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Is Your Printer Ink Really Empty?

Here’s a tip:

Don’t trust your printer when it tries to tell you that you’re nearly out of ink. Especially if your printer is an HP psc 1210 All-In-One!

Mine told me back in September that I was nearly out of black ink, so I ran out and got a new print cartridge for it. Since I print a lot for both school and work, I knew I couldn’t afford to run out of ink. But I decided not to change the cartridge until I could see a noticeable drop in quality.

I’m still waiting, 6 months later, for that print quality to drop. And if you average out my printing, I probably print one page a day (yes, black – I rarely print color, I haven’t replaced the color cartridge in two years!). So that means that my printer can churn out over 180 pages on a “nearly empty” cartridge. (And counting!)

Moral of the story: the little warning icon might be a good indicator of when you should buy a new cartridge, but you can probably squeeze out quite a bit before you actually need to change the cartridge.

Also, here’s an indication of my insanity – once I do change the cartridge, I’m going to make a spreadsheet to track exactly how many pages I can get out of a cartridge. Yep – I’m nuts!

Although, maybe not that nuts – there are a lot of people that track things like this. I seem to remember a website where people could enter in how many miles they got on their tank after the gas gauge hit E… one of you reading this wouldn’t happen to know the name of that site, would you?

42 responses to “Is Your Printer Ink Really Empty?”

  1. singlemomindebt

    I’ve been rolling my eyes at my work printer for the last month as it told me to “order supplies”, “toner is low”, etc, in addition to showing me a graphic with empty levels for the magenta and yellow cartridge. I have backups for when it finally REALLY runs out, but it’s still chugging away!

  2. Dan

    hahah its funny your write about this because I am in the same boat right now.

    My Epson r280 has been giving me the “low black ink” warning for about 2 weeks, and still it continues to print perfectly fine. I hope to see an update when your black ink finally DOES run out, I wonder how long it will take…

  3. Traciatim

    I think if you simply print black most of the time you should find a nice low cost per page laser printer, and just take your colour in to a print sop for colour printing and copies when you need it.

    I have an HP 5550 that hasn’t printed a page in a while of anything just because HP ink is incredibly expensive for their ink jets. I got it when the launched the PhotoRet IV technology touting their printers as one of the best photo printers on the market. It’s junk compared to 35 cent prints at a print shop, or even the 19 cent prints at the grocery store.

  4. JW Thornhill

    Something very similar happened to us a few weeks ago. We took them in the be refilled at the local Walgreens and it turns out that we still had a lot in the black cartridge! šŸ™‚

  5. No Debt Plan

    Good point, Stephanie. On top of that, don’t pay $30 for one ink cartridge. I recently paid $52 or so for -12- ink cartridges (2 full reloads of my Canon with the separate color inks, plus 2 more blacks) from 123inkjets. We’ve had no problems with quality.

    On top of that, we bought through FatWallet and earned $11 in cash back. It was a STEAL.

  6. Barb Ryan @ Pasadena Financial Planner

    Stephanie, Great subject. I used to respect HP a lot more than I do now. The have a reputation for quality that they have put at risk by sleazy practices related to selling printer consumables.

    I have two HP Laserjet 2550 color printers. These are small office color printers and HP has sold a horde of them. Along with the printers come software that supposedly helps maintain quality, but the real purpose is to get you to buy more toner from HP and scare you about using toner from other vendors. (HP has been sued for doing this in the past.)

    Well, HP has rigged up these printers to stop printing when a certain count of pages has been processes. Then the software tells you the toner is gone and you have to buy more. Each toner cartridge cost about $75. Futhermore, they pull the same garbage with the color imaging drum, which costs over $150.

    If you can trick the printer into thinking a toner cartridge is new, then it will keep printing even after the printer refuses to print. For example, currently the black toner cartridge has been printing for two months after it supposedly was out of toner.

    If you have one of these printers, here is how to defeat these artificial restrictions. (It took me over an hour of searching printer forums to learn this.) Each toner cartridge has a little chip on the outside with a very small plastic dome on it. (This is so you can identify it.) All you have to do is to use a knife to carefully pry the chip off the toner cartridge. Do this on two toner cartridges and swap the chips. Again be careful not to break the chip, but this process is really not very hard to do. All the chips are the same. When you swap them, the printer thinks the cartridge is new and it resets the counter. Then, you can keep printing until the cartridge actually runs out of toner.

    These printers work wonderfully, but HP is robbing its customers when it pulls this crap. Given their reputations for putting the customer first, I bet that founders Hewlett and Packard would roll over in their graves, if they knew what current HP management thought was an acceptable business practice.

