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. DARCY ZIPRICK says:

    I did not even have a cartrige. Just cut out a piece of cardboard the right size and it worked fine!

  2. PLUR says:

    I was unable to work or do my schooling at home because my printer would never work because of these colour issues. I just followed the advice and now I am back on track. Anyone who has a brother printer who needs to print black and white, and wants a solution to this problem, should take the advice about covering the ink levels on their cartridges.

  3. Anatoly says:

    It works for DCP 115 C too!!!
    Thank you man

  4. Lupo says:


    Black marker on the little window did the trick.


  5. Roxi says:

    Thank you so much! I had 2 full black cartridges and empty everything else and I majorly needed it to print! You are a genious! Thanks again!

  6. Dave MaX says:

    My DCP-115C had been sitting idle for 3 years since nothing worked when the ink ran out. Just found this site, followed the recommendations, and I can use the scanner again. Many thanks.

  7. Abhijeet says:

    Went to walmart and they were out of the silver sharpie. They had golden element2 metallic marker which worked very well.

    I tried with a plain-ol silver foil, cover the transparent plastiky window with it – this works too!

    Hurray! I love the brother printer.

  8. Dj says:

    Awesome, it even works with a MFC 685CW.
    Been driving me nuts for years.

  9. Brad Nowell says:

    I agree, outstanding and simple fix! I have had my brother printer (DCP 115c) lying around for months just using it as a scanner. Now I can print black and white which is 98% of what I need. Colour I take to work.
    Thanks a heap, Brad.

  10. Thank you so much for the wonderful information!! I just recently bought a brother 6490 and hardly ever printed when it told me to change the black ink. You have saved me a world of money!!
    Thank you again!

  11. jack says:

    i made a tutorial 4 lower model brother inkjets (dcp195c) etc

  12. Mike says:

    Black electrical tape is win for the MFC-240C pos printer. Truely…….bad bad design……..enough to make me want to smash the printer to pieces when they fail to fax, scan, print black n white on account of an “empty” cyan cart………forget the fact that 50% of the ink is left in the cart when it reaches “empty”……thats another days worth of crying.
    ***** I have been saving my “half empty” carts to bring back to staples, as they give 3 or 4 dollars per cart as store trade in credit…… now I have a stack of carts I can finish using the ink from using the tape method. yay…….

  13. lexie says:

    Great!! I actually didn’t think it’d work. I only have clear tape, but I hid it with both paper and tape. It worked!!

    My printer takes 4 ink cartridges and I would have had to change all 4 of them!
    Thanks for the tip!!

  14. I can confirm that the solution from comment #354 works!

    And I tried EVERYTHING. Even the Power while pressing menu key maintenance mode trick!

  15. no_regretz says:

    the electrical tape was genius!!!!

    i have a dcp-115c, i never buy cartridges i tend to use the drill and refill method.

    All my cartridges were empty so i went and bought some inks, drilled and filled…. beep beep beep cyan empty. click pull out, replace…beep beep beep… cyan empty.

    20 minutes of headache i searched the net and found your black electrical tape method. i did have ductape ready available but didnt want to risk it so used the black.

    No more beeps, question is though why did it read my cartridge as empty?….

    do i tempt fate and take off the tape a few days from now.

  16. maarcha says:

    Thank you very much worked like a charm ,taped blue electric tape over and works! i have a brother dcp-135c 4-in-1 machine and it was a cartridge graveyard until now! And i did try to use the gray scale option but it didn’t make any change so thank you again! very helpful

  17. Lesley Boshell says:

    clever bugger I filled it in with permanant ink well done good job thankyou

  18. Denny says:

    Awesome/Works like a charm.After years of being frustrated having to be seemingly always buying ink carts and wondering what was happening to my ink, this is GREAT! I just use a piece of the label that is allready stuck on the cart and cover it over the spline. Thanx so much for the info . Wish I had found this site YEARS earlier. Thanx [MFC 210]

  19. Koahn says:

    great tip
    however i can do it with just paper and a marker:
    just stick some paper on the place where the censor checks the ink cartridge and color it to be sure. (i made the paper stick on the cartridge with the still drying ink of my marker)
    it works on my brother DCP-130C every time and i didn’t have to buy any special tape or anything

  20. Vinea says:

    OMFG! What a slick trick! Worked like a charm. Now I can use my scanner even though the yellow ink is empty (it’s actually half-full, but the machine is reading empty). FU Brothers!

