How to trick your printer’s sensors into letting you print b/w when you’re out of color ink

Cannot Print. The printer does not have enough ink to maintain print quality.

I bought some movie tickets online the other day and had about 10 minutes to print my tickets before I had to run out the door. I hit print and looked expectantly at my printer, but as usual it was blinking at me saying that one of my color cartridges was empty. I rummaged through my ‘stuff’ drawer and noticed that I was clean out of ink, so I switched adobe reader to print in greyscale and hit print again. My black cartridge was full and brand new, but the printer said this:

Are you kidding me? Not enough ink to maintain image quality? on a black and white document? Obviously my lovely printer manufacturer (I have a Brother MFC-495CW) is trying to make more money on ink cartridge sales. Tough luck. So I pulled out one of the color cartridges and took a peek. This is what I saw:


The ink cartridge has a little window on it that shows you how much ink is left inside. After a bit of searching the web, I found out that the printer shines a light through the ink window to see how much ink is left. So I proceeded to see if I could fool the printer into seeing ink in the cartridge. I first tried to sharpie the window but that didnt seem to help.

Next, I grabbed a roll of electrical tape and stuck some on a few strategic spots as you can see below


Success! All three cartridges are now showing as full!


Some of you may be wondering if you lose print quality if you dont select greyscale mode at this point. Dont worry, I’ll show you what happens with a little help from Teddy Roosevelt:


It seems like a lack of color cartridges has little negative effect. Success!

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  • Comments (50)
  1. Great hack — saved me some money.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Rob
    • 07/08. 2011 7:20pm

    Awesome fix – I have an MFC-J265W and it kept telling me I was out of ink, when obviously I wasn’t πŸ™‚

    Tried the sharpie too, didn’t work – how odd…


    • brandon
    • 07/16. 2011 8:02pm

    How’s that working for you in the long-term? I did your trick today after being VERY frustrated with my machine many times! However, I’ve read that an empty ink cartridge can damage the print head. Have you had any problems since your fix?

  2. Hey Brandon,
    I haven’t had any problems so far
    Rob: It worked on there too? excellent πŸ™‚
    Jaryd: My pleasure

    • Brooke
    • 09/22. 2011 11:05am

    Thanks so much for sharing this trick. I needed 3 more pages for a project for my son’s birthday party and did not want to go to the office supply store. By the way, the last pages printed great.

    • Ed Rush
    • 12/09. 2011 7:54am

    Ah Hah!

    Sharpie didn’t work for me either, but thankfully I had duct tape to hand.

    Excellent trick and thanks Signaltheorist.

    and p.s. the quality is just fine.

    • Jonathan
    • 02/11. 2012 10:37am

    Haha genious. Saved my day too πŸ™‚

  3. dude, your awesome

    • Pat
    • 03/05. 2012 10:07am

    Used it for my Brother MFC-885CW…worked like a champ!!! Thanks!

    • Rudy Flaviis
    • 03/06. 2012 5:21am

    The only tape I has got is yellow. I put it in the yellow cartridge and in the display immediately the yellow sensor reached 100%!
    Thanks a lot!
    For those guys are afraid the ink head gets damaged in the long term I read in another forum (I don’t know if it results…) that we can put destlled water in the ink cartridgeds to be nor used. This way when the auto clean function works there is always some liquid in order printer head does’nt dry.

    • Dan
    • 03/24. 2012 3:28pm

    I had the same problem but no electrical tape. I used the foil wrapper from a piece of gum and worked no problem. Thanks!

  4. Yeah, this worked great, thanks so much. Yes, totally frustrating – I was so shocked when I took the cartridge out and noticed how much ink was visible in the little window when you held it upside down and wasn’t going to get used…. WOW!

    Thanks so much

    • phil
    • 06/05. 2012 7:13pm

    so, I realized that I have a lot of ink cartridges sitting around that were never fully used. The problem I see is that the printer cost me about $100, and I have purchased twice that in ink. I can buy a new printer if I wear out the heads. No wonder they pay you $2 buck to “recycle” your old cartridges. They can get 4 times that in ink out of the things.

