RSS Feed

Save money on your desktop printer

January 3, 2012 by Karl

Printer Photo berry berry berry berry berry
This article will show you how to save money in the way that you use your desktop printer.  This is one more step in becoming a frugal and thrifty minded business owner.

Printer saving basics

One thing that seems to be overlooked by many in the population is how much money we spend on toner / ink cartridges. It is no secret that printer manufacturers give away the ink jet printers because they know how much profit they make on the cartridges they sell for them. Ink cartridges never last (perhaps by design), and cost a small fortune to purchase new.

What you need to look at when purchasing any kind of printing device is the cost of the replacement cartridges, and how many “pages” they can print, to come up with a cost per page. This is really the only way to compare overall costs of printing devices.

How much ink / toner is used on ‘one page of print’? Obviously, if you are printing a page that is all black for example, it will use more ink / toner than a page that contains only one short sentence. So there needs to be some kind of ‘page print’ standard to say what one page of print is. I believe that generally the manufacturers have come up with some fairly close representations, but I don’t know what their exact formulas are.

To my knowledge there is not a single ink jet printer out there that is worth purchasing. Even if you get it for free, your price per page for the ink cartridges could bankrupt some small businesses. A toner based printer is the only way to go in my opinion.

Everyone knows what ink is (for the most part), but what is toner? Think of it as a very, very, very finely ground colored plastic powder that has magnetic properties. The laser “writes” onto a drum which magnetically attracts the toner in the places where the laser has written. The powder is then transferred to the paper, and melted in place with an iron. This is why the paper is always warm when it comes out of a laser printer.

Every manufacturer has come up with some way to gauge how much toner is left in the cartridge. HP uses a little computer chip on the cartridge that starts counting down pages the minute you put it in the machine. Brother has a mechanical gear device that moves very slightly every time a page is printed. Each method has its own pluses and minuses. The HP toner cartridge print meter can usually be overridden from the menu on the printer. The brother gear driven mechanism cannot be overridden from the printer menu, but can be mechanically reset by hand. Both manufacturers cartridges usually report empty when they are about one-half to one-quarter full. This means that the average toner user is throwing away a good portion of their print capability. The only way to gauge when the printer cartridge is truly out is to let it run until the page is missing color.

With an HP laser printer, if you are not overriding the toner low alarm from the printer control panel, then the printer will stop functioning when it thinks it is empty, thus wasting much of the toner in the cartridge. Do a web search under the model number of your printer using words like “override toner low”, and you will likely find a post somewhere with step by step instructions on how to override it through the printer menu.

With a brother laser printer, you need to take the cartridge out and remove three screws on the gear mechanism on the end of the cartridge, reset the gear package, and replace it in the cartridge. Some printers also have an optical sensor that shines a light through the toner cartridge to check toner level.  You can plug the window with black tape or putty to trick the printer into thinking it is full. Again if this is not done, you will be wasting a significant amount of toner. Do a web search on the specific toner cartridge you have, again with words like “override toner low”, and you will find instructions on how to reset the gear mechanism and how to plug the light sensor.

These are the two manufacturers that I am familiar with, but I’m sure others also have similar setups. The web is a powerful tool in learning if or how you can override these devices.

Toner Cartridge Photo

Toner Recycling

Once the cartridge is truly empty, you have two choices; Buy a new or re-manufactured toner cartridge, or you can re-manufacture it yourself. Toner kits are available for every toner cartridge ever made, to replace the content in the cartridges. A simple search on Amazon will show you the savings. Some are more difficult to do than others. I would not rely on a re-manufactured toner cartridge from a company I have not heard of. Many shady businesses have popped up in this business over the past ten years, and it has become a very cut-throat industry making corner cutting a standard practice with some.

HP does not support re-manufacturing of cartridges, and puts as many road blocks in the way as possible to keep the money coming to them. If the rumors are true, the toner “recycling” program that HP has come up with is nothing more than a super sized trashcan that keeps the used cartridges out of the hands of the competition. Their cartridges are completely sealed, which means that you need to cut two holes in the plastic sides of the cartridge in order to recycle them. It’s not that hard to do with the proper tool, but it is an added inconvenience if you want to do it yourself.

Brother’s toner cartridges have plastic plugs build into them that allow you to easily recycle the cartridge. Because of this, Brother gets a 5 frugalberry approval. Not only is their price per page much lower than the competition, but if you recycle the cartridge yourself, you can drop your price per page from about 3 cents, to about a penny (plus the price of the paper). HP is much, much higher.

Generally speaking, a toner cartridge can be recycled as many times as the photostatic drum lasts in the cartridge. Sure, some other parts will eventually wear out too, but it is the drum that is the important component here. Again, Brother comes shining through on this one because the photostatic drum is built to last, and is actually a separate component of the toner cartridge. The part that is replaced on the Brother TN-360 cartridge does not include the photostatic drum, which keeps the cost of a new cartridge down. With HP, the photostatic drum is only designed for one use, and is part of mechanism that is replaced with the cartridge. Again, 5 frugalberries to Brother!

Print Server Photo

Networking Printers

For years I was resisting buying an all-in-one printer copier machine. When our recent copy machine needed a replacement photo drum, the cost of the new drum made replacing the machine a much cheaper option. I decided to go with a Brother DCP-7040, and we are thrilled with it! Not only is it a work horse, but the price per page is well below anything else out there. Plus, since it does triple duty as a printer, copier, and scanner it takes up less space in the office, and uses only one cartridge as opposed to stocking two different types!

