The Canon ink-wasting
I can still remember my first printer: A Seikosha "Unihammer", I think
the model was GP500 or something like that. It had a printhead with a
single impact actuator, and behind the head, on the other side of the
paper, there was a striated cylinder that rotated fast. By firing the
actuator at specific times, this printer could print characters in a
5x7 matrix. It was very noisy, the print quality was rather poor, but
it allowed me to print for the first time in my life, and at a cost I
could afford even when I was a student!
The ink for this printer was soaked into a fabric ribbon, like in an old
typewriter, and lasted for many sheets. When the printing became too
faint, one would simply re-ink this ribbon, and it would be as good as
Years later I replaced this printer by a real, true dot matrix printer
from the Epson stable. This new printer had much better printing
quality, and was a little less noisy. Its ink also came from such a
ribbon, and I used the same re-inking contraption to keep my prints nice
Technology always advances, and some years later inkjet printers became
all the rage. So I bought an Hewlett Packard Deskjet HP-520. The print
quality was enormously superior to the dot matrix printer, it was
nearly silent, and also faster. In addition it no longer used
continuous paper with perforated sides, like the old ones did! Now I
could print on photocopy paper. How elegant!
The ink for the HP-520 came in 40ml cartridges, which cost half as much
as the printer, but lasted a very long time. I must have gotten several
thousand sheets from each. I only bought two of those cartridges in my
life, though, because then I started refilling them. I bought a half
liter bottle of black ink, which according to the seller was specially
formulated for this HP printer line. This was some 20 years ago, and
I'm still printing from that same bottle! At least ten thousand sheets,
and more likely some twenty thousand. I need to refill my cartrige less
than once a year. And the print quality with this inexpensive non-OEM
ink from inkjetsaver.com was considerably better than with the original
HP ink! It is nicely black, while the HP ink in those cartridges has a
But the HP-520 is a black-only printer. Ever since color printers
became common, I wanted to buy one. But I wanted a somewhat larger one,
not those limited to A4 and similar paper sizes. That's both for
printing electronic drawings in a more readable size, and to print big
photos to hang on my walls. But large printers are very much more
expensive than small ones. And the local market (in Chile) offers very
Finally I decided to buy a Canon iX6510. And that was a BIG
There is nothing wrong with the print quality of this printer. I'm
fully satisfied with it. The problem is that this printer is designed
to intentionally waste large amounts of ink, and at the same time makes
it as hard as possible for users to refill cartridges or use non-OEM
ones. The cartridges are so outrageously expensive, for the meager 8ml
of ink they contain, that buying original ink cartridges is totally out
of all consideration. So this has brought me to the point that I very
rarely use this Canon printer, while for everything that can
possibly be printed on small papers and using just black ink I still
use the old HP-520!
I will now tell you a little more about Canon's ink wasting scheme.
This printer, like many current ones, has a built-in vacuum pump, whose
sole purpose is sucking ink out of the cartridges and throwing it away.
As simple as that! Officially this is done to clean the print heads,
and to prime the ink channels. Okay, fine... but very hard to
believe! My old HP printer does perfectly well without such a
pump. The only thing it does to clean the head is mechanically wiping
off any dried ink, using a rubber scrubber, and firing all the
nozzles a few times. This cleaning is only activated on the user's
request, and it's very rarely needed. Basically only when the printer
has sat unused for months.
But the Canon printer activates its suck-ink-and-throw-it-away pump
EVERY time the printer is switched on, EVERY time there is a pause
between printing things, and very often it also activates it between
printing one sheet and the next. What's even more infuriating: Often it
happens that when I press the power button to turn the printer OFF, it
will first start another cleaning cycle, to needlessly suck some more
ink out of
the cartridges and throw it away, and only then will it actually turn
The printer came with a set of ink cartridges, and these
ones, not the extra-small or near-empty cartridges some other printers
are fitted with. So I was quite suprised when the printer software
started complaining that the magenta ink
was running out, after I had
printed fewer than 200 pages of black text,
and two postcard sized
photos! Sure enough I had noticed the extreme amount of cleaning this
printer does, but until then I never thought that it really wasted that
much ink! The fact is that regardless of whether I print
photos, black or color, all five ink cartridges typically last almost
the same amount of time, because much more ink is pumped out and thrown
away, than the amount of ink actually used to print!
