Inkjet Vendors — Yet Again — Look Scammy

from the empty's-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder dept

As we’ve highlighted in the past, a number of old, random Techdirt posts manage to still attract plenty of traffic — and comments — thanks to the wonder of search engines. A recent example was a post on Amazon Prime, which apparently led plenty of people to believe that we were to blame for charging $79 to their credit cards. But that post still has a ways to go to catch up to a 2003 post about inkjet printer manufacturers getting upset about people buying ink from third-party suppliers. One of the early comments in that post mentioned how some HP printer cartridges “expire” a certain time period after they’re manufactured, regardless of how much ink they have left, and the comments have since turned into a list of people looking for ways to circumvent the expiration. More than four years later, it still manages to attract several comments per month. Of course, this isn’t the only thing inkjet vendors have done to annoy their customers and keep ink prices inflated. They’ve misused the DMCA to try and shut down third-party ink vendors, claimed that refilling their cartridges is patent infringement, pressured retailers not to sell cheaper third-party cartridges, and otherwise used intimidation and harrassment to stifle competition. Meanwhile, other printer makers actually try to compete by focusing on making their ink cheaper.

Now comes news that’s likely to further irritate consumers: inkjets say their cartridges are empty well before they’re actually empty. It should be noted that the study was sponsored by Epson, which — of course — came out as the “best”. However, even its cartridges only used 80 percent or so of their total ink before saying they were empty. Some are arguing that the study, overall, is pretty meaningless because it doesn’t consider the actual cost per page of different printers and cartridges. That may be true, though it’s still hard not to see this as yet another dirty trick by inkjet vendors, intended to prop up the market and inflate sales.

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Comments on “Inkjet Vendors — Yet Again — Look Scammy”

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Sanguine Dream says:


DRM on ink cartradges? Although I guess it would be CRM (Cartridge Rights Management) since there is nothing digital in this case.

It really bothers me that businesses are so wrapped up in their desire for short term profit that they don’t realize they can make a much larger long term profit by actually serving the customers. But why compete when you can just buy a few laws and force everyone to shop from you?

dave says:


Have a CX6400.
The PCB on the side of the ink cartridge only houses some memory. There is absolutely NO provision to actually measure ink levels in the cartridges.
Additionally, there is no page count ap to keep track of how long your cartridges actually last.
Lastly, this machine is an all-in-one.
When it says a cartridge is out of ink, then all printer functions are stopped. Yes, cant even SCAN is your ink is out.
Last Epson product I will ever purchase, forever…..

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) says:

Re: epson

I have CX6600 all-in-one. The cartridges seem pretty well expired but I like to use my ink until I actually start to lose print quality. In fact, I got included in a settlement that Epson was sued for this very reason. Turns out they gave me $45 to their e-store. Thanks for one black cartridge. I would have rather had them write some code to change the way the ink level tracking software works by allowing the user to change his ink when he wants, not by disabling printing. Sure, it might damage the printheads to run out of ink, but I’m free to do what I want, aren’t I? Comment #7 states he bought something to reset the chip on the cartridge so I know it can be done. Too bad the idiot lawyers of the settlement didn’t think about that. They got their money though.

Ferin says:

Re: epson

Just for reference, most companies just set a page count limit. They test the cartridges, look for an average page count slightly before the quality starts to degrade, then call that empty. Even if there’s nothing on the cartridge the printer keeps an internal count, but we actually saw some of the newer printers using tiny RFID chips to register the cartridges and keep track of which ones it had “used”.

lar3ry says:

The answer: Don't Print

It’s well known that ink is vastly overpriced relative to its cost, and that printers are being sold at less than cost in order to quickly recoup the cost in ink supplies. That’s been the case for years, and it doesn’t look like the playing field is going to change very much (Kodak’s new printers notwithstanding).

If you run your printer on Linux (assuming you have a driver that produces good output–big assumption, I know), you don’t have to worry about the crapware that the printer manufacturers insist on installing on your system… (“200 Mb+ to install a bloody printer driver? Are you kidding me?”)

Best bet is to ignore the printer ink warnings, and run the cartridge until you notice that its out of ink. Yeah, you’ll waste a page or two, but you won’t be removing a half-full cartridge, either.

Some other things to consider…

– Do you really have to print that email that your niece sent you? Hard disk space is much cheaper storage than paper, and this has been true since 1990.

– Do you really need to print that memo in color? Black ink is the cheapest, and if you don’t lose any information in greyscale, don’t bother with the color.

