New toner cartridges are 20% full and report themselves empty at 15%. What's going on?

Originally published at: New toner cartridges are 20% full and report themselves empty at 15%. What's going on? | Boing Boing


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Printers typically ship with a “starter” cartridge/cartridges with a lower capacity. (Suspicious in its own right). Is that the case here? I have no idea. I assume a more appropriate measure is, can the cartridge print the full number of pages it claims to? But that wouldn’t help Lumafield to sell their services.


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I had my own unconfirmed suspicions about laser printers being the “new inkjet printers” in this regard. About 20 years ago or so, I remember getting fed up with the endless cycle of paying huge sums every few months on inkjet cartridges on one of those “free” printers. A few greybeards at a local Linux group told me to plunk down the $200 or so for a laser printer - it will not only be faster prints (even if not color), but the toner cartridge will last a long time, possibly years, with typical household use. The model I bought even came with a cartridge, and I made that one last years (with the magic of using a piece of black tape over the sensor, as well as finding ways to reset the internal page counter) And I still have that printer. It is not wireless, and it’s currently tethered to one computer in the house.

But I also bought a color laser printer a few years back, and that one seems to eat cartridges - at least color ones. I also found ways to reset the printer’s notion of being “empty” so I’m able to stretch out printing long beyond where the default behavior would like me to, but even then, these cartridges don’t seem exactly “full” when new.


There isn’t enough information to form a conclusion. When you take basic statistics one of the things presented is sample size. Where did they get the cartridge? Who was the manufacturer? How many of the same brand did they test?


Why do companies need to resort to shenanigans or otherwise shortchange the customer?

At this point in time, if any printer manufacturer made a reasonable priced printer and then sold refill cartridges for $5 more than their competitors but stated “you get a 100% full cartridge with X grams of printing fluid/toner, you should expect X number of prints, and the printer will tell you when you have 5% of printing fluid/toner left, and NO DRM!” they’d sell out immediately and corner the market.

I’m pretty sure it was Lexmark who took a stand like this back in the day because Epson was pulling this shit but I think they they too eventually caved to the allure of The Almighty Dollar. Found it:

I bought a Lexmark black and white laser printer in 2000 for, if I recall correctly, about $1000 and it came with a 20,000 page rated starter cartridge that I’m still using it to this day which essentially breaks down to $4 a month, not bad at all.


Capitalism. They must grow even if that growth in itself is illusory or unsustainable.


Do we know that it isn’t for the boring reason that it allows them to sell you a more expensive cartridge with a much higher page count in the same form factor?

I get that printer manufacturers want all our money and go to great lengths to get it, but “toner cartridge bigger than necessary” doesn’t seem all that shocking.


So what’s the cheap, affordable laser printer of choice these days?

I am very reluctant to go spend another fifty bucks filling color inkjet cartridges on my Officejet that are somehow going to stop me from printing black-and-white after I’ve barely done a hundred pages.


Not a laser printer, but my recent purchase of a Canon inkjet printer with deep ink reservoirs instead of cartridges has made me very happy in this regard. Not super expensive. The refill bottles are priced reasonably, too.

ETA: This is the one I got:


Sure there is…

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For a similar example of how the capitalist system seeks to extract value from consumers, please see:

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The Brother printers are what I hear are the recommeded ones, these days.


I’ve wondered this myself. Seems like if someone invented a reliable printer with reasonably-priced cartridges that didn’t do BS like refuse to print black and white documents if you’re out of yellow ink, every single other printer manufacturer would be out of business almost overnight. Printers are one of the most universally-loathed technologies on the planet, yet still pretty necessary. There’s seriously not ONE single existing company or start-up willing to stand up and take the whole pie? Capitalism does seem to be evil for evil’s sake sometimes, at the expense of actual profit.


What’s going on?

I think we have a consensus here. Late-stage, short-termist, capitalism.

And this…

… ought to be made fucking illegal. Even worse, the all-in-one that won’t allow scanning if all the printer cartridges aren’t in place and not empty.

Innovation in some sectors (usually mature ones) seems to consist merely of ways to stiff the consumer these days.

Read this for an egregious, but sadly typical example. The usual suspect, of course…


Toner being a solid, a cartridge can’t be 100% full or the augers inside it will seize. Toners for profesional printers are about 70-80% full, and cheap or badly designed cartridges can only handle way less.

Also toner being a solid, laser printers can’t keep precise track of how much they have left. They use algorithms that count pixels and density and declare a cartridge empty when the algorithm says so. Usually they try to not actually run out at all because printing with an empty cartridge may cause developer spill that will need repairs.

But of course 20% for full and 15% empty is just greed.


The only good printer I ever had was one of the early Kodak ones with the cheaper priced cartridges. These days it’s much more convenient and cheaper than dealing with a shit HP one just to get a few necessary prints done at the library. Everything else can be saved to my phone with either saved screencaps or notes scanned from one of my Rocketbooks.


Thank you for this useful perspective beyond the obvious (deception and greed).


HP LaserJet M404dn are especially fun. The printer must detect a small chip on the cartridge itself or it doesn’t except the cartridge. Aftermarket manufacturers come with tools for chiseling the chip off the original HP cartridge to attach it to the aftermarket one. It works but the chip will indicate that the cartridge is out of toner.


I love our Brother printer.

The sticker on the back says it was made in September 2011. It’s still going strong. I forget how much we paid for it, but I think it was less than $200.

I think we’re on our third toner cartridge.