Thursday, September 13, 2012

Frugality Tip #4: DIY Printer Cartridge Refill ($0.15)

We use our printer almost daily.

Coloring pages for the kids, financial statements, church material, coupons, etc.

I can tell you that I used to dread the days the ink cartridges would run out. Paying a crazy price for a new black ink cartridge was NOT something I liked to even think about... and buying color cartridges? Pfffftt... right.

The price never made sense to me.

Is printer ink made with semi-precious materials? What's with the price discrepancy between printer ink and the ink in a BIC pen?

Obviously there's a difference, but SHEESH!

Well, a couple years ago, when I'd been printing off sheets and sheets of coupons and feeling bad about how much ink I was going through, and wondering just how much my ink was eating into my printed coupon savings, I decided to look into alternatives.

And I made a BEAUTIFUL discovery...

You can buy BULK universal printer ink for cheap and refill your cartridges at home!

Two years ago, I bought a kit with 500 mL of black ink (which is the equivalent of 100 cartridges for my printer), and it cost me all of $15.00. 

I was so happy!! Even if I only used it to refill my current cartridge ONCE, I'd be breaking even. It was a win, win.

When the ink came in the mail, I happily opened the package, enlisted the help of my handy husband, and voila! My once empty ink cartridge was filled once more! And I was shocked to see that I barely made a dent in the bulk ink supply.

Two years have passed, and I've bought a new ink cartridge from the store exactly ONCE. I bought a clearanced cartridge, because the cartridge I'd been re-filling over and over eventually got a bit messy... refilling your cartridge at home begs a steady hand... let's just say I'm not the most steady-handed person on earth. The quality of the printing declined the last time I refilled my old cartridge. It makes sense, because pinter cartridges aren't meant to last forever, but they can DEFINITELY go a few rounds before biting the dust. Here's some more info on the life-span of a cartridge.

The photo above shows what I got for $15.00 two years ago. I've actually got no clue what the little red thingy is for... I'm sure it's important, but... I've never used it... or the silver hook thingy... or the little tiny black thingy... and I've long since discarded the plastic glove that came with the kit.

This is how much I've used over the course of two years... I know, right?! I'm going to walk you through how I re-fill MY cartridges. You might have different ones. That's fine. Be sure to order ink that has an instruction manual, or locate a tutorial online for YOUR printer cartridges. Not all cartridges are made the same. Okay, back to business.

How I Refill my own Printer Cartridge

Step 1: Remove the ink cartridge from your printer, and place it on some paper towels, or card stock, or on something that can get covered in ink/thrown out. (Just in case... you're not really going to cover anything in ink... hopefully.)

Step 2: My instruction manual says to make a hole through the top of the sticker into the little hole where the ink is located. (Not make sense? I had no clue my first time either. If you peel back the corner of the paper a bit, you'll see a small hole where you can insert your ink... you'll find it. I've got faith in you.) All that said, I'm pretty sure you can just remove the whole sticker, and use the hole... but I thought I'd just tell you what the instruction manual says. 

Step 2: Remove the cap from your ink bottle. Poke a hole in the silver lining (I originally used the syringe needle, but over time, I had to make it bigger to be able to reach the ink as the bottle emptied.)

Step 3: Make sure the plunger on your syringe is pushed all the way in. Insert the syringe into the ink bottle. Pull back the plunger all the way to fill it with ink.

Step 4: Carefully insert the needle into the small hole in the ink cartridge. SLOWLY depress the plunger completely. Take this really really slowly, or you'll end up with ink bubbling up out of the tiny hole, and a mess to wipe up. Refill the syringe and continue filling the cartridge until it's full. You'll have to watch carefully to avoid overflow!  I use about 5 mL worth of ink to fill the cartridge depending on just how "empty" my cartridge was.

 Step 5: Cover the hole with adhesive tape so that the ink won't leak out into the printer. Again, I'm sure you can remove the entire sticker first before you tape it if you want. Just thought I'd show you how the instruction manual says to do it... And, I know I didn't do a great job of keeping everything clean. I definitely don't have the steadiest hands. :) Put the cartridges back in the printer, and run a test page. You are good to go!

The refilled cartridge will print just like the old one. But, your computer might still tell you you have "Low" ink levels. Not true. I don't know why it says that. Also, I know it looks like you should be able to fit more than 5 mL of ink in there, but the rest of that cartridge is walled up and filled with air. The makers of ink cartridges sure are tricky.

You can do this with the color cartridges too. I've just never done it, because I bought black ink only before I knew any better. If you decide to do the color ink, let me know how it goes! The steps should be the same as for the black ink, but there will be three holes for the red, yellow, and blue ink.

Want some of your own? Here's a link to a good color and black refill option that will work for any brand of cartridge:

The ink listed above currently costs $14.01 if you have a Prime account through Amazon (Cheaper than what I spent, and it's an ESPECIALLY great deal for color ink!)

*This ink says Canon, but if you continue to read the description it tells you that it is universal ink. I didn't post any "black ink" only links on here, because they weren't eligible for Amazon Prime. I figure if the ink above is eligible through Prime, and you end up not liking it, you can use Amazon's awesome return policy. There are other options out there, but I felt I could best recommend this one.

