Nilay wrote a few weeks back about the Brother Laser Printer everyone has. It is reliable, affordable, and lasts a very long time. He said that you will never have to think about your printer ever again if you get a Brother laser printer. What part of Nilay’s post sounds really good? Here’s the part:
I spent a few hours trying to break the region lock on my HP printer between September 2021 & February 2022 so that I could get back to not thinking about it.
Did you know that most inkjet printers can only be used in one region?
Let me rewind. I was living in the Netherlands in 2019, at the time. I needed a printer so I spent 192 euros (about $213) on an HP OfficeJet Pro8720 — the Wirecutter pick at the time for all-in one printers, shoutouts go to my old crew. even warned that a Laser printer would be easier to use, according to the Wirecutter Article. Liam McCabe’s cri d’oeil about printers was new to my mind. Yet, I decided to go for the inkjet allin-one
It worked well at first. It was too large to fit in my office cabinet but it did all I needed. It came with a flatbed scanner as well as a sheet-fed scanner that could scan both sides. It was equipped with 2.4GHz Wi Fi and an Ethernet port and an insecure, secure web interface. It was equipped with Google Cloud Print ( , but it stopped working in the following year). It also had AirPrint. It had AirPrint. It also had a Windows app that seemed to have the sole purpose of trying to sell me ink subscriptions. It could print in color. It can print on both sides of a page. Although it could print photos, it was not as good as stunning ones. It worked fine.
I spent 85 euros (or about $93) to replace my ink cartridges in April 2020. I didn’t print a lot during that period. I used the scanner quite a bit and especially after the schools were closed due to covid, I printed lots of activity pages and coloring sheets for my children. It was not a great idea to pay so much for ink so quickly after purchasing the thing. In retrospect: lol.
My family returned to the US a little earlier than planned the next summer. The printer was too big for our flat-rate shipping container so I decided to bring it with me. Don’t waste your time! I switched the power cable to a US-made one and we were off.
In retrospect: lol
The printer stopped printing color after my yellow ink cartridge ran out. I continued to use the black cartridge. I finally tried to print a black and white return label. The printer refused to print a return label. It wasn’t until I changed the yellow ink cartridge. Fine. I spent 207 money for replacement cartridges. When they arrived, I discovered that HP region locks its printers.
If you need a refresher: region-locking is a form of DRM mostly used by media and software publishers Region2 discs if you want to buy a DVD in Europe.
Blu-rays and DVDs can be played in any region. CDs are not region-locked, which is why DVDs are. The consoles were once game consoles. Streaming media can be restricted to certain regions. Software is often region-locked. Unless the publisher requests otherwise, Kindle books can only be read in a specific region. Except for entertainment devices, hardware is rarely region-locked. Except printer cartridges.
Original HP ink cartridges cost me twice as much to buy the actual printer. They wouldn’t work with my printer because I bought it from a different region. It was not even a less expensive region of the world, unless we are talking about healthcare or midcentury furniture.
This is an extreme case, but I see it as a win. People don’t travel across the globe with a printer. However, region-locking is just one way that printer companies use DRM in order to make money. If you own an inkjet printer, you may have encountered one of these printers. Blocking third-party cartridges and preventing refills. Remotely bricking printers if they reach “endof life” or if your ink subscription is cancelled. It took Inkjet Supply and Hostage Situations Incorporated just a few hours.
Anyway. After having just spent two hundred dollars on new ink cartridges for a functional printer that I had already taken halfway around the globe, I was determined get the printer working with the cartridges. This is called the “sunk cost fallacy”.
After spending many hours over five months, I finally got them to work. Here’s the story, as it was reconstructed using a Twitter thread, some hastily jotted comments, screenshots and emails. Except for Ferdinand and John who were both patient and helpful, the names have been changed.
- I begin by complaining about Twitter. Cory Doctorow eventually retweets it, which is how you know you’ve made it in complaining-about-DRM Twitter.
- I create an account through the HP Support website. I register the model, serial number, purchase date, and other details of my printer. The website informs me that I am out of warranty. I know! It directs me to a chatbot that can help.
- I am told by the support chatbot that my printer is out of warranty. The chatbot then suggests that I purchase the ink cartridges that I have. It then suggests I sign up for HP’s Ink program. Instant Ink subscription is what HP wants to you use. Instead of purchasing cartridges, you pay monthly for the printer you already have — $5.99 per 100 pages is popular — and they send you more ink if your printer says you are running low. You’re welcome!
