/ Technology

Has a printer update rendered your cartridges redundant?

Printer software update

You fire up your PC, turn on your printer and send a file to print and then… ‘cartridge not recognised’. The printer won’t print. So what’s changed since yesterday? You may be the latest victim of a printer update.

Third-party ink cartridges are generally a fraction of the price of printer-branded inks, but we’ve heard reports of printer updates rendering these cartridges unusable.

We asked Which? members to share their printing problems and a number of them sounded like they related to software updates. However, with some printers set to automatically update, it can be hard to pin a specific problem to a specific update. Ian C told us:

‘I bought compatible inks. After a few weeks they suddenly stopped working, with a message saying they were incompatible. Replaced them with new ones but had the same problem.’

Tony G had a similar experience:

‘Lo and behold, my printer has started rejecting – that is, not printing when I use third-party cartridges – but when I then replace them with printer-branded ones it seems to work fine.’

We tried updating the firmware on three second-hand printers in our lab and the printers worked just as well with third-party ink before updating as they did afterwards. So updates won’t always stop your cartridges from being recognised.

HP printers rejecting ink cartridges

However, there have been some very recent victims. Just last week we heard a number of reports from members whose HP printers have stopped working with the third-party inks.

Mr White’s printer ink cartridges have been affected by the latest update:

‘I own an HP 3055A printer which uses the popular 301 cartridge, today I changed the cartridges and find that the printer will no longer print as it detects that a non-HP cartridge has been installed. A printer update was reported as being available from HP when I turned the printer on – on the 7 March – and I updated prior to installing the new cartridges. After installing the new cartridge the information screen on the printer showed the message “incompatible cartridge detected”.’

Rob Stone has also suffered at the hands of a recent update to his HP Officejet 6600 and said:

‘I’ve been using third-party inks with no issues for several months. It was when I accidentally ran an HP update from my PC that the problem occurred. The error message said “There is a problem with the printer ink or system. Turn printer off, then on. If problem persists, contact HP”. It prevents me from moving to any other menu on the printer.’

Your right to use third-party printer inks

As iPhone 6 users suffering at the hands of the ‘Error 53’ message know only too well, update issues aren’t only a problem for printers. But, fortunately for affected phone users, Apple released a fix.

It may not be quite so simple to roll back a printer update. We’ve previously spoken to printer manufacturers about software updates, with Brother, Canon and Epson telling us that reverting to a previous firmware version wasn’t usually possible at all. HP stood out from the crowd by saying that you could roll ball its updates, but it’s not an obvious or simple process.

In light of this latest glut of update issues, we’ve approached HP to find out what’s causing the problem and whether it’ll be possible for those affected to get their printers working with their inks again.

You absolutely should be able to choose to use third-party ink in your printer. The big consumer printer brands have all signed up to a voluntary agreement which includes a provision around not preventing third-party ink from being used in their printers.

If you’ve suffered a ‘printerruption’ as result of a printer software update – or which you suspect is as a result of a recent update – we want to hear about it.

Scott Dippel says:
17 August 2020

I have an EPSON XP-4100 and I was tired of spending too much for their brand name ink, especially since the color inks were being used up even for black ink printing. After making sure it was compatible, I bought G&G third party ink for use with my XP-4100. It worked until a firmware update message came up on my printer. Once I completed the update the ink cartridges would not work anymore. It’s my understanding that it’s illegal for companies to stop the use of third party inks, but the tricky software updates make it harder to blame the companies.

Hi Scott – Perhaps you and others with a problem could contact the CMA about this anticompetitive behaviour:

General enquiries
Competition and Markets Authority
The Cabot
25 Cabot Square
E14 4QZ
United Kingdom
General enquiries
020 3738 6000

Which? have been commenting on this, and conversations have included it, for a number of years. I would have expected Which? to have, by now, put a dossier together and made a complaint on behalf of consumers to the CMA if it is an issue of sufficient size or importance?

Maybe Which? would tell us the extent of cartridge blocking. The 3rd party industry would seem to be a good place to get information; I imagine consumers who are affected would complain to their cartridge supplier in the first instance.

In feedback, Which? magazine September 2020, a reader questions light-fastness of ink jet inks and points out fading that affected prints made with third party inks. In reply Which? say they don’t test light-fastness because “it’s quite a niche issue…”.

Indeed it might be, but a vital characteristic I would suggest. I am astonished that Which? should dismiss this so off-handedly. The durability of prints is essential in many cases, not only in preserving the colours in photographs and coloured presentations but simply in maintaining the proper readability of documents that we rely on for permanence. Therefore inks should be tested for permanence or otherwise if results are to be really useful.

One reason I have stuck with OEM ink – Canon – has been my experience so far, over many years, of good colour-fastness. I do not know whether there are EN Standards covering this but there is certainly an ASTM F 2366-12 that tests ink jet prints for daylight exposure.

Recommending any inks without evaluating relative light-fastness seems extremely unhelpful. Perhaps Which? should look at the ASTM and start applying the test. In the meantime it could make clear in any results that this essential attribute is not tested.

If you use a home inkjet printer for making photographs that will be displayed on walls and mantelpieces in frames and such like, then colour fastness is very important.

As with paints, fading of printed photos and text is largely due to UV. The easiest way to minimise fading is to mount photos behind glass in a frame and to try to avoid placing them in sun or bright light. Pigment-based inks are reputed to be better than the more common dye-based inks. It’s not just the ink that is important but the combination of ink and paper.

One of the advantages of digital photography is that providing that you have kept the image file it is easy to reprint a faded photo.

I have photos on display printed many years ago using Canon ink (on Tesco Finest paper and Canon) that still look good. I wouldn’t want to have to keep reprinting them because of poorer quality ink, so we should know which inks perform well.

The ASTM test uses a UV source to give accelerated testing, as I understand it.

I have photos printed on my older HP printer using compatible ink and Kodak glossy paper. I know that two are about ten years old and don’t seem to have faded. About 15 years ago I found that Epson coated paper worked very well with different printers but the prints faded quickly.

After an automatic update to Epson XP-760 expression photo printer it refused to work with all 6 of the previously functioning non-OEM cartridges.

David Wilson says:
16 September 2020

HP photosmart 5520 showing message Replace Cartridges. Very annoying stance from HP but not to worry I will not be buying any more computer equipment from Hewlett Packard.