If you’re willing to do some DIY with your empty cartridges, printer ink refill kits are available at a fraction of the cost of a new cartridge. Watch our video guide on how to top up an empty ink cartridge.
Refill kits look they’ve come straight from a laboratory, with drill bits, syringes and vials of opaque liquid, but don’t be perturbed – you don’t need an engineering degree to fill up your empties.
Refillable ink tanks vs regular cartridges
These days, ink manufacturers now produce some printers that come with ink tanks you're supposed to refill yourself. Such models include the Epson Ecotank and Canon Megatank range. While their ink costs can work out well in the long run, these printers tend to be pricier to buy initially.
Our steps below, however, are for refilling regular ink cartridges - the type you'd find in printers costing from just £30. This can work out as far better value than replacing the cartridges with new sets.
For example, an HP 301 black ink cartridge like the one we used in the video is one of HP’s cheaper cartridges and costs £8.59 from its store. You can get an ink refill kit for as little as £4 and there’s enough ink in the bottle to fill your cartridge multiple times.
Video guide: how to refill your ink cartridges
Step-by-step: how to refill your ink cartridges
1. Prepare your work area
If you’ve ever had to put an ink-stained garment through the washing machine you’ll know how stubborn the stains can be. Ink can do the same thing to a table so don’t refill your ink on your antique furniture.
Wherever you’ve decided to do the refilling put some paper towels down to absorbs any spills, pop on some plastic gloves and don’t wear your Sunday best.
2. Make a hole in your cartridge
Most cartridges keep their ink in small reservoirs inside the plastic shell. To gain access you need to make a small hole at the top of the cartridge – the top side will have a sticky label on it.
Peel the sticker back and make a small hole in the top half of the revealed surface with the drill bit that comes with your kit.
You may find some cartridges, HP ones in particular, already have a hole in them, in which case you don’t need to make another one. Refer to the video to see which hole to use.
3. Inject your ink
Once you’ve made your opening it’s time to inject some ink. Before you start playing doctor with your plastic patient, make sure your hole is in the right place – if your syringe moves freely or you can suck out some ink you’re in the right spot. Some cartridges hold the ink in sponges, in which case you’ll feel some slight resistance when you wiggle your syringe.
Next, take some ink from the bottle and inject it slowly into the cartridge. If at any point you see ink start to bubble out of the hole the cartridge is either full or has some air in it.
To check, remove some of the contents from the cartridge – if there’s air in what comes out you know you need to add more ink. Otherwise, congratulations your cartridge is full.
4. Plug the hole
Some kits come with plastic stoppers that fit neatly into the hole you’ve made, but you can also cover the hole with tape.
It’s not essential to plug the hole since most cartridges sit in the printer with the label side facing up – just be careful not to turn it upside down.
5. Clean the printer head and try it out
The printer head is where the ink meets the paper and if it isn’t clean your prints will look smudged and uneven.
To check it’s clean dab the printer head with a cloth and make sure the mark the head leaves is a neat rectangle.
To make doubly sure everything is well with your printer, print a test page. If you can see smudging or blots of ink remove your cartridge and wipe the head again. You may also need to draw out some of the ink if it’s too full.
Don’t worry about overfilling since you can always put the excess back in the bottle.
What about colour cartridges?
If your printer has a separate cyan, magenta and yellow cartridge you can follow this procedure for each one. If you have a combined colour cartridge you’ll need to make a hole above each reservoir.
Once you’ve made the holes draw out some ink, check the colour and inject one that matches – don’t trust any markings on the label as they often don’t represent where the colours sit in the cartridge.
Does every cartridge refill the same way?
Cartridges differ from brand to brand, but the kit has all the tools you’ll need to refill the vast majority of them.
Some more unusual cartridges include Canon’s, which have a recessed plastic cap you’ll need to pop out with a pin, and Epson cartridges, which have exposed sponges on the base that absorb the ink without any need for injecting.
Some cartridges also use chips to register when the reservoir is empty and won’t print even if you fill up the cartridge. One way to avoid this is to refill the cart when the ink is low rather than completely depleted. Alternatively, the chips can be replaced relatively cheaply.
If you have unusual cartridges that we haven’t covered please do leave a comment with the model number and we’ll do our best to help you refill it.