Inkjet Cartridge General Information and Common Problems FAQ
This page contains general information about refilling inkjet cartridges,
common problems and solutions. A service of the ACSI Bulk Inks Division of
and Supply, Inc.
General Refilling Comments
Refilling inkjet cartridges is not difficult for most people. The cartridges
are little more than a plastic box filled with a sponge or a bag. To save
money, we need to get the ink into that sponge or bag in a way so that
the cartridge won't leak too fast (causing a mess) or too slow (causing
In some cases the manufacturer of the cartridge left us a nice hole to
refill through. In others, he requires us to drill a small hole ourselves.
There are a few suggestions which we have if you've never refilled before:
- Always work over a sink! Refilling always has the potential to make
a mess. We like to say:
- The first time you'll make a mess.
- The second time you'll spill a few drops.
- The third time you'll be a pro.
- Always wear old clothes when refilling! Ink is similar to spaghetti
sauce -- it seems to have a magnetic attraction for new ties and new
- Keep the ink out of the reach of kids and pets!
- The ink is not considered a toxic substance. It is mainly water, with
a bit of ethylene glycol and sometimes up to 3 percent alcohol added. It
tastes bad and may cause some gastric distress (vomiting and/or diarrhea)
if you drink enough.
Don't induce vomiting. Give several glasses of water to dilute the
Keep in mind -- the inks are about as toxic as dishwashing soap -- if
you drink enough, you can get sick. But the inks intentionally don't
have the harsh chemicals that are in some inks because the chemists knew
these inks would be used in offices and homes.
- If someone is allergic to the ink -- as with anything -- more extreme
symptoms (hives and other allergic symptoms) can occur. Be prepared and
keep an eye out for those symptoms -- especially if there is any past history
of ink allergies.
- The ink can definitely cause eye irritation.
If someone gets ink in their eyes, you should flush the
eyes with clean water.
- Perhaps the most common problem you will avoid by keeping the ink
out of the reach of kids and pets is simply the avoidance of a
Big Mess. Right now, we'd like you to imagine the artistic
effect that your 3-year-old and/or Fido the dog could create with an
entire pint bottle of magenta ink....Definitely put up the ink!
- We choose to supply everything a la carte so that those of you who
have access to syringes, drills, etc. wouldn't have to pay for them
everytime you buy a kit. If we've suggested a drill bit or a screw to
use, you'll probably find them at your local hardware store or home
- For resealing those cartridges that need resealing, we suggest using
one of the following (in order of preference):
- A set screw (on those cartridges where it is recommended).
- Silicone rubber
- Hot glue
- Hot wax
- Vinyl electrical tape
- Other tapes. Yes, Virginia, Duct tape is useful--as always.
- If you read through these instructions and it seems too complicated...
Heh! We understand that this isn't for everyone. It's kind of like this
story from our family.....
Once in a while we purchase a cake at the local bakery. They make them
there for birthdays and they do a great job. They bake lots of cakes. Buying
those cakes is very little work and no mess. But they cost $20 to $30 each!
So my wife usually bakes us a cake. It takes her about 15 minutes to
mix up and it sets in the oven an hour or so. She also has to take about
5 minutes cleaning up the bowls and spoons she used. But her cakes are just
as good -- sorry, dear -- Much Better than the cakes from
the bakery. And best of all, they only cost $3 to $4.
So my teenage daughter has been helping around the kitchen recently and
she decided to 'solo' on her first cake. But she has a bad habit of skimming
the recipes and not really reading those recipes.
You guessed it. It took her a bit
longer than 15 minutes and she made a mess. But the cake tasted good despite
its appearance....Of course, she also used three times as many bowls as
she needed to, and...you get the picture.
Her next cake production was much more streamlined and didn't even require
the vacuum cleaner this time. She was even able to get all the bowls
washed in the same dishwasher load! And it only cost about $4 worth of
So don't get discouraged the first time when you refill. But please, Please,
PLEASE! read the directions completely.
Types of Cartridges
Cartridges can be classified by several schemes:
- Sponge-filled or Vacuum-retained;
- Uni-color or Multi-color;
- Reservoir-only or Combination Reservoir/Printhead.
Sponge-filled cartridges are the most common. These cartridges are
little more than a plastic box with an internal sponge. Filling these
cartridges consists of getting ink to saturate the sponge and, in particular,
to get ink to the bottom of the sponge where it can then seep out to the
The most common problems with sponge filled cartridges are caused by too
rapid filling. If the sponge is filled too quickly, ink will not chase out
all of the air in the sponge. This will result in 'air dams' being formed
inside the sponge. The common symptom of this problem is that the cartridge
prints for a while and then stops, since the air dam has blocked the ink
from flowing toward the printhead.
A related problem is when air bubbles form between the sponge and the
printhead. The symptom here is that the cartridge has difficulty printing
as soon as it is installed.
For both problems, the key is to get rid of the air. There are several
Remember, the best cure for this problem is prevention. This is why our
instructions always caution that you must fill very S-L-O-W-L-Y.
- Inject ink from the bottom of the sponge and slowly fill the cartridge
in this manner. The idea is that the air will rise to the top.
- Tap the side of the cartridge repeatedly for several minutes. This is
known as 'burping the baby', and is an attempt to move the air bubbles to
- Let the cartridge sit for a night or a weekend. In many cases, the air
will remove itself.
