Why Do Printer Cartridges Have Microchips?

Printer Cartridge Microchips

In 1940 four french teenagers discovered a series of Paleolithic paintings in the cave networks at Lascuax, France. These paintings were estimated by the experts to around 17,300 years old and gave them insights into the society that created the images that they could never have discovered before.

This is all good and well and I’m sure it has great anthropological merit, but what it tells me is that mankind had a pretty good grasp of how to add ink to surfaces from the very early time. So why oh why would you need to have a microchip on your printer cartridge today? Has adding ink to things changed so much in the preceding  17,300 years.

The answer it seems is no, the adding of ink to surfaces itself hasn’t changed, but the business surrounding adding ink to surfaces has changed beyond recognition…

Why Microchips were first introduced

The adding of microchips to printer cartridges was introduced with refillable ink cartridges. Before this your ink cartridge came as two different parts. Your ink tank that held the ink and your print head attached to your printer. The ink simply got fed to the printer heads and out onto your paper. Once finished, you replaced the ink tank. With this type of simplicity you didn’t need any microchips.

However, once refillable cartridges were developed, the game changed a little. These came as an all in one unit with both the print tank and the print head built into the cartridge. Because this had become an all in one unit it made it impossible for you to check how much ink you had left. To solve this problem microchips were added which could record the amount of ink left in a cartridge and notify you of your ink levels and when your cartridge needed changing.

It would seem that the adding of microchips was doing you a favour, however, they have also come under criticism.

The problems with microchip ink cartridges

Microchips were first added as a way to monitor the amount of ink the cartridge contained, but this has given ink cartridge manufacturers a certain amount of control over your ink usage. Here are some common complaints that people have experienced…

1. They don’t actually know how much ink is left

The microchips tells you that you have x amount of ink left, but the reality of it is that the microchip doesn’t really know exactly how much ink you have left. It cannot work out the volume. Instead, it records how many pages you’ve been printing and tries to estimate how much ink you have been using. This means that your printer can start warning you that you’re running out of ink when you know for a fact that there is plenty left in there. Or if you didn’t know you had plenty left, you could easily be replacing ink that you still actually had.

2. They can have an built in expiry date

Some manufacturers have been found to have add an expiry date to their print cartridges. Either if the cartridge has been in the printer for over thirty months or the cartridge itself is over four and a half years old. Whichever comes first. The argument from the manufacturers is that after this time the quality of the printing will decline so it is time to replace the cartridge, but if you’re just doing average print jobs then this can lead to a lot of unnecessary extra expense.

3. They can block refills from non-manufacturer ink cartridges

If you try and refill an ink cartridge using non-manufacturer ink refills, the microchip can record this and override the new ink so it still thinks that the cartridge is empty. Manufacturers do this so you only buy their official refill ink, often at a much higher price than some of the alternatives available.


It seems that depending on how you look at it, microchips on ink cartridge are either their to do good or evil. On the side of good they were developed to help let you know how much ink you have left and when you need to change. However, the ink cartridge manufacturers have also realised that they can use the microchips to exercise greater control over how you can use your printer and the refills you need to buy for it.

If you find that your printer controls how much and what type of ink cartridges you can use, then you might find it cheaper in the long run to simply buy a new printer that gives you more freedom in the amount and type of ink you use.

About the author:

James Adams is a professional writer and marketer who is currently employed at Cartridge Save. He is involved with a large number of speciliased tasks within the inner workings of the company and has amassed a great deal of knowledge regarding business, printers and online media. His passions involve writing, psychology and online driven media.

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