/ 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.


This happened to me just this week with my HP OfficeJet Pro 8610. I’ve had it for 6 years and have used a mix of HP and compatible cartridges. Over last weekend I had to swap out two colours and only had compatibles available. I had all manner of errors on the screen and flashing lights.
Two semi-full resets later and I was able to print an image with the compatibles from a USB device, but I could not send a file from the PC – initially the printer shows idle in the management interface but as soon as you try to print it goes to an error state. Even HP Print and Scan and Doctor would not proceed once it determined non-HP cartridges were present.
Suffice to say I’ve just swapped in two genuine HP cartridges and full functions have been restored.

I’m disgusted with HP. Imagine having your car serviced with non-dealer parts and then the car refusing to start because you have not used original spark plugs or the air con not working because you don’t have an original pollen filter installed. There would be uproar. Right now I’ve got my printer working but I’ll never buy another HP product as long as I live.

This is the case still with my HP envy printer recently- I have tried everything to get it to accept Tesco replacement ink cartridges and nothing worked. In the end I was forced to go by exploitive HP ink cartridges

I’m one of a number of people who sell compatible ink cartridges and I’ve had a few customers report the compatible ink cartridges they’ve bought from me for some time have suddenly stopped working and the cause has been a recent software update from Epson. Therefore as it is clearly illegal for printer companies to release software which breaches competition laws and could put me and a number of other people out of business by forcing customers to use genuine and expensive ink cartridges then where do I stand from a legal point of view and is there anything I can do to stop this happening and force printer manufacturers to release another update to reverse this change to allow compatible ink cartridges to work again? Any views on this would be appreciated as I’m sure I’m not the only one caught up in this issue and I am advising all of my customers to not install any software updates because of this potential issue.

Peter – It would be interesting to have a legal opinion on whether printer manufacturers are in breach of existing competition laws if their software updates prevent the use of third party inks. I am sure their lawyers will have explored that argument and concluded that, when printers with an internet updating capability are bought, the owner has implicitly accepted the validity of any updates received by the printer. Makers of third party inks will also need to avoid being accused of ‘passing off’ which is another element of fair trading legislation.

I expect the Competition & Markets Authority are pondering whether the existence of several different printer manufacturers, each with their own specified inks, satisfies competition requirements. The manufacturers don’t seem to be interested in slashing their ink prices to neutralise the third-party competition, preferring to rely on a technological solution instead. There is no doubt that the manufacturers’ practices amount to a restriction of trade so a report from the CMA would be very welcome.

Hi Peter – Thanks for posting.

As you may know, there was a voluntary agreement between major manufacturers to deal with the problem but that has obviously been forgotten. In the short term it’s important that owners know not to install firmware updates on their printers. A few people have managed to obtain old software and get their printers working again but I doubt that most people would know what to do or where to obtain the software.

As you can read in earlier posts the problem now affects some laser printers, meaning that third party cartridges that stop working could be very expensive. I had hoped that this might mean that business users would become vocal but my enquiries suggest that business users often buy original cartridges at an affordable price, an option not available to the small user.

After encouraging a few people to contact the Competition and Markets Authority about this uncompetitive practice I did so myself and received a very unhelpful reply. They are the organisation with the clout to take action, so the more complaints the better.

Collective action may be a possibility if third party manufacturers are prepared to work together and get some legal advice.

What I don’t know is the scale of the problem and you might have some information, Peter.

Peter, the 3rd party ink cartridge industry seems pretty big and should have an agreed view on this. Is there not a trade association that deals with this?

Which? could approach either such an association or all the major suppliers to see what that view is, the legal situation, restrictive practices for example.

Ranjit says:
6 May 2021

My printer EPSOn XP 8600 – I’m reading this post and frankly am most annoyed… this is like purchasing a car and the manufacturer telling you that “you can only put (for example) BP’s fuel in the tank…. anything else will render your new car undriveable”.
So to this end, I’ve just called EPSON on their UK customer helpline and spoken with one of their support people.
He tells me that EPSON certainly does not have any policy or software that would stop the printer from operating should 3rd party ink cartridges be installed.
All the same I am going to ensure that I do not install any software or firmware updates… I like my printer just the way it is…
This whole matter needs to be brought out into the open…
Maybe a TV documentary or something along those lines…

Gillian Webster says:
10 March 2021

Ive just had a similar problem with my Deskjet D1530. Suddenly stopped working printing black ink. So changed two cartridges with no improvment. Ordered a couple of new ones and again it didnt work so i got a brand new Deskjet D1530 bought at the same time and set that up and that doesnt work either. When i tried with both to align the cartridges it doesnt print out any alignment choices in black just a black line across the top of the page. Basically both printers are no useless and one is absolutely brand new never had a cartridge in it as id literally taken it out of its original packaging. I am seriously annoyed. I think a software update has forced the printer to not accept third party cartridges although these were recycled originals.
In future i will be buying a non HP laser printer as my work one is still functioning well after 15 years.
How can these companies do this to us. The original cartridges cost twice the cost of the printer…..

My HP Officejet 7510 has just stopped working, reporting a “Print Head Problem”, I believe the firmware was updated automatically just before this happened. I’ve been using compatible 3rd party cartdiges for a long time without issues. Trying to find a replacement print head is impossible, if indeed there really is an error….

Dominique Jones says:
15 March 2021

This has just happened to me this morning with my HP printer – I have been using 3rd party inks for years and no problem. I am outraged that this is happening – please can someone tell me how you complain about this? Or is it worth a Go Fund Page to take legal action – its a monopoly.

Cyndi Muhlbauer says:
16 March 2021

My 1 year old printer started telling me it wouldn’t print in January 2021 shortly after I installed new ink cartridges that were HP compatible. I can get it to print in black and white but it won’t print in color. This week I started getting a message that I needed to agree to HP’s terms of use before I can scan anything. But there’s no way, no matter what buttons I click on, to get to a screen that lets me agree. So I’m buying a new printer and donating this one. Will not buy HP again.

The intro days “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.

@kwaller, Katie, this issue about 3rd party refills not working has been going on for years. Just what is Which? doing to investigate whether printer manufacturers actually do block them, what the 3rd party industry has to say, and what action Which? has taken to put a stop to any perceived malpractice? Or is there actually no problem, just some unfortunates who have had problems with their printers and refills that are peculiar to them? It seems that it mainly becomes a Convo topic among commenters with no input or updates from Which? Perhaps something has been done, or is in progress, that I have missed?