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I have some conductive ink that I want to use to print circuits. The current method involves painting the ink, but I would like a more precise method.

I am aware of YouTube videos and such explaining how to refill an ink cartridge for an inkjet printer myself, but I would rather not use a cartridge that was previously filled with regular ink in order to avoid contamination.

Are there any printers that cater to this niche market of people wanting to use odd inks?

  • I removed an off-topic sub-question. If you do have to clean your own cartridge, you might be able to ask that question on Super User. – Cfinley Apr 16 '18 at 15:28
  • @Cfinley OK, no problem. – KBriggs Apr 16 '18 at 18:54
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Printer companies specifically avoid doing this because their margin only comes from ink sales. They usually lose money on the printer itself. This is true of most accessory-based consumer electronics; Microsoft loses money on every X-Box line of product sold, and makes a killing on licensing developers to make its games and online marketplace surcharges. When I worked retail, a Lexmark rep once revealed to me that we were buying cartridges for $20 that we were selling for $45 and that Lexmark only spent $1 per cartridge to manufacture and ship them, but that they averaged a $10 loss per printer they sold, and that loss carried forward. That's why the guy at the store just shoves ink in your cart without asking, and why the printer ships with half-filled ink and calls it a "starter" half the time.

This means you have more to deal with than just cleaning the cartridge. You need to know your cartridges a little.

  1. Don't do this with an HP inkjet. They integrate the printhead onto the cartridge, which is sort of nice, but they also sometimes rig them to detect inks of a different density and refuse to print. I don't have a link for that one, but I've seen it happen. If the ink is thinner, it may fail to detect, but the custom head may just vomit ink all over the page because it's expecting a certain density. Even just normal ink refills with them takes a little care, and ink quality matters.
  2. Lexmark will work, but not all of their cartridges are refillable.
  3. Single-color cartridge printers (i.e. C, M, Y, K are in their own containers) are ideal. Brother, some Canon, Xerox, and Epson all do this. They warn that using your own ink voids your warranty, but the cartridge will accept the ink. Also, many of the cartridges are clear, so you can visibly see the fill level, and you don't have to worry about screwing up filling a tri-color cartridge.

Knowing the above, I'd advise starting with Item 3 on the list; get a printer that uses single-tone, individual carts. Got one? Great. Clear cartridge? Even better. Now to prep the cartridge.

You don't want to soak the cartridge in bleach or vinegar. Bleach is a bad idea anyway as it leaves a residue which may affect the ink. Vinegar will break the dried ink up and flush it out, but it's likely to damage the rubber seals on the cartridge or expand the rubber so that it doesn't fit right anymore. Always start with hot water and just observe the cartridge contents to see if it flushes (clear cartridge benefit, of course). If you get all of the ink out, great. If you have splatted hunks of dried ink inside, then vinegar might be your only (safe) solution, but don't let it stand for long, or you can damage the cartridge as mentioned above.

Allow to dry before refilling with your ink. Keep in mind that a viscous ink and a watery ink aren't the same thing; if your printer normally dumps thin ink and you put in conductive ink, it may give you some spotty or splotchy results. I'd start small, here.

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    A note about Epson printers (at least the one I had). The cartridges themselves kept track of how much ink they had, not the printer. Meaning that you couldn't refill them yourself without resetting the cartridge. You will also have to use it frequently, as it will run a cleaning cycle that will eat up your ink if it was not used. It used a full cartridge set once just to clean itself. Haven't used it since. I'm not sure if others have the same experience, but I wouldn't touch Epson if I were you. – Cfinley Apr 16 '18 at 15:27
  • Thanks for this. I came across this line of Epson EcoTank printers that seems to deliberately accept bottled ink, what do you think of something like this? epson.ca/For-Home/Printers/Inkjet/…. I had planned on using an organic solvent like ethanol or acetone to clean the cartridge if necessary, but with the printer above it looks like it ships empty, so it might not be necessary to clean it at all. – KBriggs Apr 16 '18 at 18:53
  • @KBriggs That looks promising, but I don't know anything else about it. It might be impossible to clean it out if you ever had to, and I am not sure how/when/if it cleans itself, but it might be the best product for you. I will see if I can find more information about this printer. – Cfinley Apr 17 '18 at 15:50
  • @Cfinley Yes, cleaning it out might be tricky. I have confirmed that the ink holder ships empty, so no initial cleaning would be needed at least, but the service rep confirmed that there is no easy way to clean it out once it has been loaded once. Not a dealbreaker, just means it would be a single-purpose machine. – KBriggs Apr 17 '18 at 16:41

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