Introduction: Refill Your Laser Printer Toner Cartridge the Easy Way

I've been using laser printers for decades now and am always shocked at how much printer companies charge for new toner cartridges. Fortunately there is a quick and inexpensive way to refill your cartridges. I bought a new Brother HL-L2300D laser printer online for $80 (March 2019), but the replacement toner cartridge was over $50! I'll show you how to refill your cartridge for more like $5. This is the 'starter' cartridge that comes with the printer by the way. Cartridges are supposed to be able to be refilled at least twice before replacement. With my old HP printer cartridge I must have refilled it closer to 6 to 10 times for 4-6 years before the optical drum finally just wore out and I couldn't find a new replacement cartridge.

Step 1: Anatomy of a Toner Cartridge

Most laser printer cartridges contain a big hollow space called the 'hopper' filled with a very fine dry powder that we call toner. The hopper transfers the toner to other components that ultimately wind up fusing the toner to the printer paper. Printers have various ways of determining when the toner has been used up. Some Brother printers pass a light through the cartridge to detect low toner and can be fooled by placing a piece of black tape over a 'window' in the side of the cartridge. In my case though the cartridge uses a different method that is more complicated and just stopped printing when the toner got low. I was able to keep it printing for awhile longer by using a procedure suggested online though.

Step 2: Get Some Toner

Toner is sold in bottles that you can use to refill your cartridge yourself. Be certain that you get the correct toner made for your printer. One way of replacing the toner in some Brother cartridges involves removing the gears on the end, pulling out a plug and then replacing everything and resetting the gears so the printer thinks it is a new cartridge. Sometimes you even have to buy new parts to use when you refill the cartridge this way. But there is an even easier and faster way to replace the toner. You simply melt a hole in the top of the hopper, pour the new toner in and tape over the hole.

Step 3: Make a Hole..

Using a 'toner refill kit tool' found online with replacement toner you can melt a hole in a few seconds directly into the hopper without having to disassemble and reassemble any gears. The tool is basically a soldering iron that heats up a round tip that melts through the top of the hopper. Why not just drill a hole? Because then plastic bits would contaminate the hopper ruining your cartridge. You could also use a soldering iron or a heated nail to make an opening if you had to. Make sure that none of the melted plastic falls into the hopper though. I used a tooth pick to remove the plastic disc from the hot tool tip. Make sure the hole is as far to the side of the hopper as you can so that you can stand it on its edge when you are refilling it. If you make the hole in the middle you will have to keep shaking the toner sideways to fill the hopper evenly.

Step 4: Empty the Hopper

Even though the printer says you are out of toner there will still be some left in the hopper. Gently shake it out of the hole you just made so the new toner does not mix with the old. The photo shows how much toner was left even after my printer told me to replace the cartridge. Use a flashlight to look inside. I bought a half gallon jug of toner for $30 which I estimate contains 6-8 complete fills for my cartridge. That's about $5 or less to refill my cartridge vs. the $50 the printer manufacturer wanted for a brand new cartridge. It is possible to find third party cartridge makers for much less but still a lot more than refilling it yourself. Also I was able to completely fill my hopper to the very top, which probably isn't the case with manufacturer cartridges.

Step 5: Pour in the Toner.

If you've never worked with toner a few words of caution. Make sure you shake the old toner out and add the new toner outside. Toner easily gets all over everything so change into some old clothes. When toner spills you can usually just blow it off with your breath. Don't clean it up with a really wet cloth because you do not want water
getting into the hopper. When the toner comes out of the bottle it can be a little unpredictable. Pour the toner for a few seconds, then allow some air into the container. Don't be tempted to squeeze the bottle like ketchup or it will wind up blowing all over everything. One thought is to make a small hole in the empty space on top of the container to let air in (easier to do when the bottle isn't full). That should allow a smoother continuous pour. Just put a piece of tape over the hole in the bottle when you are finished.

For this step I've stood the cartridge securely on its side with the hole up. That way I can fill the hopper from the top. Using a flashlight you will be able to see the toner filling up the hopper and you can tap the cartridge to settle the toner more evenly. Once the toner level is up to the hole then gently lay it down, put a piece of duct tape over it and write the date on the tape so you know when it was last filled. Don't use masking tape because it won't seal around the edges of the hole like duct tape. Use your finger to press the duct tape down around the hole to get a good seal.

Step 6: Reinserting the Cartridge Back in the Printer

Once you've taped over the hole and gently cleaned the outside of the cartridge with a slightly moist paper towel you can insert it back into the printer. However sometimes you may have to trick the printer into thinking that the refilled cartridge is a brand new one. Searching the internet for your model of printer or looking through online reviews should tell you how. In my case I had to turn the printer off and press the power button several times to get it to start working again. Good luck and together we can stick it to the Big Toner lobby!