CIS (Continuous Ink Supply)

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Seeing as I bang on and on, and on... and on... ;) about CIS's I figure a little explanatory text is in order so hang on to your pillows, prepare a comfortable sleeping position and here goes..

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CIS means...

C.I.S. stands for "Continuous Ink Supply" and is used in the context of inkjet printers. The system reduces the need for cartridge swapping by providing an expanded capacity external reservoir that feeds the printer with ink.

Primary benefits:

  • You pay less for bulk ink compared to cartridges
  • You have no cartridge to replace, reducing plastic waste/land-fill
  • You have lower maintenance costs because you spend less time refilling (or swapping cartridges)
  • The printer stays in service longer because it doesn't need to wait for someone to change the cartridge


Such systems started out in commercial wide-format systems many years ago and as the inkjet market burgeoned it became obvious that the home/office inkjet market could also benefit from these kits.

The Good news

The obvious positives have more or less been listed above but in the main you get to print more for less cost and more importantly the additional use means that the printer gets more exercise and is less likely to clog which again reduces the costs.

The Bad news

The worst part about CIS kits is that it's now very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff with many poorly built kits on places like eBay and resellers websites. Identifying the correct kit for the job, knowing what pitfalls to look out for and making sure the support is there, all take time and often that time acts as a cost that soon outweighs the benefits.


Any printer?

As a general rule you can usually find a continuous ink system for your inkjet printer if it meets the following criteria:

  • Each colour cartridge is seperate
    (ie: no tricolour, all-in-one cartridge)
  • The printhead(s) is/are seperate from the cartridge
    (If the printhead is built into the cartridge it is unlikely to last more than 2 or 3 times the capacity of the cartridge)
  • The printer does not use brand new chip technology (eg: Epson Claria cartridges have a new chip design)


If your printer ticks all those boxes you're not wasting your time already.


Best printers

Some printers are more suited to a CIS kit than others.. Some examples of printers that work best are:

  • HP Officejet: K550, K5400, K850, K8600, L7480, L7580, L7590, L7680, L7780
  • HP Businessjet: 1100, 2230/2280
  • Epson C84, C86, D88, R200, R220, R300, R320, R800, R1800, R2400...**


** Note: Printers that use the pigment based inks (Durabrite, etc..) tend to clog very easily when not used (holidays, etc..) so this needs to be taken into account but is part of normal printer function for Epson printers.


'So-so' Printers

Canon Pixma printers can work with a CIS but from hard won experience spanning two years I have to say that the results are variable. Models that can handle a CIS include:

  • Pixma iP4200, iP4300, iP4500, iP5200, iP5300, MP500, MP510, MP600, MP610, MP800, MP810, MP850, MX700, iX4000, iX5000

The primary issue with Canon inkjets is the printhead design which has a much larger exit port for ink flowing from the cartridge. The upside of these printers is that at present you can disable the chip functionality without needing ARC's (autoreset chips).


Printers to avoid

As a rule I would never attempt to fit a CIS in a Dell, Lexmark or a Brother printer as almost all of them fall into the tricolour single cartridge trap and the general print quality is never particularly great. In addition the resourses available on these printers re: CIS's is limited at best.


What to look for in a kit

General pointers

  • Avoid ebay as a rule
  • Check on support service before you purchase and look for previous happy customers of 4 months or more
  • Try to avoid the "chinese clone" systems but similarly don't dismiss on looks alone, some of the best kits have the "best bits" from a range of suppliers
  • Ask for the details of the ink used and look for resellers for trusted quality ink suppliers such as OCP and Image Specialists, etc..

HP specific

  • Air causes the most damage/problems to printheads in HP kits so look for kits that take care to avoid this issue
  • If possible find a kit that keeps the rubber bulb in the cartridge base
    (this bulb is a safety feature that stops the printer if air is detected and is used to maintain the correct ink pressure to the printheads - many CIS kits side step this in their cartridge design)

Canon specific

  • Make sure your kit has thin silicon grommets included as part of the kit
    (These are vital to ensure a good air seal between the cartridge and printhead ink port)

General (Auto-reset chips [ARC])

  • Check in advance that the kit you are purchasing has auto-reset chips that are compatible with your printer.
  • Get a detailed description and troubleshooting guide for dealing with chip related problems
    (eg: most HP officejet ARC's require the printer to be turned off and on again to reset the printer - some will wait until the cartridge is completely empty before resetting, etc..)
  • As a rule of thumb the newest printers may have a new chip design which will require a new type of ARC so if you intend to use a CIS check on this before you purchase the printer.


Resources

These are just a small list of the online resources available for CIS's and for other printer related topics (cartridge refilling, troubleshooting, etc..)