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HP Instant Ink - cartridge failure

Yesterday I turned on the inkjet to print something. I haven't used it since the end of last month, so no problems about how many of my allocated pages I have used.

I turned it on, went away to do something else while it started up and connected and all the guff it does getting itself ready. Then, on my phone, I shared the picture I wanted printed with the HP app. There was a little yellow exclamation warning symbol. Has it run out of paper? I set the job to print and it came back immediately telling me that the printer was blocked.

Okay. Numbnuts has run out of paper. Better go sort that out then.

There was paper. It wasn't the paper.

It was this:

Ink cartridge failure warning
Ink cartridge failure warning

The flashing orange indicator is drawing my attention to the ink cartridges, and the left one (above the three coloured dots symbol) was empty and flashing.

I have used these cartridges before, and they were both installed together a few months ago. Maybe... oh, I don't know, March-ish?

I've seen this before. Not a big thing, just pop open the front flap, and when the cartridges are in the centre, carefully remove the colour one and then unplug the printer. A quick wipe with surgical spirit (or ethanol, but not hand wash stuff as it contains a lot of other things) to clean off the contacts and we're good to go.

Only, we weren't.

I tried another cartridge, one of the previous Instant Ink cartridges, and that worked. The print quality was poor as it was almost empty and had sat on its side in a cardboard box for several months (so I'm actually impressed that it worked at all, never mind well enough to print out the alignment sheet!).
Amusingly, the printer status reported this cartridge as "Cartridge is counterfeit, used, or a clone". I find it interesting that it can't tell the difference between a fake and a real cartridge, and that it lists fake as the first option.

Pop the nearly new nearly full cartridge back in, and... dead as the proverbial.

It's here that you quickly discover that you can't easily contact HP. Sure, you can phone them, they can phone you, you can What'sApp, and probably Zoom/Skype/CarrierPidgeon but you can't send a simple email. And you can't do any of that outside of office hours.


When I got home today, I called support. I had to sit through a lot of blurb about the call being recorded (guess what, so was I!) and then more blabla about finding answers on their website. Press one to speak to the autobot or stay on the line to talk to an actual person. Given that the virtual assistant on their website was extremely lacking in cluons, I opted for a real biological entity.
A ringing tone at least, after forty five seconds.
She answered on the first ring. It sounded like she said she was called Samuel? That can't be right.
She asked me for my email address to find my account. Oh boy. It's the dokidoki one. So... diluée, orage, kaput, indigo (I was trying to think of words a Frenchie would know, else I'd have said delta, oscar, kilo, india). Then some confusion about "pwa" (point), so I described the function of a full stop and she was like "oh, pwa". Yes, that's what I've been saying. I remembered that '@' has a really weird name in French, something that sounds like "arrow-bass" (bass as in the fish, not as in audio).
At the end of all of that, I described the problem while she patiently listened. As she was about to tell me something, I added that I had cleaned the contacts with and tried an older cartridge that worked.
If she was going to go through a troubleshooting script with me, that was probably the point she decided not to bother as I'd already done the usual diagnostics stuff. Yay for her! Nothing bugs me {*} more than a customer service person who insists on going through a lot of steps you've already tried that you know is only a waste of time.

A question that interested me was that she wanted to know whether the cartridge was new, or if it had been used before. I wonder if this is some sort of recognised failure mode?

She asked me if the printer was on (it was) so she called up some information which told her that the cartridge was not working. Then, a new one on me - she had me open the printer, take out the black cartridge, and close the flap. I did this, and after a few moment, "yup, it's broken, I have requested a new one to be sent to you" at which point she asked me to confirm my address again.
Part of me suspects that they are able to access more internal diagnostics than the printer bothers to tell me (the end user). This wouldn't surprise me at all, as I must log into the Instant Ink website to find out how many of my monthly pages I need, as there's no way to get the printer to report that even though we all know that it knows.

