External reservoirs offer novel alternative to expensive printer cartridges

Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools site is full of neat stuff, and a recent post on inkjet printers caught my eye. Buying cartridges is incredibly expensive if you get officially endorsed refills made by the printer manufacturer. Generic cartridges are much cheaper, but they still don’t last very long if you do a lot of printing.

Cobra Ink Systems has an interesting solution to the problem. Instead of selling plain refill cartridges, Cobra offers kits that feed printers using ink stored in easily filled (and rather large) external reservoirs. Ink can then be bought in bulk, sans cartridge, at what looks like lower prices than I’ve been paying for generic cartridges.

Of course, standard printers have to be modified to work with Cobra’s external reservoirs. Cobra sells all the necessary parts if you want to perform the surgery yourself, and it also offers a lineup of pre-modded Epson printers that cost $50-150 more than stock units. Since hacking a printer to work with external reservoirs will void the warranty, Cobra provides six months of coverage for its pre-modded printers.

The ink cartridge business has to be one of the biggest rackets in the technology industry, so it’s nice to see Cobra offering a novel solution to the issue. If only I used my printer more than a handful of times per year.

Comments closed
    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    I actually quite like my Canon Pixma 700… it seems to have quite a bit of longevity and the ink doesn’t seem to go bad, cartridges are cheap when you buy refills (I got a set of generics for $4), and it’s a rather robust printer that was around 125 back when I bought it.

    If they’re charging $50-150 over the top of normal units that’s quite close to laser printer territory and that’s not even a contest.

    • no51
    • 8 years ago

    I’d put Epsons up there with Canons for making crappiest printers ever. My old Canon BJC2100 had ink that dried out if you didnt store it in a sealed container. And the Epson I had for a week at through the included ink cartridges just doing initial cleaning/calibration.

    Ink isn’t really much of a problem nowadays since the bulk of the printing I did before was just printing out payment confirmations. Now I just print to PDF.

      • Anonymous Hamster
      • 8 years ago

      The BJC’s are really old Canon printers. I’ve had really good luck with not quite as old models, such as the i560 and ip4300. These Canon printers had no problems sitting around a while unused, then being fired up to print. Sure, the turn-on cycle after being off a long time takes longer than if you used it yesterday, but I’ve never had any problem with clogs.

    • indeego
    • 8 years ago

    [i<]Not printing[/i<] is novel alternative to expensive printer cartridges

    • FerdJones
    • 8 years ago

    We used to use something like this at work, with bags of ink. Granted, this was special ink designed for heat transference to coated metal, coated plastic/fiberglass and to a few other things (t-shirts (not cotton), coated ceramic tiles and a couple other things I don’t remember at the moment). When we went to a 6 color printer (Epson was the preferred brand), we would shell out about $3k for 6 1/2ish liter bags of ink, but those could last us about 6-8 months (we do a LOT of sublimation, but now we’ve moved on to gel inks and no quick-connect system, and another brand of printer).

    This idea isn’t new to me, but for home use, I think it COULD be a good thing (if you print enough, don’t ruin the heads w/ dried ink, etc.) That, and since the system we used ran ~$500 for the hardware, and minimum $250-300 per bag of ink (not to mention the specially coated paper (in clay no less) that we get in 1/5 ream lots… heh.

    • GodsMadClown
    • 8 years ago

    Cheaper printer ink? Now who’s the real american hero?

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 8 years ago

    COBRA FTW!!!

    • PenGun
    • 8 years ago

    I print some fine art with my Eppy 3800. I do only B&W but the continuous systems are not new.

    [url<]http://shopping.netsuite.com/inkjetmall[/url<] Inkjet Mall is where many of us buy systems. The Cone color is industry standard for Epson color printers. The Piezography BW inks are very fine. I will be buying a set soon. The high end stuff is not at all cheap.

    • Tibba
    • 8 years ago

    My experience with inkjet printing was much the same, I’d go just long enough between uses to let everything dry out and gum up, then have to waste time and tons of ink cleaning the stupid print heads.

    I’m absolutely in love with the Brother color “laser” printer/multifunction machine I got last fall. The dry ink solves the problem perfectly, giving me the always-ready printing access of my ancient monochrome laser but still gives me the option of color when I want/need it. Anything other than “keeper” photo prints I can handle easily at home, even convenience copies in color.

