Your Epson All-In-One Will Arbitrarily Self-Destruct Once It Prints Enough Pages

When the Epson all-in-one device that Steve bought for his mother failed, the error message indicated that the ink pads were worn out. Simple enough: Just replace the ink pads, right? Wrong. When the printer decides, somewhat arbitrarily, that the pads are worn out, that puts the whole device out of commission. It could still be used as a scanner, or to send outbound faxes. But not when the ink pads are worn out. When that happens, you have to throw the whole thing out and buy a new one.

This would be less frustrating if Steve hadn’t discovered that there are ways around this, which Epson doesn’t bother to tell customers about. You can’t buy replacement ink pads, but you can remove, clean, and replace them yourself. There’s also software utility that can be used to trick the printer into thinking that the pads are newer than they are. It is, of course, not easy to find and unnecessarily difficult to use.

Hi Consumerist. I’m hoping that you can help me (and potentially thousands of others) out with this.

A few years back I bought my mother an Epson Artisan 800 all-in-one. The Artisan line is generally well reviewed and performs well. A few months ago we had a nasty surprise. Turning the printer on resulted in an error message on the screen that the ink pads were at the end of their service life and to contact Epson for assistance.

The printer was 100% unuseable at this time, even for non-print related things like scanning. By whim of a bit of software code, my all-in-one was non-functional. It is worth noting that even immediately prior to this error message the printer performed flawlessly in all respects.

Upon working my way through Epson’s “support” system I was told by a representative that repairing the printer would cost $180 plus shipping. Considering that a new printer with similar capabilities could be had for the same amount or less, I turned them down. Now, by itself this isn’t so surprising; the printer manufacturers want you to buy new printers all the time so they engineer them to be cheap enough to discard and replaced. Epson’s own web site even says that “Epson recommends replacing the printer” when the ink pads are at the end of their service life. Yup, that’s Epson: A few pennies worth of disposable cotton pad gets dirty and you need to replace the entire printer. I sometimes try to imagine what Epson employees do when they run out of clean underwear.

Not satisfied with that answer I started combing the internet looking for solutions. Lo and behold, I discovered three things:

1. This issue is FAR from rare. Even a cursory Google search will yield hundreds if not thousands of people with this same issue on a wide variety of Epson printers.

2. Replacement ink pads aren’t easily or cheaply available to the general public. (No surprise there.) However, they can be easily removed from the printer, cleaned, dried, and replaced. It takes about 2-3 days to do the job right.

3. Epson has a free downloadable utility which claims to reset the ink pad counter in the printer.

It’s this third point that I’m focusing on now. Getting the utility is relatively easy, though Epson doesn’t advertise its presence anywhere. You can find the download page here.

You will need to provde Epson with a fair amount of personal information, including the serial number of your printer. (I’m guessing they keep this information on file in case you try to affect a warranty repair afterwards.) After providing this information you’re emailed a link to the program to download, plus an activation key for the software.

Once you have all that, you install the software on your Windows PC. There is no Mac version available, of course. Run the software, but before you can reset the ink pad counter you need to enter your printer serial number and activation key. Easy enough – except, inexplicably, the software calls home (to Epson, I would imagine) for some reason. So your computer will need to have an active internet connection. At no time does the program tell you what it’s sending or why. Worse, the “activation server” is RARELY online. I have literally spent 45 minutes trying and retrying to get the software running before the “activation server” approves what I’m doing.

Wait, it gets worse. The program only makes three attempts to activate, then it quits. So you have to relaunch and re-enter your serial and activation numbers every time. And if the activation server goes offline while you’re in the process of resetting the ink pad counter, it cancels the reset and forces you to start over again. I tried calling Epson to get them to pay some attention to this server and get more information. I was told that they don’t know what information is being sent, and that they don’t control the server. So, to recap: It’s Epson software on Epson’s web site with an Epson-provided activation key to work with an Epson printer but they don’t know what information is being sent or where it’s going, and they don’t control the activation server.

Once you FINALLY get the ink pad counter reset, all is well, right? Well, no. Your freshly-reset printer is only good for another 50 pages or so at which time you start getting an alert on the printer that the ink pads are nearing the end of their service life. Which means you have to start the whole process ALL OVER AGAIN. The activation key you received when you reset the printer before no longer works, so you need to go back to Epson and get another key.

It probably goes without saying that I’d sooner stick my head in a wood chipper before buying another Epson product. But my greater problem is that, in my own house and amongst family members there are four Epson Artisan printers (including this 800). All of them are going to come up with this at some point and I don’t relish the nightmares to come.

Is there ANYTHING you can suggest to get Epson to (a) release a utility that resets the waste ink pad counter to zero rather than just subtracting ~50 from the current value, (b) not require customers to jump through multiple hoops to get the counter reset, (c) reveal what information is being sent to the activation server, and (d) reveal who controls the activation server?

What we can do is the thing we do best: bring this situation to the public’s attention, and hope that the sunlight of publicity helps clean the soiled ink pads of anti-consumer stupidity.