To give you an idea of how much 5 mL is, the HP cartridge says it will print about 210 pages. It's not specific about what that means, but there you go. Hopefully it'll give you a ballpark figure for how much you might save based on the cost comparisons below:

~ Savings ~

Disclaimer: I'm sure most people wouldn't go through 100 cartridges of ink any time soon. The ink I bought says there's an "expiry date," but every forum I've looked at online says it's not necessarily a factor. My ink was set to expire last year, but I still use it, and to date have had no adverse effects. This cost analysis is the side-by-side comparison, and even if you would typically go through only a fraction of this many ink cartridges, the savings is still relevant. Even if I chucked my recently "expired ink" today and bought another set of bulk ink, the savings would still be incredible.

Cost Breakdown:
500 mL Bulk Ink Supply Kit = $15.00
*Makes 100 5mL refills
1 5mL refill = $0.15 
The Contender:
HP 92 Black Inkjet Cartridge (contains 5 mL): $15.97
Savings: 99%
Total Money Saved: $1582.00

 2-year scenario:
Buy 8 black ink cartridges = $127.76
Use equivalent bulk ink = $1.02
*Money Saved Over 2 Years: $126.74


  1. Genius! I had no idea! I have a Lexmark so my ink is super cheap but man, when I had an HP, this would have been soooo good to know!! That ink is ridiculously expensive!

    1. It's awesome, right?? You should totally do it with your Lexmark! You can refill any cartridge. The hole where you insert the new ink might be in a different spot, but it's basically the same principles.

  2. Hey, would this trick work if I had a lazer printer?

    1. Hi Julia,
      I did some digging for you, and it looks like my method for refilling ink cartridges wouldn't work for your toner cartridges. (Laser printers use toner cartridges, and not ink cartridges.) HOWEVER, I did some digging and found this article about refilling laser printer toner cartridges:
      You can check it out and see if it's worth your while to pursue. Good luck!

  3. This came at the perfect time! My color ink just went out due to *ahem* coupon printing and making the occasional card on white cardstock and I loathe the idea of spending $40 on a single cartridge. I was looking for alternatives and stumbled upon this post by complete accident. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

  4. Thanks for an insightful post. These comments are really helpful.. I found a lot of useful tips from this post.
    Best Cartridge Refilling

  5. I just check Amazon and this ink set is selling for $7.80 !!!! plus s&h but wow.
    Thanks, I wasn't sure where to buy the refills, my HP cartridges are bone dry and I too HATE to be screwed with no kiss on the replacement prices. Ordering today!

  6. Great post with nice details. Can i print Plastic cards by any laser printer?

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. To combat the "walled up and filled with air" dilemma you can probably drill a second small hole to allow air to escape as you fill the cartridge. Worth a try.

  9. I have read somewhere that if you use re-usable ink, it would "void" your printer warranty. However, my printer was inexpensive and I don't have a warranty, so that would be also be something to consider. CW

    1. Hi CW,

      I don't know for sure, but that definitely sounds right. My printer came free with our laptop, and is a cheap-o also. When I started re-filling my own ink cartridges, I decided that if it didn't kill my printer after a couple of refills, I'd break even. It's lasted for years, and shows no sign of having issues any time soon. Thank you for pointing out the warranty issue!

  10. So I bought some ink soon after you posted this and gave it a whirl. Oh man, it's saved me soooo much! I have been printing like mad ever since. I wish I'd known about this years ago. I've refilled my cartridges a gazillion times and I still have tons left. We have a cheap printer, too, so I figured it couldn't hurt to try, right! :) Just wanted to thank you for posting this.

    1. I'm so glad, Heather! It know it's saved us a ton too. :) We miss you guys so much, and I keep crossing my fingers that our paths will cross again in the future.

  11. I just tried it exactly how you said but when I printed, no color came out. Do I need to wait a couple minutes for the color to settle in the cartridge?

    1. Yes! I should clarify... it takes the ink a few hours to "settle" before it will do a great printing job. :)

  12. Excellent post ! Its really useful blog and post as well as. I want to say thanks to admin who share very important information. nice work

  13. I tried this method with my hp printer because my cartridges were empty. My printer went to "idle" which I assumed was because the ink was empty. I refilled them and tried to print a test page. The printer itself says just sits there forever just saying that...and my computer still reads my printer as idle. I tried reinstalling the drivers for the printer...but nothing is working. Not sure if its the printer malfunctioning or the ink not reading correctly.

    1. Hmm... I would guess that the printer is malfunctioning. Especially if there was no change before/after you added the ink. Sorry! Wish I could be of more help!

  14. Thank you so much for posting this. I bought the ink a couple months ago and it's worked great! I actually bought the ink that includes 3 bottles of colored ink. It's been so nice to print in color without feeling guilty for wasting more money :-). Thanks for your blog, I really enjoy it!

  15. I bought the ink and refilled my ink cartridges (my printer is a Kodak) but it keeps popping up that I need to replace my ink cartridges. Do you know why this or what I need to do?

    1. Sometimes, you have to let the new ink settle in the cartridge for a while before the printer will register that it's full. Have you tried again since you asked me? If not, try removing the cartridges and putting them back in now, and give it a go. It should be fine. Good luck! Let me know if it's still not working, and we'll brainstorm.

  16. Very useful tips. Great Job.

  17. Thank you so much for this! I just found your site yesterday and have been pouring over it ever since. This printer post is extremely helpful and something I never knew about. Why couldn't I have found your blog sooner! My kids had whole wheat pancakes for lunch by the way and they loved them! I normally only use my whole wheat flour for bread but it made the pancakes way more filling and my kids didn't want to eat a ton like usual which was nice.

  18. I did this just now and successfully refilled black ink AND printed a page! Thank you--I'm going to save a bundle this way!

  19. Great saving for the money, thanks for the tips


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