DIY Inkjet Printer Begs To Be Hacked


[Nicholas C Lewis, Patrick Hannan, Jared Knutzen, and Joy Markham], students from the University of Washington, have recently taken the wraps off a project which they have been collaborating on, a DIY inkjet printer. The group set out to construct a low cost, open source inkjet printer for personal use that utilizes standard inkjet technology. Their working prototype, pictured above, satisfies all of those requirements, making it an ideal device for the at-home hobbyist.

The printer was constructed from easy to obtain components such as steel rods and stepper motors, along with other parts that can be printed using a RepRap or similar machine. An Arduino Mega manages the steppers and repurposed print head, recreating whatever Processing-generated image it has been given.

The printer is quite a hit so far, and people are already talking about adapting the design to print on spherical objects (think EggBot), to create direct etch resist PCBs, and more. We think it would make a great direct to garment printer with just a few small tweaks.

Check out the short video embedded below to see the printer in action.

[via Make]


17 thoughts on “DIY Inkjet Printer Begs To Be Hacked

  1. Unimpressive… most of the technology of inkjet printing is in the print head… the part that they got readily made(the whole cartridge). The thing is as low cost as the cartridge/print head they are using, and if that is bought, it is not cheap enough. Think of cheap printers, they cost under $30 and a set of new cartridges will require $50 or more and print a handful of pages.
    I don’t really see not having something on the marked as a reason to make it. The reason why there are no kits available might be because of their lack of use…
    If i needed to use a printer for garment or pcb printing I’d be better off buying one and hacking it.

    Now, what i really want to see is something like CISS that works better, every time, without problems. That would make a low cost solution.

  2. Fairly certain direct print etch resist only works with Epson piezo type cartridges and the yellow ink they use, not the HP ones unfortunately. If someone has reverse engineered the mechanism for driving those, this could be a winner.

  3. @Bogdan
    the reason the printers are dirt cheap is that the companies make revenue from the ink cartridges. Why do you think there are so many printers out there which does not let you refill and reuse the same cartridge or toner?

  4. @nk,

    I know that. That is the actual problem. They have used a ready made cartridge, which is where the technology really is, and no matter which model you choose, it is expensive.

    If the design was about making a good quality, cheap printhead.. that would be a totally different story. But I think such a design is well beyond hobby level.

  5. @Bogdan

    You still do not get it. Hacking and “fixable products” is not always about lower cost.

    An open printer is also designed to LAST longer, to be self-serviceable (or shop repairable), and as this article points out… easily customized.

    If something like this became a real standard, we have less needless waste and pollution.

    You admit you understand the manufacturer sells these things below cost. The manufacturer also designs inkjets to last very short times (went through 6 Epson printers in 8 years at my home). The manufacturer can afford to do this because of 2 things: vendor lock-in on expensive replacement ink, and taxpayer subsidized disposal of the device when it fails.

    (Fact is electronics are routinely mixed in with common trash, and must be sorted out at the local landfill. In essence, the taxpayer subsidizes the inkjet manufacturer’s profit model. This is both unfair and not sustainable.)

    I’m also not sure that non-disposable inkjet printers would actually cost more. Maybe initially, but print engines would go from being proprietary parts, to interchangeable commodity parts.

    1. What amazes me, is the guy make a printer, that skips the basic problem, the size and cost of the ink cartridge, and as you mention, the longevity of the product really is the issue.

      There is no social reason for planned obsolescence it is a factor of capitalism trying to supply in a system where it has to create demand. (capitalism is built for markets that always have demand higher then production, and fails society when production capability is above demand, creating price fixing, and other methods to protect the production of products that are not helpful to society, but keep factories making things.)

      If someone is going to make a printer, increase the ink cartridge size while they are at it.

      Although I think all the printing issues and costs are intentional to get everyone to have to use digital systems that can have the content monitored and changed when someone is targeted by some agency.