    • Totofeo
    • 07/01. 2012 7:11pm

    sweeet, worked for me i only needed the black ink…thats pretty annoying what they do…thanks a million.
    god electrical tapes own.

  5. SignalTheorist.. you are the MAN! the trick worked! thanks!

    • Angela
    • 08/12. 2012 4:30pm

    OMG it works! thank u so much!!! You are the best!

    • gary
    • 08/15. 2012 11:17am

    I did this a year or so ago and it worked great. But now my printer won’t print in black and it’s NOT telling me that a color cartridge is empty. Could it be the print head? (What’s a print head?) Anything I can do about this, or do I need a new printer?

    • Heather
    • 08/28. 2012 5:04pm

    OMG! Thank you so much. I was going insane trying to get the printer to recognize that there was still ink in the cartridge. Thanks again!

    • antonio
    • 08/30. 2012 12:32pm

    Hi my friend, i got a MFC-J265W, exactly what you hack? could you please put more picks i cant see if you remove the entery window, open complete the catridge…BEST REGARDS!

    • antonio
    • 08/30. 2012 12:32pm

    PD its similar cartridge that you hack!

  6. Integrity is a empathetic listener and makes each customer know he values their time.

    • Joshua
    • 10/10. 2012 10:05pm

    So I googled “i know i have enough ink, but my printer says I don’t” This showed up third link down. And it was exactly what I needed!


    • will
    • 10/24. 2012 12:23am

    awsome have a mfc-790cw and stuck a little paper between the window and it worked!! thank you!!!

    • Darren
    • 11/12. 2012 11:02am

    you are a lifesaver

    • Billy
    • 11/26. 2012 5:02pm

    Yep, worked for me too. Putting electric tap over that little window did the trick very well.

    However, in the interests of full disclosure, you should probably post this link for your readers because it contains a warning in the first paragraph by Brother about why their printers tend not to print when color is out.

  7. Worked for me! rock lobster.

  8. Thanks. I had the opposite problem, the black ink was out, so I tried changing the document color to blue, but it still wouldn’t print. This happened on Xmas Eve, and I wasn’t about to go to the store just for an ink cartridge, so I googled the problem and found this site. I had to try twice before it would read the cartridge. Not only did it fool the printer, though, but I was able to print it black and it came out fine!

    • Dave
    • 12/27. 2012 9:54am

    You rock! Thanks for posting! Worked like a charm!!!

    • Miriam
    • 01/11. 2013 12:35pm

    awesome..worked! if do not have tape USE FOIL! like one of the commenting people says!! yay!
    I have a brother MFC-J591ODW
    and I put it on the top and bottom screens too.. not sure if that made a difference! πŸ™‚

    • Marie
    • 01/20. 2013 11:53am

    Needed a quick fix for an urgent fax coming in. No electrical tape, no duct tape. A little black nail polish did the trick! (Of course let it dry first). It’s so ridiculous that the printer does this. There was definitely still magenta in there. Plus, not to have the option to print with the black ink only is also really frustrating.

    • Adam
    • 01/23. 2013 9:44am

    Can I just say how much I want to marry you right now? I just can’t justify getting a new printer when I just got my “brother mfc-j415” even though its been nothing but a headache. Grrrr, my faith in humanity has gone up a few notches!

  9. Hey man! You Rock!
    Brother Printers Suck! but you ROCK!
    Thanks so much for sharing that with the world!

    • Geeez
    • 02/19. 2013 5:31pm

    You are the best…you saved me 30 bucks…I have been messing with this ink situation for so long buying and throwing away cartridges…you are a true environmentalist…:)

    • Bee
    • 03/02. 2013 8:59pm

    I am not sure where to place the tape . I have a MFC J435 . I covered the sensor as i use to do with my old CN420 . It seems that my cartriges are a little different . What am I doing wrong? Would appreciate the help.

    • Bee
    • 03/02. 2013 9:00pm

    I am not sure where to place the tape . I have a MFC J435 I covered the sensor as i use to do with my old CN420 . It seems that my cartriges are a little different . What am I doing wrong? Would appreciate the help.

