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SureColor P-Series in America & China

an opinion

by
Jon Cone
published on 07/11/2017 20:00:00

EPSON SURECOLOR P USA VERSION PRINTERS UPDATE

Background: 

Epson SureColor P-800, P-5000, P-6000, P-7000, P-8000, and P-9000 printers sold in the USA (or North America) are according to Epson “designed to work [exclusively] not with other brands of cartridges or inks”.  How these printers enforce the use of only OEM cartrdges is very sophisticated in this new generation of printers. As it stands US and Canada customers are only able to buy and to use Epson ink cartridges in these printers. But, that may be changing sooner than later. Read on!

Incidentally, this non-Epson brand cartridge lockout appears to be peculiarly specific to the North America market. Owners of these same printer models in Europe and China regions do not have the same restrictions as USA owners. Chinese and European customers can choose alternative ink and maintenance solutions including our PiezoFlush®, ConeColor®, InkThrift®, and Piezography® inks. Solutions have been available in Europe and China for many months now.

The smaller desktop SureColor P-400 and P-600 printers are the only two SureColor printers that are unaffected by the USA Epson only cartridge program. We do not believe that owners of these smaller format printers should ever upgrade the firmware of these printers. We also do not believe that owners should opt into any My Epson Connect services which may automatically push “enhancements” or “improvements” or “upgrades” to their printers. There may be a possibility that doing so could initiate the same design built into the larger format printers.  It is our opinion that there isn’t any single convincing reason to update printer firmware unless it is to remove blocks that were imposed by the OEM. 

Firmware and Dynamic Security Features:

Epson is not the only OEM to lock its customers into buying only OEM supplies. HP recently attempted something that backfired horribly for HP.  What HP did was to push a firmware upgrade in early 2016 to its customers inkjet printers that would trigger a “dynamic security feature” many months later. The dynamic security feature was apparently designed to disable an inkjet printer that was loaded with third party cartridges. While it did not affect all HP printer models, it did affect a very wide popular range of models. The scheme worked perfectly. Suddenly in mid-Sept 2016, HP customers’ printers began displaying errors indicating that their printers would no longer operate without HP authorized supplies.

What HP had not considered was how HP customers would react. Almost immediately affected HP printer customers banded together, generated lots of bad HP publicity, and sought the help of State agencies and consumer advocacy groups. It went viral and generated a ton of negative publicity that could not have come at a worse time for HP.

HP was quick to publicly apologize to its customers. HP immediately issued a firmware update to unlock the printers. Ultimately, HP customers formed three class-action lawsuits that a Federal judge consolidated into one mega class-action. This class-action suit claims amongst other things that HP violated Federal anti-trust and consumer protection laws. This case is actually (to HP surprise) moving forward and HP has a lot to lose and is fighting vigorously to have it dismissed. July 14 is an important date in this case. That’s when HP’s motion for dismissal is to be heard.

The Epson SureColor large format cartridge:

There was enough detail in the plaintiffs briefs of how the HP anti-third party ink cartridge scheme was devised, and it revealed information that was very valuable to a few suppliers who design 3rd party chips for Epson printer cartridges. Chip suppliers that I visited with in China informed me that they have learned that a similar chip scheme may be being employed in the Epson USA region SureColor P large format printers. They believe that each USA version large format Epson SureColor P printer has a unique serial number and that each Epson SureColor ink cartridge has a unique cartridge chip serial number. When a cartridge is inserted into a printer the printer records and stores the cartridge chip serial number and immediately checks to see if it has been previously stored. If the printer encounters an illegitimate chip serial number or an attempted second use (because the chip has been reset), then the printer will lockout the cartridges and prevent printing. And by going on this assumption, they are making considerable progress in coming up with a solution for USA printers.

This type of scheme would prevent re-use of Epson brand cartridges as well as the use of 3rd party cartridges that do not have bonafide serial numbers. What is definitely known is that USA version printers will only operate with single-use Epson brand cartridges. While it is now actually possible to reprogram an Epson brand chip, doing so with a chip previously used in the printer causes that printer to lock up. This type of reprogramming has not been made available in inexpensive end-user devices. Rather, it requires an industry standard chip programmer. Using a non-Epson brand chip also causes the printer to lock up. It’s a classic Catch-22 for USA users. They can’t responsibly reUse the OEM cartridge and they can not choose another Brand of cartridge.

A glimmer of hope now exists:

As of this writing, an Epson brand SureColor Pro cartridge can be refurbished by installing a new internal bag filled with any of our inks. That bit is easy. The complication is in the chip. The technology exists to reprogram it. But, we can not return the chip to the same printer that it was previously used with because it would cause that printer to lock up. A printer with a different serial number could use that cartridge and chip, but only once. In order to initiate a SureColor large format cartridge refurbishment program, InkjetMall would have to have a very large supply of used cartridges. Customers could use these cartridges multiple times, each time returning it to us for refurbishment, but receiving a different, numerically unique cartridge/chip in return. We would need a large numbers of spent cartridges to get a program like that rolling. 

