By February 12, 2008

Trick your Brother inkjet into working when an ink cartridge runs dry

I bought a Brother 5440 multifunction color printer scanner fax machine when I started working from home over three years ago. It was reasonably affordable, and my previous forays into inkjet printers explained why: the printer exists to get you to buy more ink cartridges. The 5440 didn’t come with fully-filled carts. I wasn’t insulted, I’d gotten over that little screwjob the last time I owned an HP inkjet years and years ago.

What particularly pissed me off about the 5440, and other Brother multi-function printers as I have come to find out, is that the unit periodically cleans itself by using a small amount of ink. Of every color. At regular intervals. I tried to fax an expense report, less than a year into owning the machine.


I jumped straight up in the air. What the fuck?


I just wanted to fax something. Why did I need cyan ink? I really needed to fax my expense report in, so I drove to OfficeMax and got a replacement cyan cartridge. I snapped it in, reset the printer, and attempted to fax again.


What the fuck?


Oh, for fuck’s sake. For about half the cost of my MFC I bought enough ink to shut the machine up long enough to fax my report in. I ordered a box of carts from eBay and pushed the issue aside.

The trick to the Brother MFC is that the color cartridges are half the size of the black cart. Over the next two years, I ran out of yellow, blue, and cyan twice more. I had only printed one page in color, ever. Last month I needed to fax in over twenty pages of documentation to my staffing firm in order to start my new job. I also needed to scan some documents in for their records. I powered up my MFC and pushed the fax button.



I reached into my eBay box o’ carts, only to find out I had used up all of the color ones. Motherfucker.

I searched the Web and found out there is a sensor in the printer that checks ink levels. The sensor uses a beam of light to do so; if the light bounces back, the machine assumes there is ink in the cart and continues to operate. If the light is not bounced back, the machine assumes that the cart is empty and starts beeping.

Note that I’m not actually out of ink. According to the machine, I need to buy a full replacement. If you look towards the right of the unit, you see where I marked the “spine” of the cart with a Sharpie. This is the area checked by the printer’s sensor.

Following a suggestion I found online, I took black electrician’s tape and placed it around the cartridge’s spine.

I shut the door to the printer and restarted it. I pushed the fax button, and away we went. Problem solved.

The danger of such a procedure is that the print heads for each color may become clogged. Little bits of ink supposedly dry on the heads, and the machine routinely cycles a “small” amount of fresh ink through the head in order to keep things clear. I find two and a half carts of three colors over three years to be a bit excessive just for “cleaning.” I never use the color printing option for my MFC anyway, so who gives a fuck.

I thought it was absolutely ridiculous that you couldn’t scan or fax without a full rack of ink, and thanks to the Power of the Internet™ I am able to use my Brother MFC 5440 again.

Posted in: technology

576 Comments on "Trick your Brother inkjet into working when an ink cartridge runs dry"

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  1. bill says:

    excellent, empty cyan but couldnt print black, crazy but the taped fixed it, top stuff.

  2. nada says:

    great trick
    thanks a looooot
    I just bought one ink but I remove it and tried your trick .
    it works . you save my money.

  3. Matt says:

    This also works for Brother MFC-3360C USB Printer ink cartridges. I had to print a b&w mailing label today and my yellow and cyan were out. so I taped those puppies up and was able to print – thanks for the great tip!

  4. barbara says:

    Great thanks so much worked wonderful on
    MFC 210C

  5. Samantha Diaz says:

    Thanks so much – this saved my day coz I only use this damn machine for scanning & faxing – I will never have to waste money on ink again! Kerching! Cheers 🙂

  6. Jowie says:

    Omg thank you so much for sharing… I was begining to get really frustrated at it telling me to replace ink. I don’t use colour much, usually just the black ink but somehow the colour inks always run out really fast and it is not cheap to keep replacing them eveytime i want to print/fax…I will never buy another brother printer anymore. ever.

  7. Grandma says:

    Irascible belligerent old harridan here who has the privilege of owning a DCP150C.

    I mean privilege. Because we know how how to deal with these printers! NONE of the printer companies have clean hands on this issue. It is a global scandal because it is legal to cheat people in this way.

    Thanks to DocF and others these solutions are being globally circulated. I have at least a half dozen sites in Favorites on this issue. We all know why they exist.

    My Cyan just showed empty. Off to Favourite ‘Printer Ink Tips’. Up comes the Doc, and I am reminded again what to do-(I’ve done this three times previously). My newish generics have a complete plastic window protecting the spying eye! Sharpie didn’t work for me-electrical tape does-haven’t tried correction fluid yet.