- I did some research and found out that the printer’s area lock can be reset. It’s easy to start a warranty claim for the new cartridges. Get a case number. Connect to the printer using a USB cable. Then, contact HP Support. Easy!
- SIDEQUEST: find a USB A to B cable. Since we moved all of our stuff has been in boxes. The only cable that I can find is USB 3.0 and not 2.0. It doesn’t work because it has the extra data head (technical term). It is possible that one exists at my in-laws house.
- My mother-in law lives 20 minutes away so I call her. She gives me the correct cable. It measures approximately four feet in length.
- The printer is located on the opposite side of my desk, and I don’t want to move them.
- SIDEQUEST: Find a Working Laptop.
- I pulled out my 2013-era Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro to apply many years worth of Windows updates.
- The USB cable connects the laptop to my printer. This feels like a step forward. I am ready to contact HP.
- I am an older millennial. This means that I won’t pick up the phone until it is too late. HP Support already responded to my tweet, and asked me to DM them. I oblige.
- HP tech support requests that I install HP Smart or the complete printer software suite. They also send directions to access a secret area within the printer app, where I can reset my printer region. Simply hold down Shift and Ctrl while right-clicking on the empty area right above the ink level indicator.
This would be the location of the ink cartridge level indicator, but it’s not.
- Because the ink cartridges I have are not compatible, I can’t access the secret menu under the HP Smart app ink levels menu.
- HP Support requests my serial number. They suggest that I download the complete HP printer software instead of HP Smart and then try again.
- I install and download the complete HP printer software. I open it. The software suggests I use HP Easy Start.
- I installed the HP Easy Start utility.
- The HP Easy Start utility installs the entire HP printer software.
- The software is running. It recommends that I use HP Easy Start.
- I quit and tried a new computer.
- I can access the Set New Region menu. This menu warns that it should be used with support. It lists the printer serial number, total page count, what is called an RX code and the nine-digit serial numbers of each cartridge. You will find five text input fields, labeled 41 to 42, 43, 44 and 45, respectively, at the bottom.
- This is what you should expect: I will give support the information below. Support then plugs the information into a key generator utility, which generates five four-digit numbers. I put those numbers in boxes 41 to 45. This generates a five-digit hash for box 51. I sent that number to support. If the number matches the box 51 number, I hit Reset Device and the printer region is reset.
- I send serial numbers, page count and RX codes to HP Support via Twitter DM.
- It was revealed that either Twitter, or the software HP uses to interact Twitter DMs is redacting serial numbers.
A software in the chain removed the serial numbers that I sent via Twitter DM to HP.
- Instead, I will send you a screenshot of the serial number.
- I send the serial numbers in plaintext with spaces between them.
- The HP tech enters the data into the reset utility. The utility returns an error.
- The tech informs me that they have exhausted their Twitter DM help and requests that I call the support team.
- It’s 5PM. It is 5PM. I must pick my children up from after-school programs.
- I decide to take the plunge and pick up my phone. Alice, the first representative, informs me that my printer was out of warranty. I agree, but I point out that my printer’s ink still has warranty (a technique I found in the posts). I then ask for a reset of the printer’s regionalization so that I can use the ink.
- Alice doesn’t know how to help. Because the problem is ink related, she refers me to the Instantink support line.
- Bertrand, Instant Ink’s representative, informs me that they cover ink and not printers and then transfers me to the general support number. I’ve been calling Bertrand for 45 minutes. It feels long because I don’t know what lies ahead.
- Cecile, general support, gives me a number to call for technical support.
- Someone asks me for my street address somewhere around here (my notes don’t give any specifics).
- Ferdinand, technical support, suggests that I have a remote team access my computer to run a local script for fixing the printer. I decline. I refuse to allow anyone remote access to my computer. This is especially true considering the procedure for setting up the printer region has never been documented.
- This is the moment I need to get to the grocery store. Ferdinand promises to call me back.
- Ferdinand calls me back five hours later during dinner. We talk for one hour, I send the serial numbers of my EU printer cartridges and the US printer cartridges to them, then they plug the serial numbers into a software utility and send me a set of reset codes.
- I noticed that they ask for serial numbers with eight-digits as my first sign that they may be using an incorrect utility. My ink cartridges have nine-digit numbers. I am aware that there might be different regions reset utilities for different printer products.