So, it's a bit annoying that the cartridge just dies like that, but the overall process of describing the problem and getting a response was not particularly painful. In French, no less. The conversation took a little over five minutes.

I wonder what sort of postage they'll use? Normally it's a carrier with a 3-4 day delay. Will this still be the case, or will it be sent by some sort of faster post (oh god, please not Chronopost!) since it's not my fault their hardware packed up?

Anyway, it's annoying but it isn't the end of the world, and getting sense out of the HP support girl was actually remarkably trouble free. The biggest hassle, in fact, was spelling my email address!
Thankfully, it was just a picture I wanted to print out. It wasn't as if it was homework that was supposed to be handed in today or anything like that, and I have the laser printer in case something really needed to be printed (like one of those going-out permission slips that were required so much last year).

I note, by the way, that the printer just sulks and refuses to do anything. It doesn't seem to have a "I can only print with one cartridge" mode. My ancient Lexmark (old enough it had both USB and parallel interfaces) would allow mono printing if the colour ran out, failed, or wasn't present; and if the black wasn't there, it would allow mono printing by attempting to use all of the colours and overprinting to approximate a murky not-quite-black. So as long as something worked, it could at least manage something resembling a monochrome printout.


You know, the inner geek is thinking about failure modes. The black and the rest of the printer are all fine so it can't have been a power surge. With the exception of yesterday, I always properly shut down the printer when unplugging it (had to pull the power yesterday otherwise it would have tried to park the inks if I shut down normally). I don't leave it plugged in all the time (and especially not with thunderstorm warnings). And it's not like it burnt itself out after printing twenty photos. So... why did it fail?

My personal plucked-out-of-my-backside theory that I developed today whilst scrubbing out a pebble-dashed toilet bowl (!) is that there's a protection system inside the cartridge that if the timing is wrong, it'll blow itself to stop attempts to reverse engineer the cartridge handshaking mechanism (which would be useful for developing working clones). The reason my cartridge 'failed' is because my weak WiFi signal spammed the processor with a bunch of interrupts as the WiFi connected, which happened at the same time as it was talking to the cartridge. The cartridge saw this timing hiccup and thought "this isn't a real printer" and went kablooey. The printer was like "the f...?" but the cartridge had already done a Romeo and swigged the poisoned chalice.
As I said, this theory is entirely made up, but surprisingly plausible. ☺


* - Actually, there's a lot of things that bug me much more, it's hyperbole, but you get the point of how frustrating it is when you aren't a gormless user and support doesn't want to acknowledge this. It's part of the reason why I tend to mention in emails somewhere that I know three programming languages and am quite familiar with programming in assembler. As in, yes I bloody restarted it already and yes, it is plugged both ends. I'm not a total dildo. Usually. ☺



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Gavin Wraith, 27th July 2021, 10:15
I have an HP Photosmart C4580 wireless printer/scanner/copier bought from Curry's for £58.45 in 2009. Apart from printing tennis-club schedules for my wife and copying the occasional document, it gets little work these days. But I have come to be fond of it. As you say, it sulks if either cartridge is empty; sometimes the paper jams if its thickness or flexibility is not to its taste. But all in all it was an amazingly good buy. Printing from Raspbian just works. From Manjaro there seems to be some problem with firewalls or port numbers.
Rob, 28th July 2021, 00:57
I'm afraid that I have a very poor track record with inkjet printers.. I don't print a lot, and they were invariably dried up every single time I tried. And then you use up so muck ink as it runs cleaning cycles that you run out immediately it actually manages something half decent. 
Given the freebie-from-work mono laser printer could sit there for 18 months and work first time, a few years ago (just checked, eeks, 2015) I ended up buying a cheap second hand MP C2500 colour copier - it's a massive brute, intended for offices, but connected via ethernet can print, and scan, up to A3 paper. The black cartridge was nearly empty, so I bought a spare, but I've not had to replace anything else yet; for light domestic use, toners last forever!

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