– Why print your photographs? Printer ink is no substitute for actual print chemicals. Your digital images are much better suited for desktop wallpapers, digital albums, uploading to Flckr, etc. If you REALLY need a copy of that picture for your wallet or to mount on your wall, pony up the buck or so to get it printed at a print shop (probably your best bet), or even at your local Wal*Mart.

– If you are a student at school, see if your teacher will accept your assignment on a CD-ROM (very cheap nowadays), or upload it to his/her system via a USB key drive. Just realize that if you send them a Microsoft .DOC file, they can probably track your changes if they are clever enough (although that could also be used as proof that you actually did your own homework…!)

We are living in the digital age. Printers are a technology that keeps us rooted in the days when “the paperless office” was the catchword of the era (think: 1980s). EMail works fine nowadays for most things… spend your money on paper only during the exceptional times only when it is absolutely necessary.

Oh… and keep buying those 250/320/500 GB USB drives when they go on sale. All that stuff you aren’t printing anymore will start to add to your data storage requirements, and (of course!) you need a good backup solution…!

(Disclaimer: I used to work for HP, although I don’t think anything I said would work out in their favor…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The answer: Don't Print

“Best bet is to ignore the printer ink warnings, and run the cartridge until you notice that its out of ink. Yeah, you’ll waste a page or two, but you won’t be removing a half-full cartridge, either.”

Thats not a good idea on Epson and Canon printers. The printheads are on the printer itself not the cart. If you try to print out a page with little to no ink you run the risk of burning out your Printhead.

Anonymous Coward says:

I swear by Canon printers, seeing as they fairly consistently have lower TCO than any Epson, HP, or especially Lexmark/Dell unit. However, they are not without fault.

The old Canon S450 I used to have had a very annoying driver issue. When the printer determined that an ink cartridge was empty, it not only refused to print anymore, but when you clicked “OK” to get rid of the dialog box, it popped right back on the screen. Furthermore, it refused to be hidden behind any other windows!!! I finally had to run to Walmart and buy a stupid cartridge just to shut the thing up.

That printer finally died due to lack of use, and now I have a Pixma iP3000, a very nice printer. It has improved greatly in this respect. When it tells me the ink is empty, it will give me the option to continue printing, but not without spitting out a very stern warning about the possibility of severely damaging the printer in some fashion if you choose to do so. I can’t honestly believe the technology is that touchy.

The HP LaserJets at work will keep on printing until the page comes out totally blank, and still never say a word about running out of toner. Why can’t inkjets operate this way? If somebody is so stupid that they can’t figure out when a cartridge is running empty due to missing colors, they shouldn’t be allowed near ANY piece of technology.

Ferin says:

Re: Re:

Just a note, Canon was what we recommended to all our customers. They were the easiest and most hassel free to own, use and refill, and as a company they gave us and other resellers the least trouble. The worst they ever said about resellers that I know of was that they wouldn’t garuntee the quality of prints made with refilled cartridges. Just be sure to get one with a fixed print head, and not one of the new cheapy ones that uses HP like cartridges.

Mingler says:

What ever happened to...

What ever happened to being able to print black and white using the black cartridge… I have the HP D7300 which after a certain time forces you to replace color cartridges even if you want to print in just black and white. It actually states that it needs to be replaced to avoid mechanical damage!

Also, beware of the special deals involving photo paper and a complete set of cartridges, they all come with different amounts of ink in them and certain ones always run out before the others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What ever happened to...

Arrrrggghhh! I hate that. We have an HP DN3700 that does the same thing and its such an aggrevation. A few months ago one of the color cartridges ran out on a Friday. We didn’t have a replacement, we live in the boonies so no swinging by (name of large chain of stores) to pick one up and we couldn’t get one until next monday. Talk about being pissed off.

Dosquatch says:

Re: What ever happened to...

I don’t know about other manufacturers, but even for “just black” HP is using the color cart in addition to black. It’s actually a CYMK muddle. I have no idea why, there seems to be no advantage to this, except perhaps to burn through ink faster (advantage: HP).

Ferin says:

Re: Re: What ever happened to...

The technical reason cited to me when i was refilling them was that using a mixture of inks or pgiments created a richer black that showed up better across a range rof lighting conditions, especially on glossy photo prints, where a single black ink would often show red or blue under certain lighting.

Anonymous Coward says:

A little angry...

I’m just pissed that you can now buy a printer for cheaper than the ink cartridge you need to put in it to print.

