As printers become more and more affordable, it seems that ink cartridges often become more expensive. This is somewhat by design, as manufacturers lower the price of the machine but hope to make it back on the increased cost of supplies. Many savvy consumers try to save money by refilling their own cartridges or purchasing third-party versions, but they may run into a problem with compatibility: microchips.
Some major manufacturers use microchips (sometimes called “Smart Chips”) in their ink cartridges to ensure that the cartridge is genuine. When inserted into the machine, the microchip communicates with the computer and sends a signal to let it know it is a genuine cartridge. If the signal fails, some printers may refuse to print. Other models, such as those that use Canon ink cartridges will still print, but will continue to display an error message to the user.
How Do the Microchips Work?
The microchips inside an ink cartridge are often tied to the serial number of the cartridge itself, while some use another type of unique ID that can be verified by the printer. When installed, the chip communicates with the printer through an RF signal or direct contact, and the printer decides whether the ID is genuine. Some microchips also include an expiration date built in, so that a cartridge may stop working after the date has passed. This can lead to frustration by the consumer when there is clearly ink left in the cartridge but it refuses to work.
There are quite a few advantages the microchips provide to users. Although the unique ID aspect is often criticized, it is part of an anti-counterfeiting process. If you buy a cartridge that is supposed to be from HP, for example, but it is actually counterfeit, the chip is designed to alert you to this problem.
Another major advantage of using microchips in ink cartridges is more accurate communication between the cartridge and the printer. As the chip tracks usage, ink levels, and the age of the cartridge, it can relay this information to the printer, and therefore, the user. When a cartridge is almost empty or has expired, a warning can be displayed.
One can hardly blame printer manufacturer’s for wanting to verify that cartridges are genuine. After all, the company put time and money into creating the printer and should be able to recoup their investment. Once this investment has been recouped, however, and a machine is no longer being sold as new, the microchips remain, and consumers are left with restricted choices. These tactics can give printer manufacturers a monopoly on the ink industry, and tend to leave other vendors out in the cold. Consumer advocacy groups have continued to push for restrictions on how the microchips are legally allowed to affect the operation of the machine. This gives consumers more protection from a monopoly on ink prices.
The other major problem is that even genuine cartridges can malfunction, and the printer may read the cartridge as invalid and refuse to work properly. Consumers often complain about cartridges that are noted to be empty that still have some remaining ink, which can lead to waste, and extra costs.
Buyers who still want to save money have a few options. The first is to choose to purchase third-party ink cartridges and simply live with the error messages that indicate the cartridges are not genuine. The other option is to buy compatible ink cartridges from a vendor that includes a valid microchip. Many vendors have found ways to crack the code and install a chip that will be verified by the printer and operate just like a genuine OEM model. Lastly, consumers can purchase a “microchip resetter” device, though the cost will likely outweigh any savings it provides.
Microchips in ink cartridges have many benefits, such as verifying that a cartridge is not a counterfeit, and alerting users when the cartridge is empty. However, it is estimated that these processes waste up to 20% of the ink because the empty error message is displayed long before the cartridge is empty. Add to that the fact that they can often malfunction, and they can seem like more of a curse than a blessing.