Canon forced to sell non-DRM ink cartridges due to chip shortage

Ink cartridges in a Canon printer
The non-chipped cartridges give users an error message. Photo credit: Getty Images

With printer ink costing more than champagne, manufacturers have invested in ways to try and avoid consumers buying non-branded inks.

One method is installing digital rights management (DRM) chips in the cartridges to try and stop unbranded inks from working.

However, that's backfired on Canon due to ongoing chip shortages.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made chips harder to come by for electronic manufacturers, forcing Canon in Europe to start shipping non-chipped cartridges.

Because many of the company's printers use DRM, this means customers are getting error messages explaining that the ink they installed can't be recognised.

"While the global shortage of semiconductor components continues to affect many industries, it’s our priority to limit possible disruption to our customers," the company told website Engadget.

"We are currently facing a shortage of the chip that is fitted inside the toner cartridge to monitor its remaining toner levels.

"As such, we're now shipping toner cartridges for some of our devices without this chip to ensure we're still providing a continuous supply of consumables to our customers."

Canon has even had to tell customers how to bypass the error message which is, in effect, showing those consumers how to use cheaper, non-branded inks in the future.

Despite the workaround, the quality of the printing is unaffected if you're not using Canon's ink - which is often held up as one of the primary reasons for using branded inks instead of that of a third party.

One of the downsides, however, is the toner levels won't be accurate and will simply drop from 100 percent to 0 percent when they're empty, leaving customers more likely to run out of ink unexpectedly.

Back in 2016, fellow printer manufacturer HP pushed out an update that prevented customers from using non-branded inks, stopping any which had the ink installed from working.

It eventually apologised for not properly communicating with customers and issued an optional update to remove the feature, which it branded necessary for security reasons.

HP refused to confirm whether it was having similar issues to Canon amid some reports its customers had also faced the issue.

It told website The Register it uses "original HP chips in its ink and toner cartridges to ensure the best possible customer experience while protecting against the counterfeiting of its supplies".

"The company leverages a globally diverse supply chain to remain agile and adaptable in the face of changing industry dynamics," it said.