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Printer manufacturers mislead users into believing their inkjet device has developed a serious problem

Issue #1006/1 – Q. When is a printer error not a printer error? A. When it is a routine maintenance issue requiring little more than sliding one box out and another box in. Many inkjet printers have a killer-trigger that makes the owner believe there is a serious problem and that the printer could have failed altogether. This is far from the truth and something the manufacturers do not clarify.

In the recent series of articles on reliability (), we referred to two instances of inkjet printers failing and requiring attention by a repair agent if it was desirable to continue with that printer in service. There is more to the story than a simple repair, though.

Although the symptoms quoted indicated a fault, and an error message was shown, the particular conditions do not represent a ‘fault’ or a ‘failure’ at all. In fact, the situation is entirely predictable, expected and normal for this type of inkjet printer.

It arises under the guise of, “protecting the customer from mess or damage”, which is perfectly reasonable, correct and right. However, it is the way in which the situation is handled by the printer manufacturers that is incongruous, misleading and unhelpful. In the case of the two printers in question in the previous article, the situation resulted in the printers being replaced when they could have continued in service for several more years to come.

Early-stage ink pad saturationEarly-stage ink pad saturation

What we are talking about here is the fact that inkjet printers with permanent or semi-permanent print heads have to purge the print head periodically in order to clean the head and nozzles and ensure that ink is flowing through the system. In the case of the first installation of a printer, the ink pipes and print head have to be primed with ink otherwise no ink is available at the nozzles to fire.

Late-stage ink pad saturationLate-stage ink pad saturation

With time, this purging and cleaning process has drawn so much ink out of the head that the ink pads, or diapers, become saturated, creating a risk of ink overflow or leakage, especially if the machine were to be moved and tipped on one side during the process.

To protect against this scenario, the so-called ‘faults’ are actually caused by a ‘counter’ that trips an error message! It works simply by killing the printer at the designated cleaning cycle count. Once tripped, the pads have to be replaced and the counter reset.

But – the manufacturers do not tell users or prospective purchasers about this requirement for long-term usage. In theory, the pads are intended to last the life of the machine – in one instance at least, the intended lifetime should result in a page count of around 30,000 pages before the pads become saturated. In practice, this is probably rarely the case.

Because, something else that the manufacturers to not generally spell out clearly enough to users is that an inkjet printer is best managed by being powered up permanently. Many, if not most, inkjet printers do not have a powers switch but that does not stop users powering the device off at the wall power outlet when they can’t find a switch on the hardware itself. The power used when the device is in sleep mode is so low that there are negligible power consumption implications but the implications of powering an inkjet printer off and back on again are significant.


When an inkjet printer is powered up, it puts itself through a start-up self-diagnostic process that includes a cleaning cycle (especially if the power has been off for a lengthy period of time – the longer it has been powered down, the bigger the cleaning cycle).

This means that ink is being drawn through the system, wasting ink, adding to the ink build-up in the ink pads and reducing the remaining life availability before the error message is triggered – thus significantly reducing the life-expectancy of the printer. If the device is left powered up, however, the printer cleans only when it needs to, based on a maintenance schedule.

According to one repair agent, the counters are conservative enough that they often can be reset at least once, and possibly more than once, without changing the ink pads, before they are saturated enough to be in danger of leaking ink.

So what we have here is a built-in repair cycle that costs at least £25 for a self-delivery and collection repair, every time the counter trips the error message. There may then be an additional cost on the occasions that the pads actually need replacing. In addition, the printer would have to be taken to the repair centre, left for repair and then collected again – all at a cost and resulting printer down-time. The alternative is an engineer callout at anything up to about £100. Not impressed!!

However, what I find particularly disturbing about this situation is the fact that it shouldn’t exist in the first place and that the manufacturers do not alert users to the need for ink pads to be changed! On a laser printer we often have a separate waste toner container that is replaced periodically as a matter of routine – and this is accepted by users as a routine service/maintenance element. Why then not a waste ink container on an inkjet printer? This should be a consumable item alongside the ink cartridges – or, if replacement is seriously as infrequent as suggested, users should be:

  • alerted to the fact that maintenance will be required at some point in the life of the printer
  • given plenty of notice that the maintenance interval is approaching
  • given clear messages that the printer is not at fault or displaying a total failure situation
  • given clear guidance regarding the process required in order to undertake the service and return the device to operational status

It is absolutely not acceptable that the user is kept in the dark and presented with a situation that makes it look as though the printer has failed – especially without any prior warning. All printer manufacturers with models containing permanent or semi-permanent print heads are at fault here.

Even worse though, is the fact that the printer manufacturers allow users to believe that their printer is either dead or seriously faulty and then take money from them for ‘repairing’ it. The printer is not faulty at all! But, to all intents and purposes and to the user concerned, it is faulty and there is nothing they can do to resolve the issue themselves because the counter requires a reset using a process that is not available to the general user.

Pay for a repair or buy a new printer/AIO – it is like being held to ransom. It is deceitful of the manufacturers not to be up front with the facts. If they are capable of alerting prospective customers to the fact that an imaging drum and waste toner collector is required for laser printers, and giving advance notice that ink, toner or drum life-expectancy is running low, they are certainly capable of alerting users to the need to replace a waste ink collector in inkjet printers. If they are capable of manufacturing a waste toner collector for laser printers, they are capable of manufacturing a waste ink collector for inkjet printers.

It should be emphasised again here that not all inkjet printers will suffer from this problem, only those with print heads separate from the ink tanks. The two printers referred to in the previous article were from different manufacturers using different inkjet technologies – but both with print heads separate from the ink tanks.

However, with more and more inkjet models of this type (using permanent or semi-permanent print heads) now on the market, representing a much higher percentage of total models available, this situation is likely to affect more and more users and is, therefore, more significant in the grand scheme of things.

Epson inkjet maintenance boxEpson inkjet
maintenance box

In point of fact, since the original investigations were conducted concerning the two printers mentioned, it has become evident that one inkjet printer (two versions) does have a ‘maintenance box’, rated at 35,000 pages, that is a user-replaceable ink pad for exactly this scenario.

Epson B-500DNEpson B-500DN

These modes are the Epson B-300 and B-500DN. They are heavy duty business printers, designed for high volume printing in a busy office environment where minimising the Total Cost of Printing is an important factor. Featuring 3,500/3,000-page (B-300) or 4,000/7,000-page (B-500DN) standard ink tanks, with an 8,000-page black tank available for the B-500DN, and a print speed in normal mode of 32ppm, this machine is capable of outperforming many small-office colour laser printers and reducing Total Cost of Printing by a significant percentage – well over 50% – see for further information.

In fact, the Epson B-500DN even offers a lower Total Cost of Printing than Hewlett-Packard’s HP88-based inkjet printers and comparable mono laser printers!

Well done Epson – but, why can the principle of the user-replaceable maintenance box not be applied to all business-designated inkjet devices across the board?

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