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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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