  21. Hanna says:

    Wow thanx so much for the tip! this worked with my mfcj615! Idiots I called them on the phone and i asked them if htere is anything i can do to overwrite my yellow ink and they said no! appreciate the tip!

  22. Justine says:

    At first I thought OMG, why is is that this works for everyone but me, but then I unplugged my printer and plugged it back in, and then hey presto it does work!! Thank you so much.

  23. dooba says:

    Read, and followed, this black electrical tape trick as well as the responses from this site and I agree: Nice way for Brother to screw us over on those ink cartridges! >:( The trick worked like a charm on the MFC-240C when “Low Cyan/Magenta/Yellow” was posted. Just remember: don’t print a lot more pages after this or the print head will be permanently damaged when the ink actually does run dry. Thanks from eastern Canada!

  24. Shannon says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I used duct tape and it worked perfectly!!

  25. OneflewOvertheKokoNest says:

    I have a MFC-465CN and the on/off switch will not turn the printer on or off. So, I have to unplug it to turn it off and plug it in to turn it on. However, it will not do anything if I touch any of the buttons, doesn’t matter what button, it makes no difference. I pulled the cover, hoping it was a stinking button, but no such luck. It will print, if I try to print something off from my computer, go figure. Before this happen, I touched it when I had a lot of built up static electricity and I saw a flash and I got a minor shock when my finger touched the printer, but I don’t think it would be enough electricity do anything, at least I hope not. I’m completely stunned here, anyone have any answers??? Hate to throw it away, since I already learned the clever trick of making it believe it still has ink with the electrical tape. Anybody have spare parts for this model? Help

  26. Larry says:

    This tip worked great for me on the mfc-465cn. I needed to fax something and putting tape over the clear part on the ink cartridge made the printer happy. Thanks for the great tip.

  27. Wendy Wissler says:

    Right on advice for a real rip off Brother printer scheme. Absolutely brilliant. Works. couldn’t figure out how my color inks were draining- never use them. Keeping all taped up and lodging complaint with Consumer Reports and government! Thanks

  28. H dawg says:

    thank you soooo much!!!! FUCK brother. put tape over mine after having had printer cartridges “run out” after 1/10 of its printer capacity. SCREW YOU BROTHER. never buying your cartridges again until they are actually empty.

  29. The Thankful says:

    you sir, are next to Chuck Norris in my list! MFC – 5890cn is one annoying brother to have!

  30. Proko says:

    thx. got my dcp-117c working. to hell with printing industry

  31. Dana says:

    Does anyone know how to reset the low ink notification on a brother mfc 9970 cdw???? Please help!

  32. Jon says:

    You sir, are a hero. I hate brother scamming people by making the printers cheap then draining the ink. Great tip!

  33. Paul says:

    It fucking works. Awesomeness!

  34. John G. says:

    What a genius you are!

    Many, many thanks for sharing.

  35. A Khan says:

    Covering with black electrical tape really works. I have MFC-5460CN. Thanks everybody!

  36. Mouse says:

    For those with the MFC-6490, you need to push down on the retractable section that exposes the piece that connects to the printer (where the ink comes out, usually has a plastic covering when you buy them) and a clear plastic piece. Cover the clear plastic (all three sides!!!) with electrical or duct tape. Voila! Ink cartridges are suddenly full when they “need replacing” 5 minutes before. When cartridges are actually low, then your print quality diminishes. Also use the “normal fast” print quality setting–it produces just as good results for documents. 🙂

  37. F-YEAH says:

    You are my hero for the day! Worked for me with some gaffers tape!

