. I used a box cutter. Be very careful as you can do some serious damage to yourself if that cutter slips. When you get it off, there are six holes and the diagram shows which colour goes into which. I put 4 mL into each and reattached the top with some electrical tape. I got three more lives from it. When I installed the replacement, I decided I would take it to the kiosk for refilling just to see how the pros do it. The gentleman on duty was kind enough to let me watch and explain what he was doing. He sure got that top off a lot faster than I did. His filling method was essentially the same as mine. Instead of a bit of tape to hold the cover, he used a glue gun. It was a lot neater and the entire job took less than five minutes. Whether they did it or I did it, the print quality was as good as the original.

The Island Ink-Jet kiosk was located between Canadian Tire and Grand & Toy. That day, Canadian Tire had a special on Lexmark Z35LE (watch the "LE" as it comes with the smaller cartridges) printers for $49.99 and Grand & Toy was selling Lexmark colour cartridges for $49.99. My refill cost $18.95, about 40 percent of the cost for a new cartridge. A DIY refill kit, capable of doing eight refills, is $39.95. That's $5.00 a refill or 10 percent of the cost of a new one. You win either way. It costs more for the service and some of you may prefer to go that way. I'll continue doing them myself and ending up with magenta, cyan and yellow stains all over my fingers. I'm a chemist. I know it comes off with a bit of hypochlorite.

A few words of caution: Stop using the printer at the first sign of a cartridge going dry. Once they do, they're garbage. If you plan to refill it yourself, don't wait too long. If you are going to the kiosk, store it in a small sealed bag with a bit of moist paper towel. They'll give you one, if you drop by. Try to print something every day. If you can't, run the maintenance program occasionally to prevent the printhead from drying out. If the printhead looks all caked up with ink, wipe it carefully with a moist paper towel. If the jets are clogged, you can sometimes unclog them by soaking the printhead (not the whole cartridge) in water, or even better, the pros use 50:50 water and Windex. Don't experiment with inks. Those 2400 dpi jets plug very easily. With a little care, you should be able to cut your ink costs by a factor of three or more. What about the warranty? Forget it. You've saved more than enough to toss it out and by a new one.

You can reach our Chemputing editor Marvin D. Silbert, FCIC, at Marvin Silbert and Associates, 23 Glenelia Avenue, Toronto, ON M2M 2K6; tel. 416 225-0226; fax 416 225-2227 ; e-mail:; Web site:
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Title Annotation:Chemputing
Author:Silbert, Marvin D.
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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