    Oh my children!,-it is your bounden duty to circulate these tips, and when the printer companies try something else-there will be those who know how to bypass them. They will share that knowledge-we will then pass it on.

    Power to the printinkvictims!!

    (And if anyone knows of a printer with inks that last,-and are cheap to replace…do tell!I would also like more information on the tooth fairy)

  8. Sami says:

    AMAZING tip! I was about ready to buy another printer, the cleaning and constant refills were really annoying.
    Thank you!!!

  9. Chaz says:

    works for the dcp-195c…thank you!

  10. CaptnBob says:

    Excellent tip mate.
    Pitty about the expletives, they’re really not necessary to get the point across.
    Ink dries up – reality. Brother need to keep the heads clean somehow. Maybe they could introduce have the option to “continue without ink” for e.g. faxing or scanning.

  11. Grandma says:

    ………….and while we’re on the subject!
    A printer ink supplier (!!) told me that Brother inkjets have a reputation for losing the black print facility (if you see what I mean). The whatever clogs up or something-I’m not sure. I haven’t had black printing now for over two years-I print in navy.

    …but until I was told this I bought two new black inks to try and alleviate the problem…
    Printers of course use the black more than any other colour. Perhaps if you can’t fix the black ink problem, you’ll buy another printer or another black ink? Handy eh?

    Inks may dry up, but given the almost obsessive auto cleaning by big Brother-you’d think that those heads would be functioning far better than they are.

    But that’s not the object of the exercise-is it?

  12. PrinterFrustrated says:

    I can’t thank you enough for this great piece of workaround. Tricking the printer worked perfect.

  13. tb says:

    dude you rock! i couldn’t find any electrical tape in the house but the duct tape worked just fine. all i needed to do is scan.

  14. marvin says:

    hi guys i have a brother j430w? will this trick work? i hope someone upload a video on youtube

  15. Jose says:

    Thank you, great tip!

    It works on a brother mfc-215c 🙂

  16. Grandma says:

    Marvin-comment 517:

    I checked through,(that’s right, all 500 odd!), and all I could find for something close to your model (j415w/j410w) are comments 445 and 495 respectively.
    Comment 443 is a j270w.
    Comment 437 is a j315w.
    Comment 89 has a link on the same topic.

    It is with great pleasure that I announce the demise of my DCP150c.
    (Virtual drinks and nibbles will be served along with claw hammers).
    Tricked the bastardo for 3 years (fresh inks-then blind eyeing).
    It started to print only in red. Fresh inks; still red. (No black for at least two years now).

    I have settled on a Canon Pixma MG5350 after some research ( with the assistance of a textpert!).

    Now let’s see. It could not be worse; that’s unthinkable!

  17. nando says:

    lol! its amazing how many people have been though this problem. It just shows how many of us think that there has to be a solution to this bullshit problem. Like everyone else i appreciate it a million for the post man. it really saved me some money and time.

  18. Fuu says:

    I was seriously starting to kirk out over this thing…thank you SO MUCH.

    And viva la Internets(™)

    thanks for sharing.

  19. Wiremu Te Kani says:

    As we say in New Zealand, “Mate, you are a legend”. Thank you for this very helpful trick!

  20. stephanie says:

    I have the MFC 210C and the tape thing ain’t working? does it have to be black electrical tape or can it be dark blue? I saw some other guy had the same unit and it worked, I must be doing something wrong? I can’t stand it anymore!

  21. PYL says:

    It works fine!

    Brother sucks…

  22. Jen says:

    I use a Canon mp160 and was directed here after an hour of searching around. My dad got refills for the ink cartridges (color and black) and asked me to check if they worked but it always said they were out of ink. I used to black tape method and the printer still couldn’t recognize the cartridges, so I took the tape off and turned the printer off then on and tried again. The printer said it was unaligned or some weird shit like that but continued to print anyway.
    End result- Color turned out terrible, but black is fine.
    Still says there’s no ink though.

    Thanks. Saved us $40 every cartridge.

  23. Jesper Milling says:

    I too couldn’t use my Brother MFC printer because the black cartridge was “empty”. I didn’t have a new one and the tape trick didn’t work for me. I drilled two holes in the top of the catridge on either side of the handle and added a little water (yes H2O) through the one hole, the other letting out air. Now I can print, Black prints fine too, since there was balck ink left that was just diluted like 50%. Won’t work for long, but long enough for me to buy a new cartridge. And I can continue working.