  38. Crrrock says:

    Worked great on MFC-260c. I just wish I had’ve googled this ages ago. You guys rock, seriously. And Brother, you SUCK, seriously. You need a boot up the arse for ripping us like that. I’ll go back to a Canon next printer, and I’ll use this one for target practise.
    Crrrock, in Oz.

  39. Will in Perth Aus says:

    MFC 425CN ~ Great thanks guys, this was stressing me out. I bought some Printrite “compatable” replacement carts but they would not work. They have a dense whitish PVC film over the spine, on the cyan, I cut a piece of the blue label and stuck it on. Bit of a tight fit but works. Also works with the BOTHER ones (not a typo) I scratched out the R on the machine and hope they do too. I will be letting my supplier know the problem and the quick fix. Like many people I just want to print black. I hope you BOTHER FOCKERS are reading all this. STOP WASTING OUR MONEY AND TIME AND VALUBLE RESOURCES

  40. Big Smile in Melbourne says:

    I have Brother MFC-440CN. It ran out of cyan, refused to scan. It’s an urgent job on a Sunday night. I had to go to my sister to use her scanner. While searching for cheap cyan I came across this site. I cut a small piece of the label on the cartridge, then covered the clear window on the cartridge. Put it back, printer self cleaned. When I checked ink management, it showed cyan is full but magenta now is near empty. I haven’t tried to print or scan yet as it’s now past midnight. Thanks very much to everyone who has posted here. I’ve sent this link to my friends who also own a Brother.

  41. RK says:

    You rock mate.. My new brother priner was showing that I dont have ink left, though I can see there’s plenty. With your trick, it shows full now.

    Thank you so much

  42. Raf says:

    Well four years on and you still just helped me from taking a bat to the damned thing. Slightly different style on the new J410W but basically the same idea. I do not understand why I need ink for scanning. My old $25 Walmart scaner printer never gave issues, I never purchased ink for it after 5 years. Decided to get this one for the Auto document feeder. Was really wanting my old flat bed back for Goodwill. Thank you Thank you Thank you. And to the person who wrote about the print heads are in the cartridge, I will confirm this and if true then Thank you Too! Was a little worried about damaging the printer (even though I never use it for printing, is nice to have that ability).

  43. Raf says:

    Oh and follow up for others. When I used on the J410W if could not read the cartridge, which then you can hit the exit button and scan away.

  44. Tom says:

    MFC 490CW here – electrical tape did not work, so did the cut off of a small rectangle of the color label from the respective cartridge and put over the ink window facing the black cartridge and works like a charm. All cartridges showing full.

  45. Sue says:

    I have a MFC 495CW. I tried using a Sharpie, but that did not work. I then put duct tape over the sensor and the little bar that sticks out. I now am getting a message “Cannot Detect Reinstall slowly.” I have tried turning the pringer off and then on again. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  46. SORTED! says:

    I Have a brother DCP163c, couldn’t find a clear bit to put tape or marker pen on – so I split open the cartridge, made a little hole in the ink capsule, and filled it with water.

    Now I can print in black no problem!

  47. Tony says:

    Thanks for the hack. Very helpful!!
    On a MFC-5460CN Just TAPE some ALUMINUM FOIL to the Black Cartridge’s front to create the reflection it requires. GREAT FIND. – TAKE THAT BROTHER!!!!

  48. DENISE says:


  49. Ed says:

    Another great tip: Even when printing only black text the print will still waste all of your color ink! You must tell the computer to print in greyscale for it to use black ink only when printing only black text, makes tons of sense, right?! I love Brother, their software doesn’t suck like other major brands (cough, cough Hewlett Packard!) but they’re just as shady with their ink issues.

  50. mica says:

    I used a black permanent marquer!
    (brother mfc-295cn)
    thanks a lot!!!!