Introduction: How to Revive a Hopelessly Stuck Inkjet Cartridge

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I refill my inkjet cartridges to save hundreds of dollars a year. The printer manufacturers make it as difficult as possible to do that. They would rather sell you a tiny cartridge with a month's worth of ink for $30. Fortunately there are companies online that specialize in the sale of inkjet inks for DIY refillers--like me! Hah-hah. I paid $40 for four colors of inks in pint bottles. That's many years' worth of printing. One problem however. The cartridges get all stuck up with dried ink in the nozzles and bubbles form inside the ink tanks in the cartridge, both of which conspire to foil your fun in bypassing the big boys. Don't give up hope. There's an incredibly simple, cheap solution that really works. It is based on the same principle that professional refill centers employ--exposing the cartridge to a vacuum, but using readily available equipment.

Step 1: Materials

Without further ado, here is what you'll need:

- A marinating syringe
- A jar with a tight lid with a wide enough mouth to allow an inkjet cartridge to be placed inside
- Some electrical or other type of tape
- Paper towels
- Vinyl or rubber gloves

That's it. I got the marinating syringe at a dollar store and had a half pint mason jar, electrical tape, and gloves, so total cost to me: one dollar plus tax.

Step 2: Prepare the "Vacuum Chamber"

Drill a hole in the center of the jar lid large enough to allow the needle to pass through. I used an electric drill to drill the hole and then I deburred the hole with a larger bit. You could just use a nail or an awl to make a crude hole if you had to.

Slap a small square of tape over the hole and you are ready to de-stick your stuck cartridge.

Step 3: Decompression

Place a folded damp paper towel at the bottom of the jar to catch the excess ink. Place inkjet cartridge on top of the towel with the nozzle side down. Close the lid tightly. With the piston all the way in the syringe, carefully stab the tape over the hole with the needle and insert it all the way in. Draw the piston up and observe the cartridge. Ink should have flowed onto the wet paper and up through the fill holes on top of the cartridge, or wherever they are, depending on the brand and model. If not, remove the needle from the jar, push the piston back into the syringe, replace the needle into the jar and draw again. You may have to repeat this several times.

Step 4: Test the Cartridge - 1

Remove the cartridge from the jar and wipe it off well all around with a damp paper towel. Press the line of nozzles against a clean damp paper towel several times until you see clean separate lines of color, or black ink if you are refilling the black cartridge. Replace the cartridge in the printer and do a test print.

This is my first test print without doing the decompression step at all just to show how badly gunked up it was.

Ridiculous. Keep in mind--this is a freshly refilled cartridge.

Step 5: Test the Cartridge - 2

This is how it printed after doing the decompression step.

Still very bad. Almost no cyan. The yellow is contaminated with the cyan (the green stripe on the right). So more work to do.

Step 6: Another Decompression Pass

First another decompression pass. OK, that unstuck the cyan perfectly (didn't save the printout), but the yellow is badly contaminated so I removed the needle from the syringe and used just the stub at the base to actually BLOW some air through the yellow FILL HOLE, catching the ink below with a damp paper towel. I then refilled the yellow ink tank to overflowing this time to try to reduce the amount of contamination. It worked pretty well but there is still a little bit of cyan in the yellow ink. Next time I will purge the tank with distilled water and blow it out before refilling it.

Step 7: Final Result

Here is the final result.

A working refilled cartridge that I normally would have thrown away as hopeless. Not bad eh? I'm sure the corporate boys are meeting right now to try to come up with cartridges that this won't work on. There probably are cartridges already that this won't work on. Just for the record these are HP 74 and 75 cartridges which are very common. This should work with many other cartridges. Members can share their own experiences with other model numbers.

Step 8: Primer Pages

Here are some primer pages for testing your cartridge. You can use the individual color ones to purge a single color and the CMY and CMYK ones for testing all colors.

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