Hints & Tips

‘Intelligent’ printers that ramp up ink costs

The intelligent "chipped" printers and copiers which have recently been brought to market by well-known manufacturers like Hewlett Packard, Lexmark and Epsom are designed specifically to prevent users refilling cartridges, a factor which will cost companies €1,000 more per year per 10 employees according to a print specialist. This amounts to €5,000 for a staff of 50 or €10,000 for 100 users.

"Not only is this practice anti-competitive but it's also working against the environment given that refilling existing cartridges is far more ecofriendly," says Mark Fielding of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME).

"I would advise businesses to check first when buying a printer or copier to see whether it contains this function or not. If businesses have complaints, they can contact us — if there are enough complaints we will see if we can take further action."

The new intelligent printers and copiers have already caused consternation and litigation in the US and Britain because they "read" what print ink or toner is being used and prevent the device from working if the cartridges are refilled — a standard practice which costs a lot less than buying new cartridges each time. Some models also prevent the use of new cartridges other than those recommended by the manufacturer which are usually among the most expensive.


Linking themselves to the Internet, the printers also "spy" on their users by registering ink consumption and printer use habits and reporting back to the manufacturer via the internet.

Stephen Tracey, who runs The Cartridge Shop, one of the country's largest printer supply chains, says the new breed of machines are just the latest step in a war that has raged for 20 years.

"You'll find that after a few months someone will come up with a way to bypass the software to allow cheaper cartridges to be accepted. Eventually they'll find a way of reintroducing refill ink. But the latest machines are craftier again.

"The user gets a message on his computer to 'update' his or her printer software and a new version of the blocker is downloaded and kicks in. They say that printer ink is a more expensive commodity by weight than gold or fine champagne.

"That may be down to the manufacturers who are now selling printers for €29 when a refill costs €49. The ink is where they make the money."

Tracey estimates that an average small company employing five people will use €100 per month buying new cartridges but just €10 per month using refills — the more usual choice of businesses.

A specialist in the print sector, who did not want to be named, said that some chains have already figured out how to circumvent the new range of chipped printers by fooling the machines into thinking the cartridges are continuously almost empty.

Traditionally copy and printer companies have claimed that forcing users to buy their own ink cartridges is necessary for the best running of the printer. While ink distributors say there is a small element of truth in this, they point to such machines which have run happily for years using far cheaper 'unofficial' inks and toners.

– Mark Keenan, Irish Independent

Mid-Island Ink Depot’s advice: Don't update your printer software unless you really need to!