Brother Printer Toner Nightmares

In our office, we use only Brother printers. The primary reason is because they’re cheap, and they’re reliable. Also, the toner cartridges are simple to refill with aftermarket toner, and they actually do last quite a while.

Our machines are all either HL-5250DN units or our wonder workhorse the DCP-9040CN. We also have two Intellifax 4100e fax machines.

The biggest problem with these machines is that they are incredibly stupid about telling you when the toner is empty. Most of the time, the machine will tell us it’s out of toner when the toner cartridge is still half full. After hours and hours of poking buttons and playing with the blasted machines, and reading literally hundreds of different forums posts, we have a suite of solutions that we use all the time. I’m going to summarize them here mainly for my own use, but hopefully somebody else will find this in a search engine search and be glad I took the time to write it up.

Brother printers use one or more of up to 3 methods I have found so far to tell whether the toner cartridge is empty or not.

First, the sensor hole trick. Most modern Brother toner cartridges have two clear, plastic covers on either end. If you hold it to the light, you can see toner flopping around inside the hole if you shake it. The printer shines a light through this hole and, if a photosensor picks up the light at the other side of the box, then it’s empty. If light doesn’t shine through, it assumes there is toner. So, the first thing to do with any new Brother toner cartridge out of the box is to cover this sensor hole with black electrical tape, color it in with a Sharpie, paint it over with white out, etc.

Second, most Brother toner cartridges have a mechanical reset gear on one end. You may need to take a couple screws off and remove the end cover to see this gear, but it’s there. Do a search for toner refill kit instructions for your particular toner cartridge model to see exactly how to reset this gear for your exact model. This trick is for use when you either refill a toner cartridge or you need to set the gear back a few notches when it hits it’s limitation of travel.

Third, most Brother printers have some sort of secret handshake to reset the toner life counter. It varies wildly by model of printer, so do a Google search for that as well. It’s usually some weird combination of button pushes in a sequence.

Here’s the information we use for our printers.

Brother DCP-9040CN Toner Reset

Model – DCP9040CN
Toner H – TN115
Toner S – TN110

1. With power on, open the toner access main door (You will get a “door open” message in the LCD.)
2. Hit the “Clear/Back” button and… ta-dah!!! you go right to the “Toner Reset Menu” (cue Vienna Boy’s choir sounds here).
3. Using the up ^ Down > “Search” arrow buttons, you can then scroll through reset options for each of the printer’s [4] toner cartridges!
Code: B. = black; C. = cyan; M. = magenta and Y. = yellow
4. For each for these cartridges is the option to reset for low yield = S (small?) or High Yield = H
5. Using the number keypad, select option #1 (to reset each to the size you have installed.
6. Hit the “Clear/Back” button to get out of the menu, close door ad the problem is FINALLY solved.


Brother HL-5250DN Toner Reset Sequence

Turn the printer off.
Hold the ‘go’ button while turning the printer on. All panel lights should be on.
Release the ‘go’ button.
Press the ‘go’ button 2 times.
Press the ‘go’ button 5 times.
The toner light should be off.
The paper light should be on.
Close cover. The ready light should be the only light on.


Whenever you replace a toner cartridge on a Brother, remember to power it OFF before replacing the cartridge, otherwise the mechanical reset wheel gets turned and the printer might think it’s got less toner than it should.


If you replace a drum in a Broth HL-5250DN, and the drum light stays on, do the following:
1. Open the door.
2. Remove the drum unit.
3. Press the GO button until all the lights come on in amber color.
4. Let go of the GO button.
5. Put the drum unit back in.
6. Close the door.

We also have an occasional problem where the Brother printers will reset their internal network configurations, which kicks them off our network and registers them as “Offline”. Here’s how I correct this problem:

1. Press the GO button 5 times really fast. This will produce a printout of the printer’s configuration.
2. Go to a computer on the same network, and enter the IP address of the printer into a web browser.
3. Click on the Network Configuration link at the top of the brother menu.
4. Enter “admin” as the login, and “access” as the password.
5. Change the configuration type to static, and assign a manual IP address that matches your print server settings.
6. Hit SAVE at the bottom.

I hope that these tips and updates are helpful for other Brother owners out there!

-Jassen Bowman

31 thoughts on “Brother Printer Toner Nightmares

  1. I have a Brother HL-2240 (prints black only) and bought a bottle of toner and an installation kit that included a reset gear and spring . The kit did not include instuctions for installation of the gear and spring . I had no problem with placeing the gear into the side of the (STARTER) cartrige that came with my printer by takeing off the old black gear cover and installing the new black gear cover. By experimenting with installing the spring into the plastic post that is not being used in differant ways I think I got it in the right way .Please let me know if anyone else has this problem

  2. Oh man, I tried everything with a ‘Print Unable 32′ message, low toner messages, etc… Resetting the gear, resetting the menus, finally got some duct tape and covered those pesky holes and Voila! perfection. Of course it’s the last thing I tried. I just couldn’t believe that a little light sensor would cause so many issues. Great information. From now on, TAPE OVER THE HOLES IMMEDIATELY UPON RECEIPT OF A TONER CARTRIDGE! Haha! Thanks dude. I will wait until the toner is ‘really’ out of toner to buy toner, when the I can’t read the print anymore :) Sweet!