  7. Funny about Money

    Dang! I will look for toner cartridge chip–thanks for that clue.

    My HP Photosmart 261 Oxi also tells me it’s out of ink when there’s still plenty of black ink in the cartridge. I’ve discovered it will keep printing quite a while longer if you take the cartridge out, shake it for a few seconds, and then reinstall it. This will keep it running until it actually stops depositing ink on the paper, which is quite a few pages more than HP claims.

    Once when I did that I got a message saying an old cartridge had been installed (hah! now we know how it knew). I just pressed OK and it continued to run.

    In a pinch, if you can save a document to your word processor, highilght all, and then select dark blue for the font color, you can at least print something out. No good for a business letter, but if you need a print record of something, it works.

  8. Printer Wizard

    If you are only printing one page a day then the cartridge is going to last some considerable time after is showing low. Text pages only acoount for 5% coverage and use little ink – just keep going.
    On the subject of cartridge chips, these are becoming the norm for most manufacturers and many are indeed made to limit the number of prints obtained from a cartridge, some printers can be used by removing the chip and others can be fooled into believing a new cartridge has been installed. manufacturers are aware of these limitations so expect the next generation of chips to overcome these tricks.

    1. inkĀ forĀ printers

      This is quite a common occurrence in the printing industry.

      You have got to consider that people do print massively different amounts so if a person prints 40 pages a day they might get a warning early in the morning and then run out later that day which isn’t a great warning period as opposed to a person that does a low amount of printing and may see that message every day for 2 months.

      Also keep in mind that an ink cartridge will not run completely empty because if it does that will mean a lot of air locks in the printer and will cause a lot of problems!

    2. Nelson Todd the Business Loan Guy

      That’s great to know! Printer cartridges can run pretty expensive, especially when you only print black ink yet your printer refuses to print because you’re out of Yellow or Magenta. I love reading informative articles like this. Thank you!

  9. Office Supplies

    I’ve used the old shake ’em up trick before and as for the cartridge chip restricting how many copies we can print I think a disgraceful practice. We buy a new cartridge surely it’s our right to be able to use up ALL the ink in it!

  10. Barb Ryan

    Regarding #9 from Printer Wizard:
    Absolutely. I use the HP 2550s mainly for black text printing, but they are very good with color. The way the limiting software is set up, my experience is that I am using less than 50% of the toner, before the HP software shuts off printing. By the way, the HP 2550 was the main small office printer from HP for several years, so we are talking probably hundreds of thousands of printers sold

    With any other laser printer you have an idea when it is running out of toner. Then you can shake it and finish your print job, while you buy another. The HP software gives warnings, but when you do beyond them you could be printing a 40 page document for a client due in an hour and get shut down in the middle.

    Regarding #10 from Office Supplies

    Yes, you bought it and did not rent or lease the toner on a per page basis. This like buying a bottle of wine that only empties half way. However, the bottle is black and you cannot see what is left inside.

    While this particular HP printer division probably made more revenue, they put HP’s entire product reputation at risk. They counted on the cat never getting out of the bag.

    By the way, simply shut down the HP software. While it provides some useful services to manage the HP 2550 printer, you do not have to have the software running. The HP software also gives you all sorts of dire warnings about risking your printer and nullifying your warranty, if you don’t buy toner cartridges from HP.

    Yup, I will be disgusted about this with HP for awhile. There are other brands of printers I can buy. PCs and servers, too.

  11. Jessica

    I started using eBay a few months ago and when I started printing all of my shipping labels I soon came to find a “warning” that my ink was low. So, I bought some ink and started waiting for signs to show and no signs are showing. Weird how these things work!

    Glad I didn’t just replace it right away. Also, I am not going to be putting my color cartridge in until I am printing color. I hardly printed any and it is “empty” too!

  12. Polly

    I was immediately going to replace the cartridge when it said no toner – until I came across this site. I have a Samsung SCX-4200. It is still printing away! I thought it was funny you are going to keep a spreadsheet. Would love to see the results.

  13. John

    Does anyone know where the “chip” is in a brother LC51y is?

  14. Saturday Roundup: A day late and a dollar short edition « Funny about Money

    […] they’ll soon be needing…ouch!). Poorer Than You has an eye-opening post about how to foil those darn messages from your printer that tell you the ink cartridge is almost empty-when it’s not. And over at Get Rich Slowly, […]

  15. Matt

    For those wondering why HP makes so much money, read this article and you will understand…

    Half of their operating profit comes from their Ink and printer business.