Vacuum Retained Cartridges
Vacuum-retained cartridges are a bit more complex in design, but are
not much more difficult to refill. These cartridges are most commonly made
Refilling these cartridges always involves putting an air-tight seal somewhere
in the process. Depending upon the cartridge, we may seal with a set screw, or
we will suggest some plastic material be used, such as hot wax, hot glue, or
silicone rubber. Hot glue is our favorite, since it seals quickly.
The important things to remember about these cartridges are the following:
- Always squeeze the cartridge before sealing to set up the vacuum.
- The vacuum will stabilize by leaking a few drops of ink. Expect this and
plan for it. But a regular dribble means that you didn't get the seal tight.
- Some of these cartridges (such as the 51645A) have a filter screen just
above the printhead. Because the original ink can foam in the presence of
air, the first refill will often result in missing segments from long
horizontal lines. This is caused by the foam blocking off the ink flow for
short periods of time. It is cured by either rinsing the cartridge before
the first refill, or naturally over time when the cartridge is refilled a
second time -- removing the last bits of the original ink.
Uni-color cartridges have one chamber.
Multi-color cartridges have multiple chambers which each hold a
different color of ink. The printer software sprays out the appropriate
combination of dots of Magenta, Cyan, Black, and Yellow to creat all of the
colors of the rainbow. Here are some of the things to be aware of:
- Multi-color cartridges rarely run out of ink in each chamber at the
same time. So you'll probably only fill one color at a time. Remember to
tape over the openings to the other chambers while you are filling one
color, or you may contaminate the other chamber with the ink you are
injecting. If you do, you'll get some really interesting graphical colors.
- Some graphics software has setting for 'R/G/B' and 'C/Y/M/K'. If your
colors being printed look strange, try changing these settings.
- Be careful when filling multi-color cartridges to avoid printhead
based contamination. Here's how it works:
If you are filling the cartridge and a large drop of ink comes out the
bottom of the cartridge, some of the ink may be absorbed back up into the
cartridge into another color chamber. Then, when you print, your colors will
The solution is to keep the cartridge on a paper towel while filling. If you
still get the cross-contamination, you may need to flush out that chamber with
more ink, or by printing several pages of heavy graphics of that color.
Reservoir only cartridges only contain an ink reservoir. These cartridge
can be refilled many, many times.
Combination Reservoir/Printhead Cartridges
Combination Reservoir/Printhead cartridges contain both an ink reservoir and
have a printhead built-in to the cartridge. These cartridges will eventually
wear out the printhead through simple erosion, but should give good printing
for 3 to 12 refills in most cases.
This is a listing of common refilling problems and their cure.
NOTE: This section is still under develoPMent. Send us your problems
and solutions and we may add them here.
Doesn't Print Correctly
Prints odd colors
This means that your print head is partially clogged.
Use the printer's cleaning routine.
If this doesn't work, try soaking just the printhead in simmering water
to which up to 50 percent ammonia has been added. However, only
do this on cartridges with disposible printheads. Don't do this
if your print head is a permanent part of your printer!
This indicates that the print head is not getting enough ink. This is common
the first refill in HP 51645A cartridges because of foam generated by
the original HP ink. This foam forms at the exit filter just before the
printhead and is caused because the original HP ink foams if mixed under
suction with air -- such as what happens when you refill the cartridge.
Our WJ163 ink has an anti-foaming additive, but the small residue of
original HP ink will foam.
With this cartridge, this problem almost always goes away with the second
refill because our ink has washed out the original HP ink residue by this
With other cartridges, this symptom simply means that not enough ink
is getting to the printhead. Look for partial blockages of the ink path,
including blockages caused by small air bubbles.
This problem is almost always caused by air dams in sponge-filled cartridges.
Check the suggestions under Types of Cartridges
for sponge-filled cartridges.
This condition is very common with certain cartridges, particularly with
reservoir-only cartridges such as provided by Canon and Epson. The
symptom is one of the following:
Plug in cartridge and it won't print anything.
This often happens with the reservoir-only cartridges. Here are the two most
- The ink has not made it to the bottom (exit) of the cartridge, and thus,
there is no ink for the printhead to use. The solution is to take the
cartridge, turn it upside down and inject some ink into the sponge through
the ink exit hole (if it is large enough to do without modification).
- There is an air bubble between the bottom of the sponge and the printhead
which is blocking ink flow. Be sure that there is a bit of ink in the
top of the printhead, and be sure that there is ink slowly dripping from
the exit hole of the cartridge.
Cartridge prints for a while and then won't print anything.
This often means that there is an air blockage which has formed in the
middle of the sponge. Check the suggestions under Types of Cartridges
for sponge-filled cartridges.
It's normal for all cartridges to leak a couple of drops when first filled,
and may continue for 5 minutes or so. Remember, if there isn't ink at the
exit hole of the cartridge, the printer can't print. So expect a bit of
a drip or so.
- If your cartridge is one of the HP vacuum-retained cartridges, then
continued leaking tells us that the cartridge has an air leak. Air leaks
are caused by:
- Poor sealing -- check the sealing that you did.
- Tiny cracks -- visually inspect the cartridge for tiny cracks or
leaking points. Try sealing the holes or discard the cartridge.
- Punctured top center hole or bag -- Not much you can do except toss
- Now, if your cartridge is a simple sponge-filled cartridge, then
it should stop leaking after a few minutes unless it is overfull. Let the
cartridge sit overnight where it can make a mess and check it in the
- The Canon BJI-201 is a special case. This cartridge is half sponge-filled
and half vacuum retained. If you get a continuous leak, it is because of
poor-sealing or tiny cracks. Remember that the hole through which you
filled the top of the cartridge must be sealed air-tight or you will get
Clean up Problems