  6. It’s just a simple cartesian ‘bot, nothing special there. The neat bits are getting the print cartidge/head to do it’s thing on command. I’m a little sad that it has to be specific hardware that HP makes and could stop making…

    I remember the DIY inkjet post on here a while back.. possible combination?

  7. If you buy cheap crappy printers and don’t look after them of course they will break. I have an HP i bought over 7 years ago, it still prints perfectly fine and hasn’t ever broken down on me yet.

    I guess if your impatient with your printer and don’t take care of it, don’t keep it clean, sure its going to break. just like anything mechanical it has moving parts prone to failure, incorrectly loading paper, pulling out jammed sheets the wrong way, letting dirt/bits of cereal get in the gears all have a detrimental effect of the printer gizzards.

    I appreciate the project as a flat bed plotter type, as stated it would be useful for direct to garment printing among other things not suitable for the usual paper paths involved in printers, but i doubt the usefulness as an actual printer.
    Certainly claiming the project is “open source” is far from accurate. I remember a video about where they make the cartridges, and i would love someone to correct me but i remember a quote that the element inside the cartridge, for a very brief time, reaches temperatures hotter than the sun. A major amount of work goes into these cartridges, i would maybe have a think before having a go at printer companies.

    I am also sceptical about am_i_evil’s comment:
    why would a manufacturer design a product to sell below cost to break easily? It would make more sense to design it to last longer and make money selling ink for that printer than loosing more money on a printer and waiting for the test cartridges to be used up before a new one is bought. something doesn’t add up.

    My major concern about the project as is is with reusing ink cartridges.
    Without proper care and attention its very easy to end up with blocked nozzles from old and dried up ink.


    hard copy

    seriously guys get with the times

    1. Because a black room at a telecom can not see what you read when you read it on a printed page of paper.

      Because capitalism fails when there is less demand then production, and a quality printer with cheap ink, people would not need to buy any printers, and they would be out of business, so capitalism must create demand, and that hurts product quality to keep factories building stuff, to keep people working.

      It is price fixing so they have a market to sell to.

      Everyone could have a 300 dollar printer, at 1200 dpi, that prints hundreds of pages for a dollar of ink, but then people would be using paper communication.

      And they can’t censor, nor change, nor put different information for different groups when information is on a flyer or news letter.

  8. I was just thinking about this, having nearly spent £44 on a set of new cartridges for my steam driven RX520 but luckily found bargain basement ones instead for the princely sum of £2 from Jessops.

    (i like these, you can stick any old Crapola Inc cart in there if it fits, and tape the old infinitely resettable chip back on!)

    My thought is to make a piezo driver based on two opposed sounder disks (the large ones found in old telephones work nice) driven at acoustic resonance as someone else has done on HaD.
    Fill that with ink and provide a very small hole at the base and you can print single lines of text at quite high resolution methinks.

    If you stacked up several dozen of these and combined the outputs (use old syringe needles from a printer refill kit or your friendly vet’s surgery who has a bunch of opened-but-unused ones) you could probably make a printhead.
    To make the essential micro sized hole I would feed the nozzles through a block of prepared bismuth-indium-tin alloy (BiInSn) in order to get a planar surface then if required lap the surface to ensure all the nozzles are straight.

    email me on mandoline atp cwgsy ddt net

    (substitute poison and phosphate to email)

  9. @am_i_evil: No, I think Bogdan got it just fine.

    If one’s aim is to get a printer of an arbitrary size/shape, or just play around with X-Y plotting mechanisms, then this does that just fine (well, not so fine, resolution-wise, actually).

    But if one’s aim is to break away from the expensive inks (apparently made from unicorn blood or something) and print heads in use today, than this fails to achieve that.

    As it has been said: if this would be a home-produced print head with cheaply available ink, it would be really important (but the technology of that is likely out of reach). As it is, it’s just a custom rigging for an existing print head, and of a lot less interest…

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