Did I kill my printer by trying to save ink?
October 8, 2014 3:56 AM   Subscribe

Please help me save my inkjet printer. Some time ago I used the old trick of taping the ink cartridges to use the perfectly good ink left inside when the printer claims that they are "empty". It worked brilliantly and I got probably over 100 extra pages before the print quality started to diminish. Now I have replaced the cartridges, and the printer is spitting out completely blank pages. Why did this happen, and how can I fix it?

The printer is a Brother multifunction model MFC-J430W and it takes LC40 ink cartridges. I have read the tape trick can cause damage by allowing air to be sucked into the print head, but I'm not convinced that this is what happened, seeing as I replaced the cartridge as soon as the print quality became visibly diminished.

I have tried using the printer's "clean" function, printing test pages and printing entirely black pages. None of these have worked. I really, really need a printer right now. What should I try next?

(Please, no lectures saying "You shouldn't have done that". I am well aware that Brother does not condone this practice, but I believe it is wasteful and environmentally unfriendly to discard usable ink just because Brother estimates ink use for an "average page" in a weird and inaccurate way).
posted by embrangled to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Um, this is dumb, but did you remove the protective film/tape off of your new cartridges? If the pages are really-truly blank then I would suspect a problem with the *new* cartridges.

(Personally I would be tempted to put the old ones back in to test this theory, but only if I felt that they hadn't dried out or anything from being exposed.)
posted by anaelith at 4:10 AM on October 8, 2014


These cartridges don't have tape - there's just an orange and green attachment with a lever that you pull to open the cartridge. I put the old cartridge back in and it didn't print either. It's possible that the old cartridge reached empty empty toward the end of the last print job I did. So maybe it is an air intake thing. In which case - is it fixable?
posted by embrangled at 4:18 AM on October 8, 2014


Have you tried unplugging the printer for a full minute? If not, wait a minute after trying to print, then cut the power for a solid 60 seconds. It should automatically go into "priming" mode when you plug it back in. I'm not sure that's any more effective than using the "clean" function, as you already did, but it should reset the printer, so it's worth a try! Good luck.
posted by whoiam at 5:02 AM on October 8, 2014


It's possible you just happened by chance to get a defective cartridge. You could try either returning it to the store (if they'll take it) or sending it to the manufacturer, and getting a replacement. If *that* doesn't work, then there's obviously something wrong with the printer, but I don't think you should assume that's the case right away.

The other thing you could try, if you happen to know someone else with the same printer, would be to put the non-working cartridge in their printer and test it there. But that seems pretty unlikely.
posted by cerebus19 at 7:36 AM on October 8, 2014


Seconding the defective cartridge theory, especially if you went the cheap route and bought some off-brand from Amazon or wherever. I've had pretty good luck with the off-brands in my printer, but still, about 1/5 will just not work at all (or cause a different cartridge to stop working, which is even more maddening).
posted by gueneverey at 8:18 AM on October 8, 2014


I have read the tape trick can cause damage by allowing air to be sucked into the print head, but I'm not convinced that this is what happened, seeing as I replaced the cartridge as soon as the print quality became visibly diminished.

Print quality becomes visibly diminished as a result of air getting sucked into the print head, causing individual nozzles to boil dry and clog themselves with burnt ink residue. Continuing to print with a boiled-dry nozzle can burn it out entirely.

Please, no lectures saying "You shouldn't have done that".

Not lecturing, just explaining.

I am well aware that Brother does not condone this practice

It is absolutely true that the standard inkjet-printing business model involves selling printer hardware at a loss and then cleaning up bigtime on ink sales. It is also absolutely true that using off-brand ink and/or tampering with ink level monitoring mechanisms carries an increased risk of print head damage.

I believe it is wasteful and environmentally unfriendly to discard usable ink just because Brother estimates ink use for an "average page" in a weird and inaccurate way

It's important not to forget about the environmental impact of ink consumption by cleaning cycles, early print head replacement, or even early whole-printer replacement, when doing that assessment.

In fact the ink itself is the least environmentally significant part of the whole process, simply because the quantities involved are so very small. The actually-wasteful part is the running of plastic ink cartridge casings around the recycling loop more often than needs to happen. If the environmental cost of your inkjet printing is important to you, the best thing you can possibly do is fit a bulk ink feeder.

What should I try next?

Try cleaning the head with solvent instead of letting the printer attempt to do it with ink. If that doesn't work, then your print head probably does have some burnt out or permanently blocked nozzles and you'll need to replace the printer (replacing print heads on Brother machines usually costs at least as much as a new printer).
posted by flabdablet at 8:24 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why did this happen

When I mention nozzles boiling dry, by the way, I'm being completely literal. Boiling ink a picoscopic droplet at a time is exactly how these machines work.
posted by flabdablet at 8:53 AM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


IT LIVES! Turns out that by going into maintenance mode, you can force the printer to do a deep clean. I went through the procedure twice and it's printing perfectly now. Thanks flabdablet for your explanation - I wasn't aware that inkjet printing involved such high temperatures, and it makes sense to me now why printing without ink might damage the print head. I guess I got lucky this time. I'll be a lot more careful about not reaching empty empty in the future.
posted by embrangled at 2:44 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


And um…I probably should have read all the way through flabdablet's link before doing the deep clean - it used rather a lot of ink. I have since followed the instructions for cleaning the ink head with alcohol, and it seems to be working fine.
posted by embrangled at 4:48 PM on October 8, 2014


I literally just did this exact same thing the other day, with the exact same model printer even. So thanks for asking, and for the answers. (Though I'm not sure I truly want to bring the deceptively user-friendly hellspawn that is the J430W back into my life quite so soon... ugh.)
posted by Rhaomi at 9:45 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


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