Continuous Ink Systems

by Izzy Goodman

One of the biggest complaints about inkjet printers is how quickly the ink runs out and usually right at a critical point. You're printing a very important report when the printer stops and the dreaded message appears to change a cartridge. Wouldn't it be great if the ink flowed continuously and your printing was never interrupted?

This is what a CIS tries to accomplish. A device is installed inside the printer which replaces the cartridges. It is divided into sections, each replacing one of the cartridges. Each section includes the chip the printer reads to decide the correct cartridge is in place. While the chips on original cartridges are designed to show ink usage, the chips on a CIS inform the printer that the "cartridges" contain ink and ignore the printer's attempts to reduce the ink level shown. Narrow tubes feed ink into each section from large bottles or tanks.

It would seem that a CIS solves the biggest problem of inkjet printing. For most people it does. But a few people have discovered the risks involved in using a continuous ink system. First, the printer never knows when it's out of ink. If one of the narrow hoses kink and the ink stops flowing, the printer continues chugging along. Printing without ink flowing to the heads causes them to burn out. On most inkjet printers, replacing a head costs as much as a new printer. Second, chips can burn out, particularly when the printer constantly writes to them. With individual cartridges, it's easy and inexpensive to replace the bad one. We remind and encourage customers to keep a spare set on hand. With most continuous ink systems, you have to replace the entire unit. Since they are expensive, most people do not keep a spare on hand, so a problem with a single chip prevents you from printing.

The best solution - refillable epson ink cartridges
Like a continuous ink system, with refillable epson cartridges your only ongoing cost is ink. The ink cartridges are transparent, so you can see how much ink is inside. You have to make sure the ink cartridges don't run out because that can lead to burned-out heads. As long as you keep a spare set of ink cartridges, you should never be prevented from printing. Because most Epson printers require that you move the ink cartridges to a specific position to replace them, you will have to wait for the printer to tell you to do this before you can refill the ink. With the Epson Artisan and some of the Expression series, you don't have to wait and can refill them at any time. Some people refill them while still in the printer.

So while a continuous ink system has the advantage of fewer refillings, this is far outweighed by the very real possibility of burning out the printer heads or having a chip go bad which will prevent you from using your printer. A CIS also tends to be a lot more expensive than a set or even two sets of refillable cartridges.

As for Brother and Canon printers, many of their cartridges are so inexpensive, they are practically free. We have a number of them for $1.50 and even less. Since you can get $2 back for the empty ones, it doesn't make sense to refill.