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Convince Your Printer It Has More Toner

The only thing separating me from The Go-Go’s was a pair of printed tickets. It’s the electronic age, so why was paper getting in my way?

My printer, a Brother HL-2170W, downright refused to print. Sure, the yellow “low toner” light had been lit for a while, but I rarely print anything and the last time I did, there weren’t any of those telltale streaks or fades that indicate the toner is on its last puff.

Nothing on my Mac seemed out of place. The Print Queue (the printer icon that appears in the Dock during a print operation) didn’t report any errors — it just processed the job as if everything was fine. And then the printer ignored my tickets. Restarting the printer didn’t make a difference, either. It’s a good thing my daughter was downstairs out of earshot of her suddenly foul-mouthed father.

As it turns out, Brother printers (and others) just stop printing when the toner cartridge reaches a certain point, even though toner is still present. Fortunately, I remembered reading on Twitter about a simple hack to work around the problem.

On the toner cartridge, there are two small windows on each side where the printer can look inside and gauge the toner level. I grabbed some black electrical tape (though any opaque tape would work, I suspect) and covered the windows. With the printer believing the cartridge was full, I soon had tickets in hand and dashed out to enjoy the concert.

I don’t print enough to get myself worked up over the insane price of toner and the industry’s sleazy practices to push the stuff (see Farhad Manjoo’s article “Take That, Stupid Printer!” in Slate for more). But it did make me particularly irate that my printer — which is otherwise a great little machine — turned mulishly obstinate at exactly the same time I needed to print something important. Fortunately, an evening rocking out at an outdoor concert was just the ticket to improve my mood.


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Comments about Convince Your Printer It Has More Toner
(Comments are closed.)

rsmurf  2011-09-05 14:44
The reason that they do it is 3 fold. 1 to get you to spend more money. 2 to keep down service calls and people thinking their machine is not working properly, when it starts streaking and fading because of low toner. 3 toner is a lubricant and running it completely dry can damage internal parts of the drum and toner cartridge. How do i know? I owned a toner cartridge remanufacturing company for 20 tears.
Thomas Pindelski  2011-09-05 15:05
You only need obscure one of the windows.
Wonder if something like this would work for ink jet cartridges on a Brother multi function. I almost never print in color, but the printer refuses to print at all unless all the cartridges are not too low.
Charles Sekera  2011-09-06 04:43
I have the same problem with my HP multifunction. I try to save color ink by using black only when I can. Then I get the "cartridges too old" message for being frugal. I hate this printer!
bollen642  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2011-09-06 07:22
It's exactly for this reason HP has been sued and finally agreed to a settlement. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to make any difference, all printer brands continue with the same (illegal) practice. See:

Regarding Brother, I have to say that these laser printers are great: affordable and very reasonable cartridge prices. I get between 6500 and 7000 pages out of a large cartridge costing around 80$ for my HL-5250DN, which is the lowest cost per page (1.2¢) I have been able to find.
Tom Saxton  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2011-09-06 02:59
Our HP Color LaserJet 2550N starting complaining about the toner being low, so we ordered a replacement set of all four CMYK toners. That was three years and 1,500 pages ago.
Charles Reeves Jr  2011-09-06 12:28
The printer shutting down when it thought it was out of toner is one reason I ditched my Brother printer. I replaced it with a Canon all-in-one laser. It's been telling me it is out of toner for at least 30-40 copies, which all still look fine. I'll look for little holes in the cart...

While admittedly damage to the drum *might* be possible as reported by rsmurf, potential damage to the cart is moot, at least as far as the user is concerned, since it is replaced.
TnMz6i  2011-09-12 21:27
That's why I love my Canon printer. I can just hit "Resume" whenever it take a break from printing to warn me the ink level is low. I continue to hit "Resume" until I see streaks and faded images. Only then do I open my wallet to replenish my supply.
Printer with more Toner is good to listen but i am still not clear about the tactics! For Printer shop i had a glace look at
I had the "low toner" msg. come up within a couple of weeks of installing a new cartridge for my Brother MFC-7820N printer. Did all the standard stuff like take out the cartridge and rock it from side to side but didn't solve the problem. Brother had me do this sequence and it made the msg. go away: Open the door where the toner cartridge is. Then press "Options", "Start", "1", "1". It will say "Accepted" in the display. Close the door to the toner cartridge and it will warm up and the low toner message will be gone.