    “But HP has some protection from the economic turbulence. The company’s printer and ink business, which contributes about half its operating profit, appears to be faring well. Companies are putting off buying new printers, but analysts say demand for HP-branded ink appears strong. One reason, analysts say, is generic ink-cartridge makers often need several months before they’re able to make parts that work with HP’s newest printers.”


  16. ADDIE

    I like your blog so I have bookmarked it. I look forward to seeing more posts from you šŸ˜€

  17. JuhaT

    Nice work, guys. I’ll try the chip thing asap.
    Is there a workaround for HP Color Laserjet drums, too? They also seem to stop working whenever it suits THEM – not me.

  18. lewis

    My black cartridge showed the correct level after two refills at Walgreens, Then the third showed the same low level as when I took it in for refill. I jiggled it and took it in and out three times, no luck.Then I examined the cartridge circuits with a jeweler’s loupe.All OK there. Put the cartridge back in, no luck. Got really pissed and beat the crap out of cartridge while installed. I made a believer out of it and now it shows full and prints just fine,thank you very much.tell your mum.

  19. judie

    Does anyone have a Cannon Pixma printer? I just got a message saying I needed to change my black cartridge. The intimidation in their warning says “to continue printing press stop button for 5 seconds and then release”. It goes on to say “this operation releases the function of detecting the remaining level of the above ink, and releasing the function is memorized.” It goes on to say that Canon is not liable for any malfunction.
    Should I change the cartridge or continue and hope that it will finally just ‘stop’ when it is out of ink.

  20. Professor Ink


    You can keep printing and you should not experience any issues. When you do finally go to change your black ink cartridge again, you may need to run a print head cleaning or print a few pages to get the ink to get through the print head again.

    I usually buy all my ink and toner at as they always ship the orders fast and save me 50% or more when I shop.

  21. silvana

    Can I get any help with the replacement of ink in my Brother printer. It keeps telling me the ink is low on all my colours when I’ve only been using the black for a while now. When I physically check the colour cartridges, I can see there is ink in there. Help!!

  22. Bill

    I’ve gotten to the point now that I’ve disabled my printer ink monitoring software. When I start to see my printouts fading then I know it’s time to hit and buy more ink cartridges. With all the issues with the “chips” these days it just seems easier to go with the old school method.

  23. Eric

    Many blogs are talking about Epson Losing A Lawsuit Because People Were Buying Ink Even When They Didn’t Need It When The Printer Low Ink Light Came On. offers high quality American Made Ink And Toner Compatible Cartridges At Really Low Prices. Free Shipping On Orders Of $69 or more right now too.

    Some people think that compatible ink will void the printer warrany, but that is not true. It’s just a scare tactic by the printer manufacturers to force people to buy their over priced foreign made ink. All Of The Ink And Toner At is Made In America And Saves You A Ton Of Money. 1 year satisfaction and quality guarantee with free return shipping with no questions asked if you are not 100% satisfied.

  24. John@cheap printer ink cartridges

    As long as I have my printer ink cartridge to be low on ink already as indicated on its system. I set the quality of ink to “best” to ensure that the ink would all be used up to its last drop. Then I refill it. šŸ™‚

  25. Jason Capshaw

    Wow…that is straight up shady. I have never considered the fact that perhaps the manufacturer is trying to up the amount of times I buy ink. Nice tip, thanks.

  26. Kanika

    Yeah. This is one shady fact of printers. They keep asking you to buy ink..even if they are stuffed up with ink. Too bad!

  27. W. Black

    I hate to buy regular manufacture inks because of things like this. They charge you $50ish and try to do it often. I just refill my ink manually now. It costs about $20 for three to five refills.

  28. alfred liwanag, Jr.

    One of the most common problems faced by inkjet printer users is the drying up of the liquid ink in the printer cartridge ink tanks. Not only would this cause printer nozzle to clog up, but would allow you to print lesser amount of pages. This is because when a printer tries to clean a clogged up nozzle, it would require a substantial amount of ink to unclog this.

  29. Simon Iddings

    My printer warned me of low ink and asked me to register the printer. I had to use an ID to log onto the system to register for the printer online.

