Canon Temporarily Abandons Smart Ink Cartridges

An unexpected side effect of the global semiconductor shortage came to light this week — Japanese printer manufacturer Canon announced they are temporarily going to provide consumable ink and toner cartridges without microchips. Furthermore, they provided instructions for consumers on how to bypass the printer’s logic, allowing it to function even when it incorrectly thinks the ink or toner is low. Included in the announcement (German), the company stated what most people already knew:

There is no negative impact on print quality when using consumables without electronic components.

It’s well known that many printer companies make their profit on the consumable cartridges rather than the printers themselves. And most printers require consumers to only use factory original cartridges, a policy enforced by embedded security ICs. Use a third-party ink cartridge and your printer will likely refuse to print. There are legitimate concerns about poor quality inks damaging the print heads. But with reports like this 2003 one from the BBC noting that 17% to 38% additional good quality pages can be printed after the consumable is declared “empty”, and that the price per milliliter of inks is seven times the cost of vintage champagne, one can reasonably conclude that these DRM-protected consumables are more about on ensuring profits than protecting the hardware.

For now, this announcement applies to German customers, and covers the Canon imageRunner family of multi-function printers (the complete list is in the company announcement above).

49 thoughts on “Canon Temporarily Abandons Smart Ink Cartridges

    1. I came here to say something similar. I like to equate tech to cars. Imagine a world where Ford or Chevy linked a computer to the gasoline intake and refused to turn on the pump unless the computer said it could.

      1. Give it another 10 years, and I promise, Ford and Chevy will shift their business model to subscription based. Telsa is leading the way by implementing compulsory on-board telemetrics. Eventually, as GM and Ford adopt these techs, all your actions will be recorded and regulated.

  1. I’ve had cheap ink clog up an Epson inkjet, but then I swore off inkjet printers as being a dead-end long ago – and laser toner seems to be a much more standard thing where generic cartridges work absolutely fine at a fraction of the cost.

    1. I was using original Brother laser toners, because I like their “free” recycling program. But, at some point, my printer started printing badly and after contacting them and searching for answers, it happened their toners were the cause.

      After switching for an alternative brand, the printer not only works perfectly again but the toners costs half and last longer.

    2. Except that all laser printers have problem with emissions of toxic particulates, ozone and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, especially benzo-a-pyrene. I’d rather buy a new ink cartridge every couple of months rather than get cancer and die before turning 40.

        1. I just turned 39, and the specter of turning 40 now torments me every day. I was thinking of taking up smoking to maybe have something new to enjoy and to get this over with a little faster. Maybe I’ll start by 3D printing some ashtrays.

      1. Used my first laser printer in 1988 but I fought hard to break the habit, and turned to inkjet. True confession – I relapsed, however, at my advanced age it seems that an early death is unlikely.

      2. I remember Kyocera LED Laser printers (ecosys) used to pride themselves on low PM emissions.

        I am very curious about this (I still occasionally use a laser at home).

        I’ reasonable well versed on the respiratory effects of PM and also (biological) environmental toxins in the 100 – 300 nm range.

        Please share you knowledge.

      3. Hey, I’m 66, and life is fine even though I spent the first ten years of my career working on toner-based copiers and printers for (large company whose name starts with X and ends with X). Just lucky, I guess.

    3. I’ve had problems with some cheap ink, but even slightly better priced ink seems fine in my canon, and colour rendering is fine. And AliExpress seems to have no problems sourcing canon’s DRM chips :)

      Lasers – at least at small business price-points – don’t do a great job for graphics (except diagrams).

      1. Yeah, but at small-business price points are you really talking about these kinds of inkjets? I mean, if you’re talking about an office printer you’d be nuts to not go with a bulk-ink printer and there’s no DRM there (well, at least on some).

    4. > being a dead-end

      Lasers still don’t print as well, because the white comes from the paper, so you end up with prints that appear like glossy stickers, and it doesn’t achieve as fine a raster as spraying droplets because the pattern is not random.

      Photo and graphics printing using pigment inks is still superior by far for the range of paper stock and finishes you can achieve. If you’re just printing text and business graphics, inkjets truly have no point.

      1. “If you’re just printing text and business graphics, inkjets truly have no point.”

        Except cost per page…? If you don’t mind the speed difference (and the fact that they’re slightly less reliable long-term) the “large tank” inkjets are by far the cheapest print options out there, and not significantly different in up-front purchase price than laser printers.

        Adding a low-end laser printer for speedy documents can make up that gap as well.

  2. Just waiting for the ink itself to be the thing that’s locked and not the cartridge.
    Nano antenna’s in the ink cause the particles to change colour when they receive a certain frequency. Technically possible. We have DNA baced antennas now and imagine a DNA version of the great deal bug, but with a protein switch.

      1. It’s the printer that’s DRM locked so no off-brand cartridges. That’s the point, force you to buy official Canon cartridges which are the only ones with a special chip to satisfy the DRM… at least until they run out of chips. The cartridge being DRMed doesn’t help by itself, in face it pushes the cost of manufacturing a cartridge up by a cent/penny.

  3. “these DRM-protected consumables are more about on ensuring profits than protecting the hardware”

    That sounds very negative. But it’s just a business model! The hardware is practically given away, but in return they want to generate constant income from the consumables. In doing so, they try to keep “parasitic” providers off their necks with the help of DRM. Completely legitimate. Of course you don’t have to _like_ this business model (I don’t like it either). But as long as we buy these products, nothing will change.

    1. There are plenty of legally defensible but morally questionable business models out there. I don’t think that emphasizing their legitimacy as business models is particularly worth oxygen unless using that to call attention to why such business models are still allowed.

      1. And the thing is… In the end, a printer is a bunch of steppers and a head with inkjets. It also has a protocol for its data. Etc.