The price of original Canon ink cartridges is such
liter of ink would cost over 1800 US dollars! That would already be
prohibitive even if all of the ink ended up on the paper - but given that at
90% of it gets intentionally wasted by the printer, it would be
totally crazy and stupid to buy ink at that price!!!
Maybe you will now tell me that instead of buying overpriced ink
cartridges in the local market, I should better mail-order them from
countries where they are cheaper. Sure - the only problem is that Canon
took measures to make this impossible: Both the printers and
cartridges are country-coded! A printer made for one area of the world
will not accept ink cartridges sold in another area, even if the ink is
exactly the same, and the cartridges are also exactly the same! Just
the encrypted ID code in each cartridge is different. So, my printer is
the iX6510, for the Latin American market. In the USA Canon sells it as
the iX6520, with a different ID code in it. In Europe it's the iX6550,
I think, and so on. Likewise the ink cartridges for mine are the 125
and 126, in
the USA they would be the 225 and 226, and so on. And my iX6510 printer
will not accept the 226 and 225 cartridges, because their ID codes
Anyway that's not an issue to me, because I absolutely refuse to buy
original ink cartridges at the absurd prices charged by Canon.
Fortunately there is ample supply of bottled ink at very reasonable
cost, and while the quality of this ink varies a lot, very good inks
are available. So I bought a quarter liter bottle of each color
from a company that advertises that its inks last many years
without much discoloring. I had to color-calibrate my printer
to these inks in order to print photos with correct colors, otherwise
they would turn out with a strong magenta cast. But after color
calibration the results are good.
But it's not really convenient to refill the original Canon ink
cartridges, because Canon nowadays makes them from black plastic, for
the specific purpose that we cannot look through them for convenient
and clean refilling. Also Canon embeds an ID and memory chip in them,
actually a small microcontroller, which keeps track of how much ink has
been used, and gives "empty
cartridge alarm" as soon as about half of the ink has been used (or
more likely, thrown away).
Some clever Chinese managed to decrypt or somehow circumvent Canon's
security measures, and so they can sell compatible ink cartridges
intended for refilling. I bought two sets of them. They are made
from clear plastic, and have a hole with a rubber stopper, so it's
really easy to refill them, and the chip
fitted on them is "self-resetting". This sounds good, but proved to be
a mixed blessing.
The first problem with these Chinese cartridges was that one of them
wasn't recognized by the printer. Its chip must be defective. I simply
put that one aside and used the other set.
But the auto reset feature doesn't work in a useful way. What it does
is this: It records the ink use just like the original chip, and when
the alarm level is reached and the printer is opened, it resets itself
to "full". It's assumed
that the user will refill the cartridge at that time. This resetting
somehow needs the collaboration of the printer, and the result is that
almost always the printer suddenly stops recognizing the cartridge. In
that case one must open the printer again, and close it. Sometimes the
printer will then recognize it, sometimes not. If it does recognize the
cartridge, it does so as a "new" cartridge - which means that it will
start yet another cleaning cycle right away!
So, my typical use of this Canon printer goes like this:
1.- Long meditation about whether I REALLY need to print something in
color. Very often I decide to spare myself the headache, and print it
in black on the old HP-520 instead.
2.- If I really decide that I must use the Canon printer, I switch it
on. The light comes up. Then I prepare the document, and send it to the
printer. Now the show starts:
3.- The printer starts a cleaning cycle. For roughly 5 minutes it will
repeatedly suck ink from the cartridges, move them a little, suck more
ink, move them some more, suck more ink, and so on.
4.- The printer complains that one of the cartridges is running low on
ink. I press the button to make it continue. The result: The printer
starts another cleaning cycle.
5.- The printer complains that one of the cartridges is empty. I open
the printer, remove that cartridge, look through it. It's still half
full. So I put it back in. This resets the chip.