    The price on these things has come down nicely over the last several years, perhaps they are worth a second look for people who don’t print a lot but still don’t want to give up the color option.

      • GTVic
      • 8 years ago

      What model is this? I have a Brother HL-4040CN, a few years old, very nice colour compared with HP which always seem to add a pink hue to images (even the expensive HP printers we have at work do this). The problem with my Brother laser which is not multi-function is that it is really heavy, noisy/smelly and slow compared to the HP colour printers. It takes a long time to warm up and makes a clicking sound from one of the rollers and the power supply emits a faint high-pitched mosquito noise which sometimes drives me crazy. Maybe they have worked out the bugs in newer models.

      I have looked at recent HP colour lasers, their sub $600 printers are quick to print and quiet but now they have a technology that disables the printer after a certain number of pages forcing you to buy all new toner cartridges even if they still have a useful life.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 8 years ago

      Is that one of those ‘LED color printers’ I see in specs?

      Like most have said, I print rather infrequently and when I do B&W is fine the vast majority of the time. I got a cheap HP personal laserjet for that on some kind of deal. I need to find another deal because even generic toner costs as much as I paid. I have an older Canon multifunction color inkjet which drove me crazy with the price of cartridges, even cheap ones, because it goes through ink like crazy and that’s what made me look for the laser. It’s still nice to have for the multifunction features though.

      A full-on color laser multifunction would be ideal but they are still a tad pricey. Color laser printers are relatively cheap these days though.

        • ShadowTiger
        • 8 years ago

        I’ve used a color laser multifunction from brother for a while now (its ~5 years old).

        For printing it works great… the scanner and fax are what you’d expect… the only problem: It takes 5 minutes to warm up, and its very loud while doing so.

        Its silly to spend so long to warm up and then print what you want in 5 seconds.

        • Tibba
        • 8 years ago

        Mine’s an MFC-9120cn, and yeah, it’s one of those LED color printers. It’s not small or light by any measure, but that’s not really an issue for me. The machine is essentially silent while on standby, and rather noisy while printing. The only truly irritating sound it makes is some sort of cooling fan that runs for about 5 minutes after printing is finished, it’s not super loud, but it has a very irritating tone. No weird or horrible smells come out of it that I’ve noticed.

        Something like this certainly isn’t going to do the trick for everyone, but for me it replaced an ancient and not much smaller or quieter LaserJet 2100 + an equally ancient USB scanner that Epson flatly stated wasn’t going to get Win7 drivers.
        Overall I ended up with a smaller total footprint and more functionality (including networking) for my $400-500ish bucks, and couldn’t be happier.

      • PeterD
      • 8 years ago

      When it comes to colour printing, I’m a lucky guy: I live not far of a copy center, and if I need colour printing, I put the thing on a usb stick, go to the shop, and they print it from the stick.
      As I don’t need colour printing very often, the ideal solution for me is a good b&w laserprinter, and trod to the copy shop one in seven moons’ time for colour prints.

    • UberGerbil
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]If only I used my printer more than a handful of times per year.[/quote<]This is really a big part of the problem for inkjets. They tend to dry out and jam up if they're not used regularly, so each of those handfuls of times you do use it you spend a bunch of time -- and a [b<]lot[/b<] of ink -- "cleaning" the print heads. You could probably do some graph of pages printed vs frequency of printing and get a nice amusing parabola where you see an ink cart will last you either a few dozen pages a day, every day, for a year, or a few dozen pages total, when you only print once every few months for a year. For infrequent printing, a laser is much better -- especially if you can tolerate monochrome. But I think the future is fast approaching where a lot of people will do without a printer altogether. Most paperwork, even taxes, can be done entirely online (and only requires a cheap mono laser anyway if hardcopy is necessary); meanwhile people are gradually weaning themselves from printing out photos -- the big use for color inkjets -- and viewing them on tablets or phones instead. Even the grandmas of the world are increasingly using digital picture frames and the like.