With most printers you can buy a standard version and a network version. The standard version is usually cheaper by $100 or so, and ties directly into an individual computer, so that computer needs to be running with the printer shared to the network in order for it to be accessed by any other computer on the network. Also, in the standard version, if you purchase a multifunction printer, the scanner will only scan to the specific computer it is plugged into.

With a network version of the printer, the printer is tied directly into the network router, which means that any computer on the network can print to it without going through another computer. Why the price difference? Well, it’s all just a marketing gimmick. They both cost just the same to produce from a manufacturing standpoint, but the manufacturers want to make some more money, so they price them differently.

If you already have a standard printer, there is a way to make it a network printer. You can purchase a print server, starting at about $35. This is a little device that you plug the printer into, and then it communicates with the network router either through an ethernet cable, or a wireless signal (it depends on the network server that you buy). You can buy them for one printer, or you can buy a server that will work with multiple printers. If you have a multifunction printer, make sure you find a print server that is designed to work with multifunction printers, or you may have some problems getting the other functions to work.  You do need to be a bit of a technical geek in order to set up a print server.  Make sure the company you purchase from has good customer service!


  1. Roy Powell says:

    Hi there. Thanks first for the useful information. I am finishing up my first novel too and need a cheep way to send out manuscripts to publishers. Is the Brother DCP-7040 still the way to go for cheap ink costs or have you found one you like better? Thank you for your answer in advance 🙂

    • Karl says:


      The DCP-7040 is still the way to go from my experience. I still cannot believe how inexpensive it is to print on paper with this thing! It just goes and goes!

      As far as the book goes, you will find that most of the sending you will be doing will be in email format. You won’t need to print it unless you need to proof it that way (like I do).

      Best of luck to you Roy!


  2. Steve says:

    Karl, the video was great. But I ran into a snag. The TN-450 cartridge look nearly identical to the one in the video. When I pulled it however, there was no clear plastic lens next to fill port. It looks the same, but the plastic is a sold grey.
    This laser jet printer (DCP-7065DN) definitely has sensors for the toner. But fining it…I need help

  3. Sue says:

    Dear Karl, I have Brother HL 2142 mono laser printer and tried your trick as seen on yours and other youtube videos, but unfortunately this did NOT work. I clearly covered up the lens with double tape but the toner light still comes on and printer won’t work.
    Any suggestions please?Thanks

  4. Jessica says:

    Hi there. You seem pretty well versed in Brother lasers and frugality. I am trying to settee mine whether or not I want to buy a new printer to replace my very old, but still very functional Brother.
    I have multiple TN-460 cartridges and I’d hate to have them go to waste by replacing my printer, but TN 450 seems to be the new common version.
    1) is there a way to use the toner from 460 to refill the 450?
    2) drum units–are you aware of a way to “reset” or clean drum units to extend thei lives?

    Thanks so much! I’m a public school teacher, so every penny out of my pocket counts 🙂

    • Karl says:


      Generally speaking, toner from one cartridge cannot be exchanged with another. It’s also not a good practice to try to re-use old toner that remains in a cartridge when adding new. I wouldn’t recommend trying to use the toner from one in another. You can find refill toner on Amazon for fairly cheap.

      Also, any attempts to refurbish a failed drum without the proper equipment will end up in wasted money. The Brother drum units are not that expensive relative to others on the market. I recommend buying a new replacement.

      I’m having a little trouble understanding from your note why you want to replace the existing printer, however if this is the route you decide to go, you can always sell your old cartridges on or craigslist and get SOMETHING out of them (assuming the boxes haven’t been opened).

      Best of luck,


  5. Johnny Gypsy says:

    Hi Karl,
    I am using the Brother hl-5350dn. I think that is the most efficient printer out there. A high yield 8000 page toner costs only about $15AUD and the drum is replaced every 25,000 pages at a cost of about $30AUD. I have one printer which I have printed in excess of 65,000 pages. I have tried to purchase the same model however I have come to notice that it has been discontinued as I cannot find any retailer that stocks it. What do you think is another printer that is as cost efficient as the hl-5350dn?

    • Karl says:


      Sorry. The DCP 7040 is the most efficient one I have found. Sounds like yours was a great find!

      Good luck!


  6. Lynn says:

    Karl, I just bought this Brother printer based on your video. Would you recommend a vendor for the best price on the TN 360 cartridge?

  7. Guillermo Duarte says:

    In order to override the toner low alarm in brothers printers, Do you have to put the tape on the laser window before the alarm is displayed? or Can you do it even when the alarm is already on?

    • Karl says:


      You may need to reset the gears if the alarm is already displayed. There are lots of tutorials online that will show you how to reset the gears.


  8. luis says:

    i have a brother 7820n, do you know how to reset the drum unit so I don’t have to be changing it, specially since still works fine but the alarm keeps coming on.

  9. Fangyu says:

    Hi Karl,

    I have brother TN-225 toner and am not exactly sure where the toner sensor window is. Could you please advise?
    Thanks so much!

  10. SAR says:

    Thanks for the info. I’d like your opinion. A new Brother drum is $63. A new EPS compatible drum is $25. Is EPS worth buying – is EPS any good?

    Thanks for the tip on the toner cartridge!

    • Karl says:

      SAR, I would recommend paying the extra money. Replacement drums are a mixed bag. The drums can be coated with a very thin coating, which would result in a much shorter life expectancy. You never know what you are getting from an outside vendor. I would spring for the extra on the drum.

      Best of luck.


  11. Michael says:

    Thanks so much for this fix to Brother printer blocking mechanism that forces new Brother cartridges. And yes, my experience is same as you report — usuary early retirements of absolutely working cartridges is the essence of Brothers system. Surprised they have not been sued by now.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *