The Canon ink-wasting machine    



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 new.

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 and dark.

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 violet tint.
 
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 few.

Finally I decided to buy a Canon iX6510. And that was a BIG MISTAKE.


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 off!!!

The printer came with a set of ink cartridges, and these are full 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 text, 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 that one 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 least 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 the ink 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 don't match.

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!


Attention hackers!

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. But 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 time-wasting software.


Update!


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.



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