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. Lynn says:

    A huge thank you!! We have a Brother DCP-330C (give-away) and it’s been sitting in the computer room for about 4 years. We occasionally use it to scan but that’s about it because the color cartridges are so expensive. And all we want to do is print in B&W. I’ve occasionally searched for a solution online but without any luck. Until today! I used masking tape and just taped up the side of the cartridge. It’s not the best printer quality, but it does the job.

  2. Anna says:

    Thank you! I used liquid paper on the clear part of the cartridge and it tricked the sensors perfectly. Now I can scan and fax, regardless of my ink shortage….as it should be!

  3. Mauricio Bieler says:

    Fuck yeah, itΒ΄s work fine on my Brother dcp 130c.

    thx πŸ˜‰

  4. Stuart says:

    Worked like a charm….thanks. Stuck it to the man.

  5. Michael S says:

    Just used the white-out trick successfully on my off-brand cartridges for my Brother MFC-J435W. (Sharpie didn’t work, and didn’t have electrical tape). Thanks Dr Faulken and commenters for the help. I lost an hour of my day on this mess, but at least I won. πŸ™‚

  6. Matt H says:

    What about a Brother MFC J6910DW? I never print color and all my color ink is gone. Says I need to replace color to print B&W.

  7. Kristel R says:

    This is really helpful Thanks πŸ™‚

  8. Paul Ajzenman says:

    Your fix is great! Now, I can use all the ink in my cartridges and ignore the color cartridges since B/W is my choice 95% of the time on my Brother MFC-835DW.

  9. Louis says:

    WOW! thank you sir it worked! i though i’d drop a line to thank you my friend! Take good care !

  10. dana says:

    how do i do this on hp 6250 printer

    • DrFaulken says:

      Hi there, I’m not sure how this will work on a HP printer, these techniques work for Brother printers. They may or may not work for you.

  11. Mary says:

    Did not work for me with my LC41 Magenta cartridge (black Sharpie method, put several coats and let dry well before replacing cartridge) still read as almost empty (I have a Brother MFC 820CW). Tried the black electrical tape and it came back with “no cartridge” error. Didn’t have white out to try that method. I even tried red sharpie (after removing the black)thinking it would mimic the magenta ink, still read almost empty. Anyone have any suggestions? Thanks!

  12. Slambot6 says:

    Thank you for the write-up! Absolutely helped me out with my MFC-5440CN printer. I just wanted to use the scanners, but the bugger demanded ink before I ask anything else of it.

    Seriously, you were a big help.

  13. Candice says:

    Thank you so much! I knew there was a way! Stupid Brother technology. I tried the white-out tape and it still says “near empty” but at least it works! I find my MFC-440CN a great unit except when it tells me I’m out of ink when I know I’m not! I can certainly empathize with the frustration. Nowadays any printer should be smart enough to know that ink is not required to send a fax or scan something. Thanks again πŸ™‚

  14. Bob says:

    Thank you! Covering the sensor with black tape worked on my Brother 210c when it consistently told me “no cartridge” after I had installed a new ink cartridge. I can now use this printer, although I will never ever buy another Brother product again…

  15. Nicky says:

    That is an awesome trick!! Did it with the MFC-235C. I feel like a ninja.
    Don’t you love the internet??!!

    Thanks heaps!!

  16. GS says:

    While I had no luck with the sharpie approach, the black expo marker tricked my printer nicely.

  17. Stephen says:

    Same My DCP-135c, then i bought a new set. for old set and new sent, it always says “no ink”.
    When i switch off and restart some time later, it says “near empty”… ohhh.

    Finally i googled for help and i found your trick.
    I will try you trick πŸ™‚
    Thank you, sir.