Report: Xerox is now region-coding some DRMed ink cartridges

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I, for one, applaud this consumer-friendly and culturally sensitive initiative on the part of Xerox!

For too long, tech companies have used the historical dominance of the anglophone west to get away with lazy or nonexistent localization efforts.

Now, thanks to Xerox, people everywhere will enjoy culturally and regionally relevant pigments; even if globalization-crazed bean counters would prefer to save a few bucks by forcing homogenous hegemonic inks on everyone.

In the future, I hope that Xerox will embrace the fundamental intersubjectivity of our experience of color; and release user-locked consumables to enable each and every one of us to fully actualize our unique experience of color.

wipes single tear from corner of eye


Don’t forget about the great idea of one of a kind, limited edition, region locked colors! You want blue? Sorry you can only buy it from our store during christmas! Buy now!


I keep waiting for the tech and infrastructure behind printers to be truly modernized. Computers and other devices have come a long way to becoming more user friendly, streamlined, and innovative. However printing remains one of the most frustrating and draconian things ever. The thought of buying more ink cartridges for me is a huge pain in the ass. If a clever start up or a big company like Google/Apple decided to really simplify the process, drivers, cartridge situation i think people would be totally excited.

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If you need black and white only, just get an old HP 4000 series. Will last forever, toner cartridges are dirt cheap and high capacity and it will print from pretty much anything.

Region selling for cartridges has been around for a long time, with varying degrees of lockout. HP have been doing it since at least the early 2000s - the suffix F carts were for Asia only but will usually work in other markets with no issue. Lexmark have done all sorts of nefarious legal wrangling with EULAs on the outside of the box. The Asian market Xerox business is under the Fuji-Xerox banner with different machine branding and locking.

That’s ignoring the ongoing lawsuits from Canon (As a HP Proxy) suing rebuilders and compatible cartridge manufacturers over gear patents.

HP are also very keen to pull compatible cartridges from ebay under the guise of ‘protecting trademarks’ and ‘consumer confusion’

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The annoying thing is that printers were actually among the earliest to have a not-horribly-dysfunctional model available. Sure, they cost a small fortune at the time; but laser printers that speak PostScript are 1985’s news. This is not to say that PostScript is the Eternal Best Way, I don’t doubt that there are a variety of things worth changing, if one were doing a ‘lessons learned’ reboot today; but as it happens superior solutions have largely not emerged; and inferior and/or actively hostile ones definitely have.

Every other device on that 1985 desk was more or less hopelessly inferior to its contemporary counterparts(yeah, the stories of the heroic age are stirring tales of engineering heroism and a time when people wrote software like they’d never be able to patch it; because that was true; but that doesn’t make non-multitasking OSes running on dirt-slow CPUs with no MMUs for their tiny collection of RAM suck any less); but the printer, less so.

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Just don’t let the “HP Universal Print Driver” near your computer. For something with the seemingly-simple task of just spitting PCL commands in the right direction; it is among the most abominable software I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with.

On the plus side, they might have fixed the bug where the HPUD would hang the entire print spooler, disabling all printers on an entire print server, if anyone printed a PDF. Whoever was responsible for that one needs to be ground into fine dust and used to refill 3rd party toner cartridges.

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I think pretty much anything modern has the drivers included with the OS. Certainly the case for the 4250 I have. As a rule anything other than the basic driver is usually an abomination.

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Before I wake up enough to do it myself, could anyone please do a quick search how the cartridge chips work and what’s the state-of-the-art on hacking them?

…also, can we have a generic opensource printer retrofit hardware, e.g. a raspberry pi add-on, for most common inkjet and laser ones? Tear out the control electronics, keep just the actuator drivers and replace everything else? The vendors are keen to reuse most of the designs from model to model, which would make the task a bit less mountainous. Then have model-specific adapters between the printer head ribbon cable (or the laser-drum assembly) and the generic core.

The modular interfaces to the hardware bits would also allow for a lot of various easy hacks.

There is a whole $4.5 Billion industry devoted to the task of reverse engineering and supplying aftermarket toner cartridges, ink cartridges, and refilled printheads into the laser printer and inkjet markets. It is a neverending arms race of OEM DRM vs. aftermarket ingenuity. The first issue is to get around the DRM, the next is to have a reasonable quality toner or ink to refill with (there are many that are as good as OEM). Your kid or neighbor’s or coworkers kids probably collect ink printheads and cartridges for “recycling” (which is either the OEM chewing them up to prevent remanufacturing, or the remanufactures collecting empties for their products). Here is the trade magazine “The Recycler” for more and ongoing detail than you will ever need.

Your brain trainsplant printer idea sounds like a good start-up opportunity. Good luck with your next capital round. When you are done I think you would be a printer remanufacturer, not just a cartridge remanufacturer. Easier to buy a new printer perhaps.


That sort of already exists- look at the myriad of Chinese manufacturers making wide format machines. They mostly use Epson Heads, usually DX5 or DX7. Your choice of ink, features and machine quality.

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I know there’s the issue of patents, but what are the thoughts on just open sourcing printing? Would this be too much of a hassle to tackle and make easily accessible?

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I suspect that it would be a poor fit. On the software side, no problem: most Linux desktop distros already ship set up with some sort of virtual-printer arrangement that will spit out a Postscript, PDF, and possibly other file formats from print jobs. Ghostscript is also an OSS Postscript RIP, and it works just fine. (This isn’t Linux specific, OSX has something similar, don’t know its OSS status, and a bunch of software, typically proprietary in the part that connects to the Windows printer driver model, then based on Ghostscript, will do the same on Windows, and MS’ own XPS-output device is conceptually quite similar; the Linux distros are just the ones mostly likely to already be OSS throughout, so they make a good example).

Unfortunately, as with cameras, the actual hardware is (aside from the likely thickets of patents) extremely impressive for the money. A lot of the low end stuff is simply too cheaply made to be worth it; but at most any price point you’d be hard pressed to do better; it’s just that the software taketh away what the hardware giveth(and, unlike 3d printers, where there is/was a big, gaping, hole on the low end; which was much improved by the availability of ‘crude; but at least I can afford it’ models that the incumbent players hadn’t been bothering to even try to produce, printers are covered at pretty much all price points).

What I don’t know is whether the driver layer is as miserable as it is because that benefits the manufacturers in some way(eg. driver emits USB-wrapped output that matches the, NDAed, command set of the actual print engine hardware as closely as possible to reduce cost, so having a byzantine, per-model driver is worth it); or if the industry as a whole would be better off if somebody said “this is nonsense, nobody benefits from the lack of a standardized way for printers without RIPs to announce their capabilities to the host computer and accept raster input; it costs us money and annoys our customers, let’s just figure it out.” but nobody has done that.

There was some standardization with when the the USB Printer Device Class was introduced; but, unfortunately, the stuff standardized was mostly ‘this is how you encapsulate the same weird horrors that your driver used to send over a parallel port in a USB data connection’(which is how those USB->parallel adapters work); but didn’t say anything useful about the substance of the conversation with the printer.

My main hope(to the degree that I have any) is that the printer industry will perhaps be scared into submission. Inkjets, in particular, are really taking a beating: even the worst laser will do a better job for BW text jobs for not much more money; you can get photos printed for peanuts by outfits using pro gear that will produce much better results; and it’s simply a lot easier to share online/display boarding pass on phone/etc. for many previously print oriented applications.

In an ideal world, existential terror will compel at least some of the players to quit screwing around and start acting like they have to justify their existence, not merely be the least-bad. Unfortunately, there is also the possibility that they’ll attempt to turn the screws tighter, to squeeze out the last of the money before the market dies(as Xerox seems to be doing here).

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In an ideal world, existential terror will compel at least some of the players to quit screwing around and start acting like they have to justify their existence, not merely be the least-bad

It appears to have started : Epson offers an inkjet with tanks that you can simply refill:

They are still a bit pricey (around $300), but that’s definitely a step in the right direction.


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