      • willmore
      • 8 years ago

      I agree with your logic. I used to maintain a few ink jet printers for use around the house–an HP 940C with refilled black cartridges for B&W printing (no graphics) and an Epson C60 for color/photo printing. But, the infrequent use of them lead to high maintenance costs. When I found an inexpensive Brother HL2140 laser for $40, I bought two (one as a spare, hey, the whole printer cost less than a new drum would have). High capacity toner carts from Monoprice and no other periodic maintenance? Sold.

      For color printing, the wife uses Snapfish and some of the other photo sites. It’s cheaper per in^2 and they can do a way better job than I can. Maybe if I needed quicker turnaround time, it would be worth it, but I don’t. Heck, if I needed quicker turnaround time, there’s all of the department stores with good photo prices I could get a print from in under an hour. Heck, that’s almost faster than I can refill ink cartridges, reset the damn chip on the cart, clean the heads a half dozen times, and print a page.

      If I went back to ink for some reason, I’d go for a set of tanks like this Cobra system.

      • jensend
      • 8 years ago

      Agreed. Even decent color lasers are in the feasible price range for regular consumers these days, so the only time I think inkjets are worth it is when you need to print color at high quality (high enough that normal color lasers won’t satisfy you) and you do enough printing that you won’t end up with drying/clogged nozzles/print heads. If you need that kind of quality but don’t print color that often, the inconvenience and cost of cleaning makes it more reasonable to just go get your color stuff printed elsewhere- all kinds of places have inexpensive options for photo prints these days, and FedEx Office, AlphaGraphics, etc will take care of odd printing sizes.

      The result is that continuous ink systems are mostly of interest to photographers. For almost everybody else, the best way to avoid ink cartridge costs is to simply not use an inkjet.

        • PeterD
        • 8 years ago

        It’s the same kind of reasoning I tell people too.
        The odd thing is, that if one prints a lot, a laser printer is more interesting than an inkjet.
        Howerver, if one prints only a little, again a laser printer is the best solution.
        So, inkjets are only interesting within certain margins of use.
        Now, giving the price of laser printers, lots of people who don’t print a lot , will almost automatically choose an inkjet, thereby paying too much.

          • UberGerbil
          • 8 years ago

          Yeah, that’s kind of what I was getting at with my “parabola” comment above — inkjets have a weird cost/benefit profile.

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      Not to be a shill, but I used to have a couple HP printers that experienced this, and then bought a Cannon which automatically cleans the heads every now and then as well as doing it before it prints depending on how often you use it. I haven’t had any problems with it what so ever in the four years I’ve owned it and I only print maybe 10-20 pages each year.

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 8 years ago

    Kickass. I use the syringe method, but if I want to upgrade I know where to go now.

      • dropshadow
      • 8 years ago

      i agree. bad ass.

    • SonicSilicon
    • 8 years ago

    There’s nothing new about Continuous Ink Systems. Six months coverage is something new, though. I wouldn’t bother since even their do-it-yourself CIS kit is a bit on the high side. Perhaps there is some significant design improvement, but I didn’t notice.

      • willmore
      • 8 years ago

      I think the warranty support they offer is the critical bit. Now normal non-DIY type people can join in the party.

      • Prototyped
      • 8 years ago

      Yup . . . tech writers have a very short memory, I’ve found.

      e.g. [url<]http://www.continuousink.info/forum/viewforum.php?f=23[/url<]

    • Corrado
    • 8 years ago

    How long until they get bought out by HP or sued by HP for ‘Modifying’ HP Ink Cartridges.

      • larchy
      • 8 years ago

      Since HP cartridges have cheap disposable printheads on the cartridges themselves that are only designed to last the lifespan of the cartridge, refilling them isn’t a very good idea. Certainly not long term. Hence continuous fill systems like these (which have been around for about a decade, despite the article’s assertion of this being a “novel” solution) are always for printers with better quality long life print heads, such as those in Epson or some Canon printers. If you follow the link in the article you’ll find all the available pre-modded printers are Epson.

      Therefore the answer to your question is likely “never”

        • willmore
        • 8 years ago

        Strangely, I’ve refilled my cheap one use HP carts dozens of times and they work just fine. At least I can get to the head to clean it easily. Can’t say that for my Epson printer. It takes skinned knuckles and a ton of q-tips to clean that beast.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This