- Ferdinand insists that it is the right tool. Depending on the software used, there are four possible zones for printing. We test all four zones using both sets of cartridges, just for fun. We test both USB as well as over an ethernet connection. In my notes, I have pages containing code variants. I enter the numbers generated using the tool with care. Sometimes it matches box 51, other times it doesn’t. The operation fails when I press the Reset Device button.
- Ferdinand claims that although it might not be the best tool, they do not have any other options.
- They advised me to call technical support at a different number. It’s bedtime for me and my children. It is a day for me.
(Two days later)
- I spent several hours talking to the technical team on the phone. They can’t generate a working reset code and recommend a “semifull reset” for the printer. I agree. It doesn’t reset the printer area.
- They offered to send me an OfficeJet 8210, a totally different printer. Although it’s slower and has a lower print resolution than the original, I am determined that this printer will work. It will work until it does.
- My youngest child gets sick. A series of stressful events ensues. I don’t care anymore about the printer situation.
- The next week, I borrow a printer from my mother-in law (an Epson Inkjet that I left behind when moving to the Netherlands). I forget all about the HP.
Five months later
- I find the Epson annoying. I don’t know what. It is possible that I am procrastinating with a freelance assignment. I log in to HP and create a new support ticket. See you in hell.
- I have a new case number and call HP Support.
- After trying to navigate a complicated phone tree, I was connected to someone who sounds almost like they are standing on top of a mountain in a windstorm. We can’t understand each other’s language. I hang up.
- I call back. I am forced to endure the phone tree once more. I am put on hold. The automated system hangs on me for a while.
- I make another call. Finally, I reach a human. John really wants this to be fixed.
(n.b. Because my notes are not complete, the order of events is somewhat hazy. )
- It’s possible that we are getting somewhere. John sends me a link to a website.
- This link takes me to an HP Support page that I can’t access.
- He sent me another one. It’s to an other page on HP Support internal website.
- I was sent a third link by him. It looks like the keygen utility generates the region reset codes. It is located on the HP Support internal website, but I cannot access it.
- John would like to know what is happening with my printer. He asks to do a remote desktop session. We agreed to a video conference from my phone. I point my phone to the region reset dialog so that he can ensure that he has the serial numbers correctly typed.
- He asks me for the printer serial number, the four nine-digit serial number of the cartridges, which he can find from the secret menu. However, he also requests a separate six-digit number printed on each cartridge. This information may be the key to the correct key generator software.
- John enters some numbers in the key generation utility. He gives me five four-digit numbers to use for boxes 41 and 45. They are entered into my computer’s dialog box. Box 51 displays a number.
- Box 51 corresponds to John’s number from the utility. I don’t let my hopes get too high.
- I click “Reset Device”. A dialog box appears: Region Successfully Reset.
This is a screenshot of a screen from a smartphone.Nathan Edwards
- John asks me to turn off the printer and wait a minute before I pull the plug. If this fails to fix it, he says the problem is not with the printer but the ink cartridges. I’m skeptical.
- I turn the printer on again. John requests that I print a test page.
- It works! It’s over. I can now print again.
- John was a great help.
- John tries to sell me an Instant Ink subscription. I decline.
- John wants to know if John can help me. That’s it, man. We’re good.
- He asks me for my postal address. I give it.
- I complete the post-call survey. John is a man I can vouch for.
- I pick up my children from daycare and take them to their playground. February air is sweeter than usual.
- A padded envelope from HP arrives one week later. The envelope contains a high-capacity, black ink cartridge.
This was in February. Since then, the printer has been running flawlessly. Before Nilay’s piece on the Brother laser printer, it was something I had not thought about. It is an ideal relationship between a person, their printer, and me.
The journey was a life-changing experience for both of us. I cannot go back to where I was in 2021 and you can only reset the printer region three times. I haven’t added a functioning printer to the growing world’s e-waste pile, but I now think that I will be stuck with it until one of my children dies.
My printer software estimated that I had 600 pages left in my cyan, yellow and back cartridges, and 800 pages in magenta. This should last me for a year or so. What will you do with the ink cartridge? The free HP black ink cartridge is mys, but the high-capacity colour cartridges cost $40 per. You could also sign up for Instant Ink, which the HP website cheerfully points out.