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I was disappointed with the cost of colour printing so I did a search to try to find the printer/system with the cheapest running cost; I fully expected it to be a colour laser of some sort.  To my surprise, it wasn't!  I discovered Continuous Ink Supply Systems for the first time, which if they work, are the cheapest by far.  

I wanted a printer with automatic duplexer to further save costs on paper, and if price wasn't prohibitive I would also like the ability to print on A3.  After checking half a dozen of my favourite sites, I found the Brother MFC-J5910DW (A3/A4, auto duplexer, scanner, copier, fax) from Amazon for just £115 (Mar 2012).  A search for a suitable CISS took me to cityinkexpress.co.uk.  Here I could purchase a compatible CISS for the Brother in question for £48. 

 I could purchase normal high capacity cartridges that are good for 1200 pages for £16.80 per colour from printware.co.uk.  Now I couldn't find out what the volume of these cartridges was, but I did find out that they weigh 79g.  Allowing, say 20g for the plastics, that would leave a maximum of 59g of ink, and assuming that it's the same density as water, that would mean that a high capacity cartridge contains about 59ml of ink. So, four high capacity colours at £16.80 each = £67.20 and would give me around 236ml of ink.  That's 28.5 pence per ml. The CISS kit, including postage cost £54.38 and gives 400ml of ink.  So that's 13.6 pence/ml.

It gets better than that though because the refill inks from cityinkexpress.co.uk are £22.80 for a set of 4 x 100ml.  Giving just 5.7p per ml or one fifth the price of high capacity cartridges for the same amount of ink!

OK, so the sums add up for the CISS, but do they work reliably?  I did a trawl of various websites and forums and concluded that on the whole, there are more CISS systems our there with happy users than ones without.  I also spoke to a friend of mine who is both a computer nerd and a semi-professional photographer.  He assured me that high end, large format photo printers are basically scaled up ink jet printers with integral CISS!

I decide to go ahead.  Both printer and CISS where ordered mid morning on Friday.  The printer arrived Saturday and was setup without problem.  The CISS arrived on Monday.
On opening the CISS box, I was a little disappointed to find that there were no printed instructions at all.  On checking the cityinkexpress website, I quickly found a link to a video guide.  The video is  6 minutes 12 and seemed to explain everything.

There was a difference between the system shown on the video, and the one supplied to me; On the video there is a roller to move which I gather acts as a kind of ink supply cut off – you must obviously turn it on before installation.  My system had no such roller and there seemed to be no equivalent device, so this part of the installation was skipped.
Next, I had to remove some ink from each of the air chambers and drop it back into the main reservoirs.  I was a little concerned because only one syringe was supplied and I was worried about the possibility of mixing the colours by using the same syringe for each ink.  In reality, there was no need for concern.  I simply flushed the syringe out in between each colour ink by sucking up hot water and squirting it out.   I only had to repeat this about 4 or 5 times before clean water was seen going in and coming out.  The mischievous might like to know that you can squirt water quite a long way across the kitchen with the syringe!

I had to have two goes at inserting the CISS cartridges into the printer because they did not readily click into place as the “real” cartridges do.  I found that they needed pushing at the top of the cartridge rather than in the middle as I had first tried. The cartridge door can be gently forced shut with the tubes coming out of the finger shaped indentation that is provided to open the door.
On my larger A3 printer, the supply tubes are not long enough for the reservoir to be placed on the left hand side of the printer; this is a minor problem for me as the right hand side of the printer is also the edge of the shelf that the printer is on, so it opens up the possibility of knocking the reservoir off the shelf! Installation was completed in about 10 minutes (not including syringe mischief time) and without any real problems.

So what about print quality? Are the CISS colours the same as the original Brother cartridge  colours?  Well, no!  They are slightly more vivid! So in conclusion:
• The sums add up; I haven't been able to find a cheaper alternative for colour printing.
• It's basically the same technology as larger higher quality photo printers.
• It's easy to install; watch the video before you buy – it really is that easy and straight foward.
• The colours are better than the original Brother cartridges.
• The length of the tubes dictate that the reservoir must sit on the right hand side of my large printer.

 p.s. I am NOT affiliated with cityinkexpress - I am a genuinely happy customer, although if I was reading this, I wouldn't believe this statement either, so you must make your own mind up whether to buy!
C Davis
March 2012