  30. Barb Ryan

    Everybody. I commented on this thread three years ago about my HP2550 color printers. Never trust any of these printer warnings. It is not just HP. If you have installed any manufacturer’s supposed value-added software, get rid of it. Uninstall all of the software and then reinstall the minimum printer driver configuration. All you need is the drivers. Don’t register your printers. Don’t rely on the software to tell you when the ink or the toner is running out. Just rely upon your eyes. The damn HP software told me multiple times that the black toner cartridge was out and shut down the printer. Instead, I found a trick online about switching out the chip glued to the toner cartridge. (Scroll up). Each time the HP software told me that my toner was gone, and I switched out the chip, I got on average about a full box more pages printed. (Yes, 5000 more pages or 10 reams). I used to work for HP in the 1980s and even then the printer divisions were the most profitable. It’s not hard to understand why, when all you have to do is lie to your customers, lock up the printer, and only allow it to resume printing after you have spend another $90 for a toner cartridge. HP is not the company that Bill and Dave founded — at least from the standpoint of ethics. As a result of this, I have not bought another HP product for the past 3+ years.


    yeah, hp printers tend to do that. i read somewhere in another blog (i believe it was at that they do that because of the expiration date or something or that print quality goes down or some bs excuse like that. i have an hp printer but i just got a remanufactured one from office depot that was half the price with pretty much the same quality AND its lasting. btw my hp printer doesn’t read that the remanufactured cartridge is full so my “ink is low” notification constantly flashes. but im still getting ink out of it!

  32. Debt Management

    Great article. I totally agree with you– use every last drop of those ink cartridges. I would definitely recommend using recycled ink cartridges when you do have to buy new ones, much cheaper.

  33. L p

    Fortunately Canon Pixma does not shut down your printer if the inks are registering as low. I double checked this factor before I bought it. I generally ignore the low ink warning until I can see an actual deterioration in quality of the printing. I thought about not installing the color inks given I rarely print in color, but I was told that since I HAVE printed in color in the past, that the nozzles might clog if they aren’t regularly cleaned by having the cartridges installed. Does anyone know if that is true? I haven’t tried the shake trick, but I’m going to. That may very well improve the quality of the print even if they cartridge actually IS low. Like everyone else I can see what appears to be plenty of ink in the cartridge and they continue to print for quite awhile even after the ink is empty warning. It really irritates me that I have to replace color ink cartridges when I so rarely print ANY color; as well as going through so much ink when I don’t print much at all. Not even a page a day. Maybe a few pages a month. I buy generic ink through Amazon with very good results. The cartridges don’t seem to last any longer or shorter than the brand name, but they are MUCH cheaper.

  34. Norbert Cent

    I am tired of the bulls**t flipped at us from the manufactures of inkjet printers. I at first encountered it with Epson and now a few years later with HP. They have put a chip in the print tanks that count the number of pages that are printed by the print tank. When it reaches a predetermined number of pages — the tank is out of ink, with no analysis of how much ink was actually used from the tank. You could be printing 10 characters per page and “Sorry you must purchase a new tank.” This is bulls**t. We need to get together and file a class action law suit– how about it, printer users? Go online to the Omaha Word Herald or perhaps the Chicago Tribune news paper or both, lets create a stink that will be smelled all the ways to the halls in Washington.

  35. Norbert Cent

    Yes LP it is true and Epson is notorious for this problem even if a tank is in place but not used.

  36. Norbert Cent

    If you are as old as I am, 76, you can remember when the cartridge actually ran out of ink in the middle or so of a page after printing hundreds of pages. Back then the printer might have been priced at 250 or so, not so today. They are priced at a low price because they scam you into buying a new tank at huge cost savings to the printer manufacturer. How about 12 ink tanks per year at 26.00 each = 300+ dollars times 3 years (if your lucky) for a grand total of 900 + dollars for a printer worth less than 200 and tanks worth 12.00, (being generous) and their profit (here) likely worth 500 over 3 years. Better than being a local used car sales person. Oh yes, sounds like a neat deal, they sell us the printer, and ink and make it impossible for us to purchase the ink tank from someplace else — it is not very legal is it…

  37. Norbert Cent

    All of the crap about using the manufacturers ink is just that–CRAP. Remember when you could go to Walmart or Wal green and get a ink tank refill kit. You could just add ink from the kit and you were good, can’t do that now because of the chip in the tank. I also used to go to Walgreen and have them refill the tank they no longer have the equipment because of the chip. What the manufacturers are doing is not legal– it is restraint of trade. Do you think it would be legal to limit the brand of gas that could be used in your car to the one made by the manufacturer of the car?

  38. Norbert Cent

    If enough people want information concerning where to go to find information on unclogging a print head go on line or in about 3 to 4 weeks I can tell you where to look. I used to do that with my Epson drawing printer of 10 years ago — I will need to find the paper I had that provided the info..

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