  24. Alex says:

    Very useful tip. Taped over the window with some duct tape I had, found out it wanted more magenta ink, too, taped that over, and I can finally scan a document.

  25. Sarah Clemment says:

    Thank you so much! There was no way that I was going to pay for COLOR ink when I only wanted to print something in BLACK AND WHITE! All of these companies are greedy, apparently it works for them, but it also makes customers HATE them! If all the other companies were not doing the same things, and had as nice of a scanning software as Brother does, and made sewing machines as nice as Brother, then I’d boycott them over this issue. Unfortunately, I love their products. But I CAN BUY GENERIC INK as a means of punishing them now, CAN’T I???

  26. Khoa says:

    Thank you so so much. YOU’RE THE MAN

  27. Printing Again! says:

    Nearly 5 years later, and 531 Comments strong… this randomly found blog post is a life-saver when in a time sensitive printing pinch!

    THANK YOU!!!

  28. Griff says:

    Brother MFC-240C. Had the same issue, trick works. Ink cartridge is different though. Get 1/4 inch (width) electrical tape, and using a pen tip, cover the little clear W shaped window where you can/could see the ink color. The cartridge door will not close if you just tape over the window, it has to form fit the W. Cheers.

  29. ExTexan says:

    If you only printed color once, why the hell did you buy a color printer? Buy a laser printer.

    • DrFaulken says:

      I needed the scanner.

    • CurrentTexas says:

      ExTexan, I too purchased my brother for the scanner. ADF for $50 and it was great. I have moved on now but still use this one from time to time. $50 at the time was great and with the fix found here made it a long term situation for me. But I do agree that if you want the printer part, laser is the only way to go.

  30. Grandma says:

    Ahhh! I like that Dr F! Succinct and to the point!

    Belligerent old bats like me prefer to say that I will buy whatever the hell I choose, taking all my usage requirements into consideration.

    I don’t like getting screwed because of this, over built in ink lack of performance that is bluntly a global rip off.

    Any tips therefore that can assist to screw right on back, are very gratefully received.

    Then we can all lie back and enjoy a cigarette….

  31. Guitarzan says:

    THANKS! LC-61 — pull back the spring loaded plastic sheath that covers the part of the cartridge that goes into the ink bay first. Hold it up to the light and you’ll see the clear plastic. Any color magic marker that blocks light will work. It’s only needed on one side of the clear plastic. Hold it up to the light to check it blocks light.

    Now you’ve got “full” cartridges! I’ve got my multi-page scanner back now! And I can print in black, which is all I need.

  32. henk says:

    Thanks, I filled up my MFC-215C completely with air ;-). Once every 2 years or so I need to fax something and print the transmitrapport.

    In the past I poored black into all of the color cartridges but it dries up eventually.

  33. Garth says:

    Nice to finally find a fix to this extremely irritating problem.
    I echo you and many others here with their frustration. My MFC-685cw was headed to the dump, but I thought to try one more time
    to find some way to save this piece of crap when I came across this site. Tryed using a black marker but didnt work. But peeled a piece of label off and cut to size, then stuck in over the window area using a chopstick and BAM! works like a charm. Awesome!

  34. Jayne says:

    I still haven’t figured out exactly how to trick the MFC J625DW, piece of crap, into thinking the ink is full, If someone has, please let me know.
    BUT I have learned a few things to share:
    1) make sure you all have your default printing setting as “grayscale” otherwise, Brother’s setting is to use all colors of ink just to produce “Black”
    2) When the ink signal goes off DON’T OPEN THE INK DOOR. Just keep going. once you open the door, the piece of crap machine will not function again until ALL INK IS REPLACED.
    2) I will now unplug the printer when not in use to avoid BROTHER’s stated regular 20 day ink cleaning. Which explains why I was running out of ink in convenient 60 day increments, in spite of very little printing.

    • Jayne says:

      I hope everyone will post reviews on these dang Brother printers on Office Max and such, so we can expose this rip off.
      * Has anyone figured out tricks for the MFC J625DW???
      Another 60 days havegone by since I replaced ALL the ink again. I’ve tried all these things from my post above, AND have printed 0 color prints and TODAY, again about 60 days into the new ink, the damn thing says low ink.

      At this point I figure it’s gonna cost $360 dollars to a year just to keep the printer runniing, so I’m going to go buy an HP soon and throw this Brother out, destroying it so no other sucker has to buy more ink.

  35. Joan says:

    THANKS so much for leaving this information up, years after it was first published. It’s March, 2013 and I too am near bashing my brother lc61 to pieces. We hardly ever print in color, and I’m so sick of buying new colored cartridges, and am especially sick of the BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP when I want to scan – who cares if there’s colored ink, or any ink for that matter! Really! I knew there was a solution, but was too disheartened to find it myself – thanks again!

