Printers, printers, printers…

Very recently (due mainly due to finding out that Epson and HP printers are the most well supported within the Linux community), I decided it was time to spring for another printer. Unfortunately, things have changed since I last looked. Printer manufacturers really don’t like the prospect of people filling their own cartridges, and are making things even more difficult than before. For example, there used to be a way to reset  the ink warning on most HP cartridges with a couple pieces of tape. That’s now gone, so if you refill those cartridges, you have to live with the warning. Even Canon has started “chipping” their cartridges.

The days of “simply” refilling your own cartridges are coming to an end. The manufacturers are making it harder and harder, and eventually, everyone (except the most die-hard of users) are probably going to have to resort to either the real-deal “genuine ink”, or OEM replacement cartridges.

As time goes on, I suspect that the printer manufacturers are going to make the cartidges increasingly complex. After all, why put additional circuitry within the printer when you can stick it in a new line of cartridges and make them even harder for the OEM replacement companies to replicate?

Now before someone decides to “inform” me that there are a lot of good reasons for all the changes to the cartridges, let me educate you…

All you really need in a cartridge is something to measure the remaining ink. That’s it. Everything else can be accomplished by circuitry within the printer. Sure, you could get fancy and measure the properties of the ink. For example if the ink has dried or thickened to the point where it won’t flow properly through the print heads, it could transmit that information to the printer. Or if the ink is a slightly different shade (or has for some reason faded in color), that might be something worth detecting and transmitting to the printer. But everything else can be done by the printer itself.

Assuming you agree with that, on to the methods of detecting the level of ink. When you break it down, you can measure one of two things:

  • How much ink is in the cartridge, based on how much ink is in the cartridge; or,
  • How much ink is in the cartridge, based on how much as been used

Now for some reason, some printer manufacturers have decided that the latter is the “best” way to decide when you have run out of ink. Now unless they’re detecting the temperature of the ink as it’s used (volume changes with temperature), as well as a multitude of other things, they’re not 100% exact. Of course, they’re close enough, but one would (correctly) think that when trying to determine how much ink is left in the cartridge, the best way would be to measure how much is left. I mean, the gas gauge in your car doesn’t tell you how much gas you’ve used, right? It tells you how much is left.

There is a reason they measure the way they do… To keep cartridges from being refilled. That’s it. I challenge anyone to give me another reason that they believe to be the truth. Sure, by measuring the amount used, they could probably come up with a pretty close figure of how many picoliters of ink is left in your cartridge, but you don’t need to know how many picoliters is left. You simply need to know when your cartridge is getting low, and when it’s so close to being empty that it may as well be. That can be accomplished with a transparant cartridge and optical sensors within the printer. That would of course make the cartridge cheaper to produce, but easier to refill, which is why printer manufacturers have decided to go with the current methods.

All that said, I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with what they’re doing. It’s simply good business. Think of it this way, what is McDonalds in the business of doing? If you said “selling burgers”, you’re wrong. They’re in the drink business. They make much more money off the Coke you bought with your meal than they did with the burger. Similarly, Canon, Epson, HP, Lexmark, and others aren’t in the printer business – they’re in the ink business. Sure, they need good printers to sell the ink, just as McDonalds needs good burgers to sell their drinks, but the fact is that ink is what subsidizes the low printer costs, and what pulls in the real cash. That said, I still don’t think having to pay $10-50 for ink that costs a few cents to make is remotely fair, and until that changes (raise the initial printer cost if you must), I’m sticking with refills and OEM cartridges as long as I possibly can.

Just a little food for thought.