Inkjet Scam Uncovered

Glen Taylor writes: I enjoyed your recent articles on the cost of inkjet cartridges. I'd like to share my own insight into what has become a "scam" in my eyes.

I've been a big fan of HP products since 1989 when we bought our first laser printer (the LaserJet Series II) which is still being used. Anyway, I've gone through a succession of HP printers since then.

My current personal printer is the DeskJet 812C (very similar to the 842C currently heavily discounted in BC). Since I'm working from home now, I'm printing more and more, and the cost of ink cartridges is becoming prohibitive.

I read the article that observed that the cost per page of ink cartridges seems to be inversely proportional to the cost of the printer model. In other words, the cheaper the printer purchase price, the more expensive the ink cartridges (by ink volume) end up being.

So, I started checking around. My 812C takes a #15 HP black ink cartridge. It contains 25 ml of ink and sells for approximately C$44.99. It never goes on sale and it is never available in promotional '2' packs.

I realized that only a couple HP printers use this cartridge (Editor's note: actually, HP has been busy adding models to this "sucker" line). Most other HP printers use a #45 black ink cartridge. It contains 42 ml of ink (almost double the quantity) and sells for somewhere between C$38 ($75.99 for a '2' pack) and C$42.99 depending on the deal. This cartridge looks the same as the #15.

I asked HP if I can use the #45 in my printer and was told that the electronics and print head are different - it won't work.

Then, I bought an after market "Ink Again" refilled cartridge that claimed to be  "double the ink" specifically for my 812C. They claimed it contained 42 ml of ink. I paid $49.99 ($8 more than the original HP #45) at London Drugs. I've never had any luck with  refilled cartridges and this was no exception. Print quality was poor.

But I became suspicious when I noticed that one of the copper contacts on the Ink Again cartridge had been covered with tape. Also, it came with instructions to ignore any dialog boxes that said that the "wrong printer cartridge was installed". Now I'm really suspicious.

So I returned the after market cartridge and bought an HP #45 ink cartridge. I taped over the same contact and installed it in my 812C. It works perfectly!! And no error messages from the print driver.

So now I suspect that Ink Again is selling a refilled #45 cartridge (with the HP label cut away) with one contact covered, for the 812C printer for $8 to $14 more than the original thing from HP! My test seems to bear this out.

So, it's all a scam. Owners of 812C and 842C printers are being conned by HP to pay a higher price for cartridges that contain roughly half the ink. So far, I can't see any difference in print quality on my printer and have had no problems. I have not tried this with the contact uncovered.

I am using USB connection, so I have no two-way communication between the printer and the print driver. Don't know what would happen on an LPT port. Would the print driver refuse to print? (I doubt it - Ed.)

Here is a diagram that shows which contact to cover. 'X' marks the spot:

000  X00
000  000
000  000
000  000
00    00
00    00
00    00
00    00
00    00
00    00
00    00


Please try this out yourself if you have access to an 842C or 812C printer. If it works for you too, spread the word! We've been ripped off long enough.

Glen C. Taylor
Coquitlam, BC

Editor's Note: We have verified that this technique works with the above-noted cartridges on these models, with the important caveats noted in the paragraph labeled "important," below. However, we have also received a few reports that this trick does not work. Many of the reports are from owners of 9x0 series printers. We posted a request on this page at that time, asking readers to try this trick with new cartridges (e.g., with a cartridge and/or printer purchased since Dec. 2002), and let us know if the trick still works. Happily, we've received dozens of positive reports from 8xx series owners since then. So, there's every indication that, if the technique described above doesn't work for you, it's probably because you're doing something wrong -- and not because HP has changed something to circumvent the use of these unauthorized cartridges. If you have updated information you think adds value to this report, please let us know.

Here's a summary of reports we've received:

  • DeskJet 940C = does not work
  • OfficeJet v40  = does not work
  • DeskJet 920 series  = does not work
  • DeskJet 845 = works
  • DeskJet 812c = works
  • DeskJet 842c = works

Important: There is compelling evidence that print quality is reduced by blocking the electrical contact on the cartridge. In essence, some of the nozzle jets are turned off when the electrical contact is taped. Markus Wandel, the author of the article at mentions that this can be seen when a self test is performed. We are not aware of any other problems or issues that could affect reliability of the printer. (Thanks to Jef Horne for this link.)

See also: Markus Wandel's write-up of how these cartridges actually work. Elsewhere, Norm Lyon has posted some macro closeups of a colour print head on his page.

In what appears to be a separate issue, The Inquirer reports that some HP inkjet cartridges have built-in expiry dates.

Here's a snip from the Apr.29, 2003 report:

PRINTER GIANT HP has built in time limits for its inkjet printer cartridges which means machines may stop working even if the consumable has 75% ink let to go.

A corporate user who has an HP BusinessJet 2200C, an expensive model with separate ink cartridges and printer heads for black and CYM, said his printer stopped working earlier this week with the message: "Cyan Ink Cartridge has expired".

And that has led to the discovery that the only fix for this cunning consumables plan is to either set systems to dates in the past or, you guessed it, go change the cartridge or buy a new one.

HP has told him that the date printed on the ink cartridge is not the expiry date, and that is determined either by a cartridge being in the printer for 30 months, or the cartridge is 4.5 years old, whichever comes first.

The date on the cartridge, which you'd every reason to think was the expiry date if you didn't know, is 2.5 years after it was manufactured.

There are oblique references to this on the HP site. On this page, for example, one message runs "Cart near expiry". HP attempts to explain this away by saying "nearly expired" cartridges don't give "optimum" printer quality. They do, however, give optimum profits on the consumables.

It appears that it's not only Hewlett Packard that's monitoring inkjet cartridge refills because reports now indicate Epson also has a similar system. More on Epson's ink level monitoring chip @ The Inquirer...

For further reading:

  • 07/12/01  "Guzzlejet" printers: How much do they really cost? - The purchase price of a "low cost" inkjet can be deceiving. Updated.
  • 07/14/01  Refilling Inks - a reader report on how to refill ink cartridges. Updated with links to refilling instructions for many popular models.
  • 05/21/02 The Register: EU probes HP over ink prices
  • 05/29/02 Detroit News: a Minnesota appellate court has reinstated a lawsuit against the world's largest maker of printers after three Minnesota women claimed that the company doesn't reveal that the 'economy cartridges' installed on new printers are only half full of ink. Read More...