Epson inks: a modest proposal

And what happens when you bypass the smart chip

Letters Epson, we don't have a problem

Letters Last week's story about the Dutch Consumer Association withdrawing its call to boycott Epson inkjet printers prompted a small but high-quality response from Reg readers. First up is Joe "Floid" Kanowitz who challenges printer makers to put the intelligence on the printhead. He is followed by Roderick Pruitt's tale of what happened to his Epson printers when he bypassed the Intellidge cartridge.

As a long-time Epson user, I can demonstrably agree the residual ink is necessary- pull a loaded cartridge from any Epson (or indeed, any inkjet with a separate, non-consumable printhead), allow a few weeks to dry (putting it in storage worked for me), then attempt to return the printer to a usable state. Chances are you'll be spending some time on the floor, with a disassembled printer, an oral syringe, plenty of aquarium tubing and some hot eyeglass-cleaning fluid. Chances are further good that you'll never get all the nozzles unclogged, and/or that you'll permanently injure the printhead while trying.

Epson seem to have decided their 'odometer' chips are a better investment than a direct sensing technology; this is arguable, since the printhead does know exactly how many droplets it's flung, and optical? ink-level sensors have a margin of error. Preventing refillers from cloning the chips is poor sport, but you *do* need to watch the quality of ink you run through these designs -- unlike HP or Lexmark, once you've clogged the printhead, you're left with an expensive paperweight. This is, of course, the price you pay to use an Epson or Canon, and to spend $10-$50 on refills, vs. the $25-$60 of others' designs. Since you aren't trading printheads all the time, at least you're putting slightly less volume in landfill with each replacement.

Now, the printhead *is* a small unit, with a few electrical connections, and the stab-connectors for the ink tanks molded into it; even in the non-consumable design, it's not *impossible* to unhook it. It also seems to be the most expensive component of the printer, which otherwise is a rather generic paper-jamming robot. Crack open any inkjet, and you'll find the same parts - paper feed, platens, optical tracking tape (the lines get narrower as the horizontal resolutions increase), and so on. Strangely, I've yet to see a recent combo that mounts the scanner element on the printhead (thus allowing small offices to -- *gasp* -- take advantage of the printer's sheetfeeder to scan large documents without extra space/electricity-eating equipment), though HP's added a special-purpose optical alignment calibrator in a relative's recent purchase.

So, my challenge to printer-makers would be thus: Systems-on-Chip keep getting smaller. USB requires few lines, certainly fewer than already run to the printhead for control and feedback. So why not sell us universal chassis of varying capability -- Grandma just needs a quiet, letter-sized unit to print the latest chain or 419 mail; offices could benefit from extra paper trays; artists and architects would like to feed larger widths -- put the intelligence on the printheads themselves, and market those as replaceable items?

Like buying a Presario, casual consumers would never know the difference, but serious document-handlers would be interested in upgrade cycles for all parts - faster PPMs and higher vertical resolutions on the chassis, better horizontal resolution and varying capability (CMYK, 6-color, pigment/archival ink handling) on the printheads, while nobody would be screwed when the head clogs in an otherwise favorite device, and markups could be charged on all of it? Morons would be welcome to install a 2400DPI head in a chassis only capable of 300DPI;* their loss, and if they notice, perhaps they'd be convinced to upgrade the movement. Meanwhile, cheap-to-manufacture low-res elements, suffering the occasional clog but taking relatively low-markup ink, could take the embedded space back from impact printer markets, and much improve the noise situation in those customers' workplaces.

Chassis would, of course, remain proprietary by manufacturer, barring any cloning that might occur. Meanwhile, users would be encouraged to experiment with odd third-party inks - reducing refill revenue, but if you can charge $N for a box of black water, think of the markups possible on replacement heads.

*The head could read a barcode on the end of the tracking tape, and fallback accordingly. Fail to upgrade your tracking tape (Letter size included free with the printhead; 11x14 and up a $5 special-order - on a $0.03 strip of plastic), and the $50 head you've just bought would continue to work at the degraded resolution - or flash a trouble code on its status LED. The positioning outputs would go to near-brainless controllers in the chassis; really fancy feeders (the stack-on sorts now only offered for laser printers) could have their own USB links.

-Joe "Floid" Kanowitz

I make a good portion of my living through my photography business, which entails my use of printers for image reproduction. I have been an Epson user for quite some time, but in reading your story Titled: Epson we don't have a problem" I found a very important point I thought i would share with you. Epson makes fine printers and overall I think they are truly the best in the world, save for Canon's 6 color line, but they have the pickiest and weakest print heads known to man. They like to foul up and not print properly when they are mistreated in the slightest way.

When I was using a fleet of Epson Stylus Photo 1270 printers (approximately 3 years ago) for image reproduction, an associate of mine showed my the nifty trick of bypassing their chip monitoring system. So needless to say I was both quite happy with my reduction in costs (30 pages is what I averaged per cartridge more after bypassing the Intellidge chip) and I would print the cartridges dry. However after about 6 cartridges of performing this modification to my ink, I noticed a drop in image quality. There was all sorts of horizontal banding, and the print head test sheet showed there were multiple heads for each color clogged. Despite my best efforts (2 complete cartridges emptied both black and color used only for continuous cleaning cycles), I could not corect the problem with the affected printers, only one printer was blatantly underperforming, but I had two others out of eight that were affected similarly, albeit with less severity. So I ended up with three dead $500 (US currency) Epson Stylus photo 1270's.

My point is simply that for longetivity, running an Epson printer flat out of ink is a bad idea. Sure it saved me a couple of bucks for a while, but in the end it bit me where it counts.

Roderick Pruitt III

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