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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 Automation Consulting and Supply, Inc.

  • General Refilling Comments

  • Types of Cartridges

  • Common Problems

  • Other Frequently Asked Questions

  • 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 no printing).

    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:

      1. The first time you'll make a mess.
      2. The second time you'll spill a few drops.
      3. 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 blouses.

    • Keep the ink out of the reach of kids and pets!

      1. 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 ink.

        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.

      2. 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.

      3. The ink can definitely cause eye irritation. If someone gets ink in their eyes, you should flush the eyes with clean water.

      4. 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 center.

    • For resealing those cartridges that need resealing, we suggest using one of the following (in order of preference):

      1. A set screw (on those cartridges where it is recommended).
      2. Silicone rubber
      3. Hot glue
      4. Hot wax
      5. Vinyl electrical tape
      6. 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 ingredients.

      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

    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 printhead.

    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 suggested ways:

    1. 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.
    2. 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 the top.
    3. Let the cartridge sit for a night or a weekend. In many cases, the air will remove itself.
    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.

    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 by Hewlett-Packard.

    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:

    1. Always squeeze the cartridge before sealing to set up the vacuum.
    2. 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.
    3. 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

    Uni-color cartridges have one chamber.

    Multi-Color Cartridges

    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:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 be 'dirty'.

      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

    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.

    Common Problems

    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
  • Cartridge Won't Print Anything.
  • It's Leaking!
  • Clean up Problems
    • Doesn't Print Correctly

    • Prints odd colors
    • Prints with streaks of some parts of letters printing, some parts not printing.
    • Stops printing on long horizontal lines, but prints again on next pass.
    • Started to print fine, but then stopped after a couple of pages.
    • Won't print.
      • Prints odd colors
      • Prints green as blue or orange as red.

        You are out of yellow ink or the yellow ink isn't flowing. Check your yellow chamber and refill if necessary.

      • Prints orange as yellow or violet as blue.

        You are out of magenta ink or the magenta ink isn't flowing. Check your magenta chamber and refill if necessary.

      • Prints green as yellow or violet as red.

        You are out of cyan ink or the cyan ink isn't flowing. Check your cyan chamber and refill if necessary.

      • Everything is a shade of brown.

        You have accidently injected one ink into the wrong chamber or the inks have over-flowed and mixed.

        You can either trash the cartridge or simply begin printing out a heavy page of graphics repeatedly to flush out the ink. Then refill properly.

      • Colors are dirty.

        You have accidently injected one ink into the wrong chamber or the inks have over-flowed and mixed.

        You can either trash the cartridge or simply begin printing out a heavy page of graphics repeatedly to flush out the ink. Then refill properly.

      • Strange colors are printing.

        You have accidently injected one ink into the wrong chamber or the inks have over-flowed and mixed.

        You can either trash the cartridge or simply begin printing out a heavy page of graphics repeatedly to flush out the ink. Then refill properly.

        It is also possible that your printing software is set up wrong. Certain sophisticated graphics packages allow you to select between R/G/B and C/Y/M/K (or another arrangement of those letters) printing. Change your setting and see how the printing behaves. If there is no improvement, remember to change the setting back to the original setting.

      • Prints with streaks of some parts of letters printing, some parts not printing.

        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!

      • Stops printing on long horizontal lines, but prints again on next pass.

        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 time.

        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.

      • Started to print fine, but then stopped after a couple of pages.

        This problem is almost always caused by air dams in sponge-filled cartridges. Check the suggestions under Types of Cartridges for sponge-filled cartridges.

      • Cartridge Won't Print Anything.

        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.
      • Cartridge prints for a while and then won't print anything.
        1. Plug in cartridge and it won't print anything.

          This often happens with the reservoir-only cartridges. Here are the two most common problems:
          • 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.
        2. 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 Leaking!

        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:
          1. Poor sealing -- check the sealing that you did.
          2. Tiny cracks -- visually inspect the cartridge for tiny cracks or leaking points. Try sealing the holes or discard the cartridge.
          3. Punctured top center hole or bag -- Not much you can do except toss the cartridge.

        • 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 morning.

        • 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 a leak.

      • Clean up Problems

      • My Hands have ink stains on them.

        To clean your hands, first wash thoroughly in soap and warm water. If the stains persist, try using Comet or a similar bathroom cleaner.

        We have also found that certain hand lotions will remove the ink. In any event, the stains are almost always gone within 24 hours.

      • My Sink has ink stains on it.

        Use Comet or a similar bathroom cleaner if plain water does not work.

      • My Clothes have ink stains on them.

        First of all, don't wear good clothes when you refill cartridges!

        Rub the stain under the cold water faucet immediately to remove as much of the ink as possible. This may take 15 minutes or longer.

        If the fabric is normally washed in the washing machine, wash it in cold water immediately. Add bleach if the fabric and color is normally washed with bleach. Do not add bleach unless you understand the effects of bleach on your fabric.

        If the fabric is normally dry-cleaned, you can tell the dry cleaner that the ink is based upon a water-soluble dye with ethylene glycol added.

    What's this? Copyright 1997, 1998 by Brian L. Boley.

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