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Canon printer ink foul-up forces users to go rogue

Man beating office printer with a bat in a field.
(Image credit: SingingMedia/Shutterstock)

The ongoing chip shortage is having an impact on Canon, which has had so much trouble sourcing components for its printer cartridges that it's now selling some of them without the chips Canon printers use to authenticate inks.

That's significant because Canon has made a lot of money selling cheap printers which will only print using ink and toner cartridges with Canon chips in them. Canon's not alone in this practice, of course; Brother, HP, and other printer makers all rely on similar schemes, which is why many of the best printers you can buy won't print using third-party cartridges.

However, the ongoing supply chain issues and chip shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have apparently made it so hard for Canon to get components for its toner cartridges that some are now being sold without the chip which authenticates them to Canon printers. 

canon imagerunner 4535i on a colored background

Canon ImageRunner printers are big multifunction machines chiefly used in offices. (Image credit: Canon)

This has put Canon in the remarkable position of having to publish a public warning and guide that instructs Canon printer owners in Europe on how to bypass error messages and continue printing on Canon ImageRunner printers using cartridges which don't have the requisite components.

"To ensure you enjoy a continuous and reliable supply of consumables, we have chosen to supply consumable products without the semiconductor component until normal supply resumes," reads a printer support guide (opens in new tab) published to Canon Europe's website. "While there is no negative impact on print quality when using consumables without electronic components, certain ancillary functions, such as the ability to detect toner levels, may be affected."

Essentially, Canon is publicly admitting that there really is no reason why its printers can't print using non-Canon cartridges. Like many printer companies, Canon says embedding chips in ink cartridges is helpful because they let the printer know how much ink is left in the cartridge. And while that does seem helpful, it's hardly valuable enough to justify locking Canon customers out of buying and using third-party print cartridges, which might be cheaper and better than what comes from Canon.

It's nice to think that this temporary snarl caused by the chip shortage might lead to a broader shift in business strategy on the part of Canon and other printer makers, but don't get your hopes up: Canon's guide to bypassing its own printer DRM is aimed at folks using the big, multifunction printers that you typically see in offices and businesses, rather than the slim little all-in-one printer you might have at home.

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. He currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.