Printer Ink: How Do You Define ‘Empty’?

Steve Bass finds 20 percent of the ink he paid for left in supposedly empty cartridges, but Brother has a logical (if not legal) explanation.

“I’m out of ink. Feed me.” That was what my Brother 640CW multifunction printer demanded recently. I checked and there was still enough fluid in its cartridge for goodness knows how many more pages.

I examined all three allegedly empty cartridges–cyan, yellow, and magenta. From the top to bottom, they measured 1 1/8 inches. There was still roughly 1/4 inch of fluid at the bottom of each one. That’s about a fifth of the cartridge’s capacity, so my loss in ink was roughly $2.25 per cartridge. That’s not exactly big bucks, but enough to make me feel like I was being scammed. (Oh, right, what printing manufacturer would do that, eh?)

I was fuming.

Brother Says: Oh, That’s Normal

I used my pull and fired a note off to Brother’s PR person. My question was simple: Is there a mechanical reason to leave fluid in the cartridge?

Brother’s rep had a logical answer, of course. Here it is, verbatim–make sure to slip on a pair of hip boots so you don’t get splattered with anything.

“First, we would like to assure you that Brother stands behind our product and the information disclosure that we provide to the consumer. It is always our policy to provide such information to consumers to help them understand both the product and the conditions under which the product operates.

“To address your specific question regarding ink volume, the rated yield for each cartridge follows the industry standard of that period which was based on 5% page coverage. So regardless of what small ink volume you may see remaining in an ink cartridge when it needs to be replaced, we guarantee that the ink volume that was provided and ‘used’ meets this industry standard calculation. Any additional ink volume left in a cartridge at that time was not put into the rated yield calculation that is guaranteed by Brother.

“Importantly, there is a technical and performance reason for why the small amount of ink is remaining in a cartridge that is identified as ‘empty.’ As mentioned in the User Manual, ‘even though the machine informs you that an ink cartridge is empty, there will be a small amount of ink remaining in the ink cartridge. It is necessary to keep some ink in the ink cartridge to prevent air from drying out and damaging the print head assembly.’ By doing so, the machine is protected and consistent print quality is ensured to satisfy the consumer. In effect, remaining ink should not be viewed as waste, but as Brother’s affirmative action to provide ongoing high quality output and performance of the machine.”

Horsepucky, says I. Granted, the printer may need a small amount of ink to keep the printer heads from drying out, but the volume left in the cartridge isn’t what I’d call small. And I’m not interested in the industry standard of 5 percent coverage. What I know is that even with minimal printing, the Brother needs a new cartridge way too often–and I want every last drop of ink.

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