When my last printer died about 5 years ago I came to same conclusion that commentor #7 did, I quit printing. And after about six months I realized that honestly didn’t need to print much of anything and the litte that I don print I can print at work with no bother but even when I do it might be 10-25 pages a year.

The ink manufacturers are just taking a page from the RIAA/MPAA handbook. They know that for the most part people are printing less and less (at least at home anyway) and they need some way to stay afloat. They’re conclusion (just like the RIAA/MPAA) is to force the customers to do business on their terms and cry foul when someone beats them at their own game. I for one won’t stand for it even though I’m only one person I vote with my money and don’t buy printers anymore and the only music buy is non-RIAA or used. And I can’t think of the last time I bought a movie thanks to Blockbuster Online.

Angry Rivethead says:


There’s more than enough old laserjets out on the market used. Go buy one or acquire one from a business that is paying someone to throw it away. If you get a laserjet 4 or newer with at least a half-full toner cartridge…you’ll NEVER have to worry about buying anything other than paper EVER.

Printing pictures is best left up to the professionals. They look better and are more cost effective.

Matthew says:

HP and Lexmark the worst violators.

When it comes to screwing people over inks, HP and Lexmark take the cake. These two companies have engaged in every possible unethical way to squeeze blood out of customers. I urge you folks to write in to these companies as I have done, and boycott their products. At least they don’t have a monopoly for the time being.

Ferin says:

Yeah, I worked at cartridge world for a year and three months, refilling laser and ink cartridges. It always amazed my boss and I how much ink and toner was left in the damn things when they registered as empty, and especially how may were protected by layers and layers of chips and registrations to keep people from using them up or using them again.

For reference, I put about 100 grams of toner in the average HP cartridge, but I’d usualy end up cleaning out about 25 to 30 grams worth on “empty cartridges. Some of that’s due to the technology and the way toner works, (toner’s actually pretty fascinating stuff) but a lot was just due to the printer companies setting an arbitrary page count limit.

HP even sued our the corporation to keep us from using a yellow ink that was to close to the formula they used for #78 cartridges.

To be fair though, I will say that there are some good reasons not to let the consumer use up all the ink. In Canon and Epson printers at least, most of their models simply have a removable tank, the print head stays in the printer. If you fire off the peizo electric inkjets without ink in them you actually can do a lot of damage very quickly. Thsi is due to how the jets are designed, and also the possibility of drying ink inside the jet wells, which basically ruins them. So I can give thema pass on some of it, but yeah, a lot of the crap they pull is just extortion.

PJ Smith says:

My professional experiences...

As a graphic designer has exposed me to a LOT of different ink and printer types. I would highly recommend any of the Canon printers with the separate ink tanks. Easy to refill most of all, and so much better in the respect that when one color runs low, you don’t have to replace a cartridge that still has plenty of the other colors. I will have to confirm the thing with burning out heads, though, because I have done it before. When the When you run a very small flow of ink througk the piezoelectric print heads, it will bake right in…and you’ll have permanent white lines on everything you print.

Eric says:

I had a Canon S9000, a 6 ink printer with separate tanks for each. Nice printer that we thought we’d use for printing only the pictures we wanted copies of. Bought Canon photo paper. After a while, we realized that the cost of printing was twice the cost of uploading to Sam’s Club or Walmart. Sold the printer on eBay, and including most of the photo paper we’d bought, got half our money back, which I suppose brought our cost per print under a dollar a print. Since we didn’t need photo printing anymore, and if we ever need color copies, going to Kinkos will be cheaper than buying a printer and ink, we decided to go laser.

I found a Samsung SCX-4100 (printer, scanner, copier) for under a hundred bucks with “Buy it now” on eBay. I got this machine because it supports Linux on AMD64 and I haven’t regretted the purchase. The scanner quality is excellent. I found that I could by new 3rd party compatible cartridges for under $40 if I buy at least 3. I then found that if I bump up the quality (or turn off the toner saving) it will continue to print decent quality for things that nobody will see but me with the old cartridge, and we’ll use one of the new ones for a newsletter my wife prints. When it wears down, it will be used for personal printing. This is a bit inconvenient, but saves a lot of money. The only problem with this Printer is the Samsung scanner driver requires root access to run the device.

Matthew says:

Third Party Ink Vendors

So if I fill my empty Gatorade bottle with Powerade, is Gatorade going to sue Powerade? Is Dell going to sue Lite-On if I take their CD-ROM drive out and put in a DVD+-RW? Make ink cheaper, let us use all of the ink that’s in the cartridge, and honestly who cares what ink we’re using, as long as we’re using your printer…

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