6.- The printer happily starts another cleaning cycle. After 3 minutes,
it complains that now another cartridge is running low on ink. I press
the continue button. This starts yet another cleaning cycle.
7.- The printer complains that this cartridge is now empty. I open the
printer, remove the cartridge, and indeed its rear tank is empty. Since
I cannot easily know how much ink remains in the cartridge's spongue, I
decide to refill it. And to prevent this story from going on forever, I
decide to refill all of the cartridges at the same time.
8.- Half an hour later, all ten of my fingers show interesting colors,
all of my five cartridges are completely full, and I put them
back in the printer. Since resetting the chip changes
the ID, and one cartridge was "empty" and got reset, while the others
did not, now the printer complains that one of the cartridges (or
sometimes two or three) can't be recognized. So I open and close the
printer several times, until finally it accepts all five cartridges -
and of course starts the next cleaning cycle!!!
9.- With a lot of luck, eventually the printer gets ready to
print. With less luck, it will stop recognizing some cartridge, force
me to open and close the printer, and do some more cleaning cycles.
10.- And then, hooray, the printer actually pulls in a sheet of paper
and prints my document, in excellent quality, and taking just a few
seconds to do the job!!!
11.- Then I switch off the printer. And instead of switching off, the
printer starts a final cleaning cycle, which is of course absolutely
unnecessary, and only then switches off.
So, printing this one sheet of paper has cost me at least 30ml of ink,
and roughly one and a half hours of my time.
Since this sort of time wasting is unacceptable, the price of original
ink cartridges is unacceptable too, and anyway would only about cut the
time in half, I very rarely use this printer, and I decided to write
this web page to warn potential customers away from Canon printers,
unless you can make sure beforehand that the printer model you intend
to buy is completely free from these extortion measures.
I went so far as to buy a Chinese-made continuous ink supply
system for this printer, reasoning that the cost of bulk ink is low
enough to make its wasting irrelevant, if only I could get the printer
to produce a print in a reasonable time. Unfortunately I couldn't get
this system to work correctly. The print head accelerates so
swiftly that the provided ink tanks cannot sufficiently dampen the
pressure pulses created in the long ink hoses during these sudden
motions. The result is ink blobs on the paper, in the printer, and
underfed print heads that print weakly and might even get damaged from
lack if ink flow. So I had to remove the CISS again.
In the bitter end I basically lost the money spent on this printer and
the accessories. Canon probably lost too, if it is true that they sell
these printers at a loss, in order to sell overpriced ink cartridges.
In any case Canon lost me as a customer, and what's more
important, this page might turn more people away from buying Canon
printers. The only ones who gained something are the third party
manufacturers/suppliers who sold me the ink cartridges, the CISS,
and the bottled ink. And those are precisely the ones Canon
intended to keep from gaining anything!
From searching the web it's clear that countless people have this same
problem with Canon printers. It's not clear to me to what extent each
of the other printer-making companies does the same thing. At
least Epson offers printers with easily refillable ink bottles.
the problem is
widespread and worldwide. Any clever and well-meaning hacker would do
millions of people a big favor by finding a way to disable Canon's
irritating and environmentally unsound ink wasting scheme.
I don't know whether the the code that reads the ink cartridge
chips, and decides when to run a cleaning cycle, resides in the
printer's firmware, in the driver, or in both. Since all this is surely
encrypted and protected, it would take a good hacker to find out and
remove that malware.
An alternative to patching Canon's code would be to develop a
completely new firmware and driver for Canon printers. It's likely that
it would be possible to make just one such set, and parametrize it for
many different models of printers. This would allow making good use of
Canon's fine hardware, without having to use its ink-stealing and
Three years after writing the above, I still have this printer. From
time to time I have made attempts to find a way to use it. And I keep
using the old HP-520 as my main printer, because that one just works,
gives no trouble at all, doesn't self-clean, and needs a cartridge
refill only every two years or so!
