Sunday, 22 September 2019

How I fixed the HP "incompatible ink cartridges' error


So, as you all know, HP and various other printer manufacturers sell their bottom-end printers at a loss. They often come with a 'starter pack' of ink which lasts long enough to print a few test pages and then the printer driver refuses to print any more until you buy some more ink.

However, when you try to buy more ink, you find that a black+tricolour cartridge set costs more than the printer did in the first place!

This is the well-established 'Razor and blades' tactic - you sell the razor at a loss but make a regular income from selling the blades.

To top it all, the firmware in my old printer does all it can to ensure that you only use 'compatible' (HP) ink cartridge replacements. However, in 2017 the Supreme Court in the USA (Impression products Ink Inc. v. Lexmark) frowned upon this practise. Since that court case, some manufacturers now provide firmware updates to 'unblock' their printers and more recent printers don't usually block refilled cartridges.

HP have now changed tactics and offer their cheap printers with an 'Instant Ink' 2 month free trial - i.e. you order the ink from them! This is really only worthwhile if you print a lot of colour pages - if you only print with black ink, it is cheaper to buy the cartridges yourself.

My story

I rarely have a need to print out stuff on paper these days. I only need to do this if I need to send a paper copy of some important document by snail mail.

So a cheap HP DeskJet 1000  (Model J110 series) was enough for my needs. In fact, my printer is at least 8 years old.

A genuine HP 301XL Black cartridge from Amazon is £25, whereas cheap refilled cartridges from eBay are around £10. So I always buy the refilled 3rd-party cartridges since the HP ink is more expensive by weight than gold, expensive perfume or vintage champagne!

My HP J110 printer ran out of black ink last week. At that time it contained two 'refilled' 3rd-party cartridges which I purchased from eBay last year and which had previously worked with no problem. The tricolour cartridge was still 3/4 full.

So I ordered a new Black 301XL from eBay. However, when I fitted the replacement, my printer driver complained about the old 'tricolor' cartridge not being compatible and refused to print (even though it worked before I fitted the replacement black cartridge!).

The printer would print using the new black cartridge, but only if I removed the old tricolour cartridge first; so now I could not print in colour.

To cut a long story short, I tried cleaning both ink cartridges, shaking them, blowing on them, heating them up with a hair drier to heat the air inside and thus force the ink downwards and through the jet holes, re-installing the HP drivers, using 'generic' printer drivers, waving a chicken over my head and finally doing an Indian Rain Dance around a bonfire naked in the back garden - but nothing seemed to work.

The solution!

Then I noticed that there was an HP 'Utility-Diagnostic Tool' listed on the HP Drivers page for my printer (dated May 2019)...
You have to click and scroll down to actually see all the details!

Notice that it sneakily lists 'Auto Firmware Update' as an enhancement...

Well, the first time I ran the Troubleshooter diagnostic from this download, it took about 5 minutes to run, but after that I had no more problems and both my cartridges now work and I can print with no problems. I suspect it was auto-updating my firmware.

It seems HP have done their best to hide this firmware update and to not tell us that it removes the 3rd-party ink detection software?

So if you run into an 'incompatible ink' issue, I recommend you look carefully for any recent updates and 'Utility/Diagnostic Tools' from the printer manufacturer!

P.S. The 3rd-party ink was not quite as good as a genuine HP ink cartridge, the quality is not as good and the ink is not as solidly black. So if quality is important to you, buy the manufacturers cartridges.

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