  3. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are a prince among men and admins everywhere are grateful to you.

    Any chance you know how to get a toner cartridge to stop “spitting” when it prints?

  4. Great tips for the DCP 9040CN by reseting with the menu it stop showing the low toner warning.

    brother 9040CN como evitar que la impresora marque toner bajo incluso cuando se acaban de cambiar los cartuchos. entrar al menu y darle resetear al cartucho . como dice el articulo de arriba.

  5. I have an HL-2240 and just replaced the starter toner with a compatible toner cartridge. The printer worked well for the first 20 pages or so, but now won’t print. The Ready light is steady green, and the Toner light blinks on and off steadily…indicating low toner. Any advice on a fix?

    I didn’t turn the machine off to insert the new toner cartridge in the first place, but have since tried turning it off then on…no change. Any advice is most welcome!

  6. Thank you for the info. Were you suggesting that the printer should be powered down and shut off while replacing the toner on the mfc? just trying to get clear.

    1. Yes, if I recall correctly that was the case (sorry, it’s been a few years since I had that machine). Come to think of it, I think all the machines had to be powered down for doing all the funky stuff.

  7. I have not had the “replace toner” problem for my DCP 9040CN, but when I did actually replace the TN-115 BK with a non-Brother toner cartridge, I am getting black smudges down each side of my paper, and a generally light gray smokey look across the entire page! I have blown out the cradle, wiped the the cartridge, printed a bunch of pages in an effort to wear the smudges out,,, all to no avail. Suggestions??

  8. This is very helpful! I did as described a year ago and the new toner kit I bought is still waiting for the old ones to run dry!

    What a waste! That’s about the only bad thing with this otherwise very nice printer. And this is the fix.

    Thanks a lot!

  9. Thank you for the info on the printers – just what I was looking for. You have saved me many hours of browsing blogs…

  10. I have found that on my Laser printer (HL-3040CN) comes with “starter” toner cartridges. There is NOT a counter wheel to reset. I have installed new cartridges, and when they are “truely” out of toner, i will take the counter gear out of them, and install the gear in my “starter” cartridges to get another 1500 prints. This really upset me as of the 950 pages that went through my printer since i purchased it, 650 of them were printing ONE WORD on a form field 650 times. this used less than a half a gram of toner, and it cost me $350 to replace all toner cartriges. Brother just wants you to send in the old ones to recycle so they can empty out all the unused toner and put it in a new unit.

  11. wow, we are having the EXACT same problems at my office. we KNOW there is no way the toner is gone, but we can’t even print black & white until we “replace toner.” thanks sooooo much!

  12. My HL-3040CN produced the same problem but the toner couldn’t have been gone completely after printing only 250 pages. I found the following at

    Open the top cover, hit CANCEL and SECURE PRINT at the same time.

    At the display appears the toner cartridge menu.

    You can scroll up and down through the 4 cartridges (2 entries per color for some reason) and Press OK twice for each entry.

    HL-3040 shows “Accepted” for each reset.

    (Many thanks to Rex Anderson!)

  13. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    This gratefull little grandma can print again!

    Very interesting web page(s). And you even write poetry!

  14. Thank you so much for the post. I knew about the trick to cover the sensor, but I was not able to find out about the reset menu. In fact, I spent a few hours with Brother help who kept on telling me all I need is new genuine toner and sent me new toners, then new drum. Finally their service person came to replace other internal parts, but still same problem. I don’t think the service person knew about these reset menus. I was about to get a new printer as I am spending too much time. THANK YOU.

  15. omg these bastards (brother) are just out to make money!!lol covered those dam holes with whiteout! wala! no more”TONER LOW” messages….you’re a genius!! Thanks so much!:)

  16. GREAT!!! It worked!!!
    I spent only 55 cents for the electric tape and followed Schliff’s direction.
    I am so glad I tried!!! I feel smarter than those evil printer companies!!!

  17. Thank you you much to Jassen and Schiff (post on March 8). We are so furious at this toner problem. There is no way our toner was gone after so few pages had been printed. Followed Schiff’s advice and we are printing again. What a racket.

  18. this was the best news of the day, i filled the toner, but display said life end.
    found these instucktions, and “volla” everything works. thank you for putting it out here,


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