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Saving on printer ink

May 08, 20064 mins
ComputersComputers and PeripheralsPrinters

Some time ago we needed to do some high-quality photo printing. After much research we decided on a Canon i9900 inkjet printer, which got great reviews and excellent user ratings.

When it arrived we weren’t disappointed. The i9900 (priced as low as $450) produces outstanding, high-quality prints as large as 13 by 19 inches with a maximum resolution of 4,800 by 1,200 dots per inch at a very acceptable speed (about 50 seconds for a 4-by-6-inch color photo). There’s only one problem: the Canon ink cartridges.

To achieve its sensational print quality, the i9900 uses eight ink cartridges – black, cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, photo magenta, red and green. These cartridges hold a scant 15 milliliters (ml) of ink, which means that you run out of one or another cartridge with monotonous regularity. It’s not that these are hard or time-consuming to change – it’s the cost of the wretched things.

The recommended retail price for each of the cartridges is a whopping $11.95 (just less than 80 cents per milliliter). You can find them online for half that, but if you’re in the middle of printing you don’t want to wait 24 hours, let alone an entire weekend. So it was with great excitement that we got our hands on a Lyson Continuous Ink System (CIS).

Available for Canon, Epson and many commercial printers, the CIS (priced at about $360, including a complete set of inks) consists of eight reservoirs that sit beside the printer with a ribbon of tubes that lead into the printer. The tubes terminate at ink cartridges that replace the originals.

These reservoirs can hold as much as 100ml of ink each, although 80ml is the recommended fill level and you are supposed to top up any depleted reservoirs routinely. Lyson inks are priced at $19 for a 4-ounce (118ml) bottle, which works out to 16 cents per milliliter.

Your first task in installing the CIS is filling the system with ink. Lyson says the Fotonic inks’ color gamut is 20% wider than what most inks can provide (the color gamut is the subset of colors that can be reproduced accurately by the printer – see the Wikipedia article on color gamut).

These inks also have excellent fade resistance, so the first thing you must do is put on the supplied latex gloves – the penalty for not doing so will be multicolored hands that will stay that way for weeks.

Filling the reservoirs is easy: You puncture the heat seal under the cap of each ink bottle, replace the cap, open the built-in spout and squeeze carefully (squeeze too hard and the ink will run out of the cap threads and you’ll be wiping it up for ages).

Now you have to get the ink to flow down the tubes to the cartridges. This is done using the supplied syringes to suck air out of the cartridge end, pulling the ink down. This is hard to do without a third hand.

Once all the cartridges are filled, you insert them in the printer’s cartridge carriage, fix the batten that supports the tubes connecting the cartridges to the reservoirs, switch the printer on, then clean and realign the print heads.

Your printer now has a continuous ink supply.

The final part of setting up is to configure your software to use the new inks – the color profiles of the Lyson Fotonic inks are different from the Canon profiles. Lyson includes instructions on how to do this for Windows and OS X. We followed the manual and got some outstanding prints.

Unfortunately, we then tried to fine-tune the color profiles and completely messed up the colors. We will figure it out with the help of a couple of excellent books on the topic of color profiles and Photoshop: Photoshop Color Correction, by Michael Kieran, and Real World Color Management, by Bruce Fraser, Chris Murphy and Fred Bunting. Both books are published by Peachpit.

If your users are doing lots of high-quality printing, the CIS is highly recommended.

When will my prints come? Tell Gibbsblog or at


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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