Updated – What You Should Know About Continuous Ink-Supply Systems

epson L series refillable carts

Epson CISS L Series Refillable Ink Cartridges

Note: This post has been updated due to the results of our extensive Project CISS Hands-On Test. There have also been new factory-equipped CISS printers introduced by Brother, Canon and Epson.

CISS (Continuous Ink Supply System) is an inking system for inkjet printers that consists of a large external refillable ink supply. It’s attraction to the many users who just plain hate buying ink for the sake of it (but will pay hundreds of dollars for a single toner cartridge) is because the ink supply is huge and the ink is cheap — CISS vendors routinely claim that users can save up to 95 percent  (20-30 times less) of printing costs when compared to the use of OEM ink cartridges.

In this day of “give them the desktop printer, then sell them the ink cartridges,” inkjet printer vendors rightfully loathe CISS with the exception of Epson, which manufactures and markets an entire line of CISS-equipped desktop printers. There is also an array of CISS add-on kits available from a variety of vendors that you can attach to your printer in DYI fashion. Moreover, several of them sell printers with pre-installed CISS kits. Nevertheless, there are a number of pros and cons that you should consider before you take the plunge in the quest to save a few bucks on ink.

Epson CISS L555

Epson CISS L555 AiO

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The first continuous ink supply system was marketed in 1993-94 with the introduction of the EnCad NovaJet plotter that featured 500 ml ink reservoirs connected to the print heads via rigid tubes, while the  CISS systems of today commonly employ a multi-channel and flexible silicon tube to supply ink to the print heads. The original NovaJet plotter utilized a third-party CISS system, but in 1996, EnCad introduced the NovaJet Pro line of plotters which utilized a CISS system of its own design. One year later, EnCad introduced two lines of CISS plotters, the NovaJetPROe and the NovaCut. In 1997, other vendors such as CalComp and Hewlett-Packard announced plans to market CISS production printers but it took until 2003 for the first “modern”  CISS inkjet production printer to materialize. By 2005, there were about 50 CISS production inkjet printers on the market, and on April 21, 2011, Epson introduced the L100, the first OEM desktop CISS inkjet printer. As stated, Epson now has an entire line of desktop inkjet printers and All-in-Ones.

How Does CISS Work?

Edme Marriotte (1630-1682)

CISS has a number of external tanks that supply ink to the OEM ink cartridges, the number of which depends on how many cartridges a particular printer uses in standard form. At first CISS utilized ink bottles with a supply tube and an air filter. However, this design proved unable to provide a steady flow of ink and the bottles were replaced by vessels utilizing Mariotte’s Bottle principle, which provided the ability to provide a steady flow of ink to the print head regardless of the quantity of ink remaining in the vessel.

Each CISS has the following components:

  1. Multichannel cable or tube that transfers ink from the ink vessels to the OEM print heads.
  2. Ink vessels or tanks (one for each ink color).
  3. Modified OEM ink cartridges.
  4. IC chips that defeat the OEM cartridge detection system (dependent on the make and model of the printer).

The “Loop”

In some cases, air bubbles appear in the system due to sloppy ink refilling or simply bad ink. With modern CISS, small quantities of air bubbles are automatically removed by returning the ink back to the vessels — thus, “The Loop.”

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36 Responses

  1. Ash says:

    Hi
    Do you have a system for an epson 9890
    Pls let me know ashraff@mweb.co.za
    Tks
    Ash

  2. George Boehm says:

    your inker for Eposn WF-7610 worked good for about 400 pages then the printer cannot recognize the ink cartridgesa . It was sold to to work on my printer. what can I expect YOU to do about it.
    George Boehm. georgeboehm37@gmail.com. soon need the printer!!!!!
    George Boehm

  3. Florence Kamugisha says:

    what types of printers use the continuous ink system?

    • Terry Wirth says:

      We have two Hands-On Test Reports:

      There are add-on kits for popular printers but installation is tricky – http://wp.me/p76U8a-5gH – Report: Project CISS with Photo Gallery and Videos! Continuous Ink-Supply System Inkjet Printers – How do They Stack Up?

      There are also printers with factory-equipped CISS that are essentially risk-free – http://wp.me/p76U8a-9FC – Competitive Hands-On Test Report: Five All-in-One Printers with Factory-Equipped CISS (Ink Tanks).

  4. Mike says:

    Ink low refill issue
    Does anyone know why all ink must finish in the CIS before a automatic refill. Is their alternative solution ?

    • Terry Wirth says:

      With CISS, you do not want to drain all of the ink out of the tank before refill as then priming is lost. Then, you must waste a lot of ink re-priming the system. You can get away with it on the HP GT 5800 series because there is ink left in the removable print heads. It is the only OEM system that lets you use all of the ink in the tank and then it warns you to refill with an entire bottle. This system eliminates any guess work.

      On another note, the Canon OEM CISS printer uses removable print heads as well but there are prominent warnings not to run the tanks dry as it will damage the print heads.

  5. Grace Lee says:

    hi. humbly seeking some help here. I have a canon MX320 printer which was modified into continuous ink system. just yesterday, it appeared a notification stating that the black ink has run out (i can still continue to print despite the low ink level with some button clicking). I have heard that it is not good for the original ink cartridge itself if we continue to use that way, Is there any setting that can be done or any possible solution which i should do?

    Kindly do help me T.T

    • Terry Wirth says:

      Is this a kit where you modified (drilled holes into) the original ink cartridges or did cartridges come with the kit?