On a forum, people hinted me about leaving the Canon printer
permanently on. And indeed, if never switched off, it will often start
printing right away, instead of first running a cleaning cycle. Not
always, though - it seems to have a timer that triggers a pre-printing
cleaning cycle, if it has not been used for some time. And there is a
problem with this trick: Power outages! During some times of the year I
get many of them, and whenever I want to use the printer after a power
cut, the printer software will first scold me, ask me to acknowledge
that "I should never unplug the printer while on" (which I didn't),
threaten that terrible things can happen if I do - and then it will run
an extra long cleaning cycle! Obviously the printer software assumes
that the printer lost power while the print head was away from its
normal parking location - that would be bad news, of course! But it
just doesn't happen, if the power fails while the printer is on and
idle... The printer software is just too stupid, if it's unable to tell
where the print head was when the power was lost, which is the same
place it will be when the power returns! A power loss during idling
should be handled exactly the same way asthe printer having been switched off.
People on that same forum warn that the non-OEM cartridges from China
have poor ink flow. There seems to be something to this. For text and
also for light, small photos they seem to work well, but when I print a
full size photo with lots of dark areas (that consume a lot of ink), I
get some slight banding near the end of the photo, as if the head is
starting to get starved of ink. And that happens even with nearly full
ink tanks, and of course with unplugged venting holes... I
suspect it has something to do with the ink reserve in the sponge of
the cartridge needing to get really low before ink from the non-sponged
section can flow into the spongue.
Also I have to confirm what I wrote three years ago, about the
autoreset chips not being really a good idea. It's inconvenient to have
to refill them EXACTLY when they reach the "fully empty" status. This
means that in practice the chips and the actual ink level keep getting
out of step, so that the level indicator becomes useless. It would be
much better to have a way to reset the chips whenever one refills the
cartridge, instead of having to wait until the chip thinks the
cartridge is empty.
To fix both the ink flow problem and the level indicator problem, I
have been told to use only original cartridges, and a chip
resetter, refilling and resetting the whole set of cartridges at once.
For years no resetter was available for the Latin American version of
these cartridges, but now there is one, I bought one, and so I'm all
set to try this. Of course refilling cartridges made from black plastic
isn't very easy - I expect it to become messy, filling them to the
point of overflow. And I have just one set of original ink tanks, the
ones that came with the printer... and I'm NOT buying any additional
overpriced original tanks! I tried getting some used, empty tanks from
friends, but that failed: Nobody around here seems to buy original ink!
They all refill their existing tanks, or have them refilled. The town
is full of refill shops.
Anyway my existing supply of ink is about to run out, so I will get
some new ink, hopefully some that matches the color of the original ink
better than the ink I use now, and then load my original cartridges
with that ink. If I decide to keep using just the original (refilled)
tanks, I will have to make do with a single set of tanks, however
inconvenient that is.
I have to stress that the size of these ink tanks is ridiculously
small. The color tanks hold about 8ml each, of which perhaps 6ml
can be used, before the spongue becomes too dry for good ink flow. And
this in a printer that's rated to print 13*19 inch photos!!!
Printing just two of those photos, plus the automatic
sucking-and-discarding-ink operations the printer adds, makes the ink
level in freshly filled tanks drop from full to "back side empty", that
is, only an unknown amount of ink left in the spongue. In practice,
every few photos one has to refill the tanks. How few, depends on how
dark they are, and on how many cleaning cycles the printer will do...
Maybe every 5 to 8 photos. At this rate, using original Canon ink would
cost around US$20 per photo, in ink alone!!!
I hope that some day a good photo printer capable of reasonably large
prints will become available, at a cost within my reach, that has some
large ink reservoirs built in, to be filled by the user with bulk ink.
That's a printer I would buy. But I won't ever buy another printer that
uses encoded, encrypted, protected, sight-blocked, tiny, overpriced,
prefilled ink tanks, and then throws away most of the ink!!!
It's a pity that this otherwise pretty good printer was handicapped by
such a nearly unusable ink system. And many other printers are just
like it, or even worse.
Back to homo ludens philosophicus.