        How hard is it *really* to replace the electronics with open-source electronics and firmware?

        Quite a lot easier than to put a complete C64 into an FPGA, I would think.

        It’s basically telling, that nobody is doing it. It means that the price of the ink cartridges is still low enough for people to maybe complain, but not take any action. I.e. the price is acceptable to everyone.

        1. “It means that the price of the ink cartridges is still low enough for people to maybe complain, but not take any action. I.e. the price is acceptable to everyone.”

          I dunno, I think it’s more like “there’s an easy alternative.” If you’re smart enough to be able to control a printer with electronics yourself, you’re also smart enough to realize that a $200 printer with dirt-cheap ink is cheaper than a $50 printer with expensive cartridges.

        2. weeel.. look at flatbed and film scanners. basically they all convert light into pixels and yet almost all scanners differ in soft and firmware, even for just one brand. they consist of a light source, lens, lineair ccd, mirrors, steppers and drivers, programmable AD converter, fpga for pumping the bits to the host and controlling the steppers. and yes they all differ.

        3. I think you’re saying it all boils down to cost, and for each consumer considered individually it generally does. That doesn’t necessary make a business model morally sound.

        4. Look up “Winprinters”. They had no “brains” in the printer at all, aside from drivers for the stepper motors and the ink nozzles. All the defining of where to spray the ink and controlling the motors was done by the driver software running in Windows. It made the printers dirt cheap but printing could be extremely slow on a slow PC as the RIP (Raster Image Processor) in the driver converted what was to be printed into a big bitmap to stream to the printer.

          “Winprinters” can be identified pretty easily. They have no built in self test or nozzle check print that can be done without being connected to a computer with the printer software installed.

          Those printers are only supported by Windows. They aren’t and won’t be supported by Linux unless someone writes software that can do all the functions the Windows driver does. I could see something like a universal RIP plus individual interfaces between the RIP and each model of printer so all the driver for each printer would have to do is direct where to spray the ink and move the paper.

          Then there were the not quite so dumb printers that do have some built in functionality, and can do simple calibration and nozzle check prints without being connected to a computer. Some of those do have Linux support.

  4. What bypass? Did Chris Lott read the article before making assumptions about DRM lockouts? The printer just whines at you saying it isn’t an authentic cartridge so toner level tracking won’t work but it still allows printing. The Canon page is only telling you to acknowledge that warning.

    1. I was going to say something along those lines. I made sure I’d be able to refill my cartridges before I bought my canon (it was the cheapest available)
      I’m eventually going to get a laser printer too, and I can assure you, I’m not planning to be pay a premium for toner haha

  5. My Lexmark color laser is even worse: it literally won’t let you print if it decides the cartridge has printed enough (each cartridge has a little fram chip to log pages printed even if you remove and reinsert.) Fortunately folks have cloned their chip – I have an aftermarket cartridge the printer thinks is genuine. (Yes, it keeps a log of how many genuine, genuine return program, refilled, and third party cartridges it has seen)

    And because it’s a laser, there’s very little in the way of “magic” in the ink/toner. (Not like inkjet ink which I guess is more complicated?) So there’s no real reason the printer should be so picky… But it’s probably too much to ask for Lexmark to do a similar “screw the smart consumables” on this printer – different company, older printer.

    And on top of it, the firmware is Linux based but the source download server is dead so I can’t get my gpl source code…

  6. DNA based antenna works on visible light, IR or UV.
    For radio wavelenght, antenna smaller than 1mm requires a very high EM field to create useful output.

    No need to use such high tech thing, just add a pigment that is UV sensitive and fades over time. You then need to pay for a spray fluid or gas that reveal again the document.
    Brand it with “The new ink that allow old paper to be reused” with a 2nd catchphrase “Always have vibrant colours using our new ShineSpray”

  7. Figures it is not in the US and not on all printers. I have come to the conclusion after fighting with them for decades that ink jets suck anyway, with some exceptions. Those are.. The wide format ones that are roll feed and if you use them all the time, they are cool and work well. Had once of the first 36″ onces and once we got the postsript ripper working (not an easy feat back in those days) we printed literally miles of paper with that thing and it ran great. I will also grant the small inkjets can work OK if you use them all the time, but the fly in the ointment is they cost a lot to feed and are not built for that kind of service. The other exception are the Epson 8 color photo printers. Amazing photo colors, but at a high cost. Both the ink is pricy and the Epson uses a pizeo head that is very prone to clogging if not used… All the time,, And at least in the past they were not field replaceable. Given the small amount of printing I do, I just love my laser. She can sit there for months on end in low power mode and snap to life and give me a nice looking print in a second.

    1. I’ve had the best luck with Canon inkjets. I have a Canon ip4920 that has at times sat for over a year between uses and all it’s ever required is to run the short cleaning cycle to get it going.

      I bought this model because it came with disc printing capability. It replaced another Canon inkjet that was capable of disc printing but for the North American market Canon decided none of their printers able to print onto CD-R and DVD-R would be able to do so.

      Somehow Phillips was able to charge a license fee for printing onto discs for years after all the patents they held on that size of optical disc had expired. So Canon made their printers with different modes in the firmware, some with disc printing enabled, some with it enabled. They also replaced the rollers in the disc tray slot with a plain plastic piece. So for a while it was a big thing to buy the roller part to install, and the disc tray, then get the printer into service mode and change its mode to enable disc printing. Support for disc printing was in the drivers for all languages/regions. Didn’t even have to reinstall the driver once disc printing was enabled.

      So apparently between the release of that printer and the ip4920, Canon told Phillips where they could shove their license fee.

      I’ve hardly printed any discs on the ip4920 but I did a large number on the “hacked” older model.

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