  36. Pierre says:

    Hey guys,

    Looking to buy a first Brother printer and would like to know

    if this technique still applies to the more recent models,
    MFC-J435W and MFC-J835DW.

    Hope to make a wise purchase.


  37. Joe Kingo says:

    Hey buddy, thank you so much! this tip was very helpful. It worked on my brother MFC-J835DW. You are the MAN!

  38. Gibbo says:

    Thank god dude – what a shit design on these blood printers…

  39. steeeev says:

    thanks heaps champ!!!!!!! fuck the corporations


  40. Sabri Mercimek says:

    wow! tank you very much for this helpfull tip!
    it worked on my Brother DCP-15C!
    i am now abele to print black while my colour inkt is empty

  41. Azra says:

    Does this trick work with other makes of printer/fax? I’m looking to buy one.


  42. Ronald says:

    I have a Brother laser printer HL-2170W. When I put a toner cartridge from my other Brother printer which uses the same one, It says it is empty. Any tricks for this scenario?

  43. Nic says:

    Oh my gosh! I thank you for your brilliant solution to a particularly annoying design scam. You rock, my friend!

  44. Tami says:

    This.Really.Worked. I am so grateful for this post! Used colored duct tape (all I had) on my Brother LC-51 Cyan cartridge and it worked!

  45. Karen says:

    I am so glad I came across this helpful site. I couldn’t print anything because one cartridge was “out of ink”. Have used the tape trick on my Cyan cartridge on a DCP750CW and it worked a treat.
    Thank you so much original poster and all those others who’ve contributed along the way.

  46. Noah says:

    Just to share with you guys my experience. Inks are running low but not so low. Out of curiosity I took the cartridges out to check how much inks were left. When I put the cartridges back, the machine said ALL FOUR color needed new cartridges. What the hell. It was printable one moment. Now I need to throw away all still good cartridges. Quite a rip off. I was not about to take that lie down. So I started fiddling with the cartridges until I managed the machines had accepted RED & BLUE were still good. But not so much luck with the other two. At the end I decided to employ the “black tape” trick to fool the sensor.

    By the way, if you do want to reduce the machine’s auto-cleaning and the “unnecessary” consumption of your expensive inks, you need to unplug the machine when you are not using it. Powering down won’t help as the machine would do an autocleaning in the middle of the night when you are sound asleep. I found out about this when I was working really late (or really early) on day when the machine was actually powered off. The machine would probably do another cleaning if it felt it has missed its regular ink-wasting autocleaning exercise. If you print regularly, say once at least every one or two weeks, I really see no justification for this auto-cleaning. God knows how often it does it a week.

  47. stephanie says:

    wow! I mean seriously — what is this – 7 years after you posted your electrical tape trick…… and I have been trying to get this back up printer to work for 3 effing hours!! and it worked!!! I covered all 3 color cartridges with blue electrical tape and I am UP and running!! I needed to get this back up running because I accidentally dropped my super fabulous good laser printer while moving it and setting it on a chair and it fell off accidentally/ so instead of buying a new one, I needed to QUICK get some work done and some documents sent (I am a realtor) and this did the trick! you are a genius! seriously! I was so pissed off the last 3 hours of messing with it that I was about to lose it!!! thank you so much!

  48. BenoitRen says:

    I want to thank article author DrFaulken and commenter Eric for their insight. Using the trick using a part of the cartridge’s sticker worked perfectly. Now our MFC-260C obeys our commands instead of complaining about ink it doesn’t need at the worst possible time!

    Thank you to other commenters as well for their additional insight. What was especially enlightening was that the printer uses colours to make black. It’s flabbergasting!

  49. Dave says:

    Dr Faulken – Thankyou for your detailed post which in addition to saving me $$$ + shortcut a few hours of frustration you outlined very well the annoyance which many of those in this thread had prior to reading your post!

    My machine was a newer brother MFC6910 and while it took a bit of meshing around to get the size of the tape to fit exactly over the small clear window worked a charm (with larger tape sizes the printer wouldn’t recognise the cartridge), I’m sure I’ll find another way of printing the 5 colour prints I would do a year in anycase.

  50. Darren says:

    I actually used a knife to cut part of the original Colored label directly off the cartridge, the sticky label.
    I figuring the “Cyan” on there printed label was as close as needed to fool the printer and it worked great.

    Thanks for this info!