  10. Thanks for the tip. Worked like a charm on my j825dw! I used masking tape. You have to make sure you thread it through the hole. 1st time I covered the hole & went all the way around with the tape & it didn’t work. What I don’t understand is where is the color ink going? I print b/w 99% of the time…Hmmm.

  11. Searching for this for some time now – i guess luck is far more advanced than look for engines πŸ™‚

    • san
    • 04/13. 2013 11:55pm

    thank you so much for this! i didn’t have electrical tape so i used white out and it worked! can’t thank you enough!

  12. I rarely drop remarks, but i did some searching and
    wound up here How to trick your printer?s sensors into letting you print b/w when you?re out of color ink – signaltheorist.
    com. And I do have a few questions for you if it’s allright. Is it simply me or does it appear like some of these remarks look like coming from brain dead people? πŸ˜› And, if you are posting at additional places, I’d like to keep up with everything fresh you have to post.

    Would you make a list of every one of all your communal pages
    like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

    • Pankaj
    • 06/04. 2013 5:59am

    Thanks very very much man

    • David McGuigan
    • 06/04. 2013 6:17pm

    Thank you so much! Just saved me $30 and/or buying a new printer. I just cut off the black strip of an old gift card and wedged it in where the check happens. Brilliant!

    • Dreeze
    • 06/05. 2013 8:14am

    Great, thank you! I have a MFC-5840CN which I nowadays only use as a fax. Everytime once in a while when I want a fax report it wines for some color cartridge needing replacement. It hasn’t printed color in over three years and probably can’t anymore, but somehow the cartridges still drain themselves.

    The cartridges have a small transparent ridge on one side, which I taped with paper tape. Everything now works like a charm.

    • J King
    • 06/05. 2013 2:29pm

    Thanks you very much! I was on a deadline and I just needed one page printed. I was about to have to go to the office supply to get a black ink cartridge even though I am almost full in all of the three other colors. I didn’t have electrical tape, but I used duct tape. It took about 2 minutes and I was ready to go.

    • Azz
    • 06/26. 2013 5:14am

    Also found out that you can just stick a piece of cardboard box into the sensor at the back of the cartridge caddy and block the sensor if you don’t have a cartridge in there at all. Printing b&w with all my colour cartridges out! Yay thanks for this info!

    • Tracy
    • 07/02. 2013 8:41pm

    OMG!!!!Thank you!!!! They’re RIPPIN US OFF!!! I used masking tape and it TOTALLY WORKS. I also tilted the cartridge and the darn thing was more than 60% full!!! Love it when the little guy can stick it to big business. God bless you for this post, dude!!!!!

    • jendos
    • 07/13. 2013 5:11pm


    • jendos
    • 07/13. 2013 5:12pm


    BLACK NAIL POLISH — MAKE SURE U COAT IT THICK IN BOTH PLACES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • HJ
    • 07/19. 2013 10:01pm

    Same thing happened to us re: trying o print movie tickets. My husband was amazed when it worked after I placed some black tape over the window. Thanks!

    • Charles
    • 07/28. 2013 9:33am

    Excellent info. Brother MFC-J825DW using LC71 or LC75 cartridges. I had to tinker a bit with electrical tape, but finally found positioning that will work. When I blocked the window fully, the printer failed to register that a cartridge had been installed. Success when I used black electrical tape to cover the left side of the window from bottom to approx 3/4 to top, leaving some exposed window. Tape does not wrap around nor extend past the window. For a good fit, I did pack the tape a bit on the bottom and right edges of the window. Hope that helps someone else.

    Also note that when I pulled my half full cartridges to inspect, and then clicked on “cartridge was replaced” upon reinsert, the printer decided that these good cartridges were now empty. Had to add tape to these good cartridges, as well.

    • N
    • 08/11. 2013 5:40pm

    YOUR A GENIOUS!:) THANK YOU..I am a very skeptic person but after trying this actually work! Thank God for intelligent people like you!


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