Unfortunately, since we began this program we have accumulated only three cartridge sets of serial numbers. We will continue to collect and if you know any users with spent cartridges for these printers please share this link to our online form. They’ll receive a $2.50 credit per cart plus free pickup. Please let them know that we are unable to refurbish starter carts and it will not be economically possible to refurbish 150ml carts. We need 350ml and 700ml production carts!

Unfortunately, the P-800 chip is not yet possible to reprogram in the same way. So, it is the outlier in what is becoming a more hopeful situation for larger format SureColor printer owners in the USA.

One of our customers gave us a USA Epson P-7000 that has a permanently clogged channel. He had not invested in the extended warranty and found it less expensive to purchase another printer than repair this one. We are using it to test chip solutions. Our first testing will be with PiezoFlush which we believe will bring back the bad channel.

One of the solutions we are just now testing is using bonafide chip serial numbers that have been flashed onto donor chips that we have relocated to our standard refillable cartridges. We have a lot of printing to do in order to see if the entire volume of ink can be reliably printed. If this is a “go” (meaning that our P7000 can use three sets of 350ml ink with these three sets of chip serial numbers), then this will allow us to supply at least three refills to all of our customers. Hopefully within the year we will gather more sets of serial numbers and be able to supply more sets of refills to all of our ink customers. Certainly we should be able to keep up with our customers needs as we acquire more complete sets of Epson SureColor cartridge chip serial numbers. We will just need to make sure that our customers do not use the same serial numbers a second time. Not difficult.

So, as of this writing it is beginning to look promising for USA customers. Oddly, we have HP to thank for this. The HP chip scheme information that was described in plaintiffs briefs has been instrumental to the development of new chip solutions for the Epson SureColor P large format printers. Prior to that, the mystery of how was being tackled at the motherboard and that type of solution is neither easy nor attractive for a printer owner. All of our chip suppliers seem to be aware of the process which they must now circumvent. We do know at this point that a solution is going to be found. If not now, soon. There may even be different solutions, or multiple solutions.

If our current testing goes well, we could have a solution ready in just a few months for P-6000, P-7000, P-8000, and P-9000. If our testing is not stable enough for us to support our customers with, then we will continue testing other solutions. We may not be the first company to offer something – but we will be the first company to offer something that is stable, that can be supported, and will not harm your printer. That’s the InkjetMall philosophy.

We will keep you informed.

 

EPSON SURECOLOR P CHINA VERSION PRINTERS UPDATE 

Okay, what’s happening in China?

Epson SureColor Pro printers are happening. Chinese customers are able to use refillable cartridges filled with their preferred brand of ink. Lucky! I’m so envious!

Consumer protection laws have expanded in recent years in China as it intentionally moves from an export economy to one fueled by its rapidly growing and spending middle-class. China is emulating consumer protection and anti-competition laws that the US created but no longer enforces. By enforcing these laws, China is encouraging more innovation and choice and a healthy competition that fosters continued development of new technologies. Choice is vital to growing a spending economy.

ConeColor and Piezography inks are happening in China. We have distributors for both ConeColor and Piezography. Our inks are being exported from USA to China where it is then sold to photographers, fine artists, and professional printing labs.

The market in China for art and photographic prints has exploded.

China-based fine art labs producing fine art prints must continually add new printers in order to meet the demands of collectors and hotels who buy large quantities of photo and fine art imagery, and corporations with needs to decorate new headquarters and office buildings. The market in China is driven by rising expectation and the need for better performance. ConeColor and Piezography inks fit perfectly into this environment. Our inks are used by professional printers seeking reliable color alternatives to Epson inks and a higher performing ink than locally sourced products.

China is experiencing the growth now that the USA did in the 80s/90s – because of similar factors. The middle class in China is strong and expanding and desirous of collecting fine art and photography. The hotels in China are concerned with both the image they portray and the images they use to portray their identities. A new prosumer group is forming based on small format printers with photographers in limited space wishing to produce their own prints. Where the USA shares most of its images online, China is discovering the beauty of the print – and our inks are helping to fuel this print renaissance. It’s very exciting to be a part of it and to witness it.

When we were in Beijing, we visited one of the best fine art printing labs in the arts district. Their staff numbered in the 100’s and worked on floor after floor filled with production equipment. I saw departments using large format printers from all of the same OEMs selling printers into the USA. I also encountered unique departments like the one focused solely on “washi” papers printed utilizing inkjet technology. I was asked not to take pictures of some of the print mounting operations which they considered proprietary.  

We were there to introduce ConeColor Ultra HD™ matte black ink.

ConeColor Ultra HD is the darkest matte black ink in the world. No one has anything like it! ConeColor Ultra HD is too expensive to formulate and manufacture on a large scale and sell at a profitable price. I do not believe that Epson or Canon or HP or anyone will catch up to this new black ink. Vermont PhotoInkjet has again raised the bar to a much higher level with an extraordinarily darker dMax than any OEM or third party supplier.

Black ink has always been an important component of calligraphy which is one of the highest forms of expression in China. Having the darkest possible black is very desirable in Chinese fine art reproduction. The Beijing studio that we visited had purchased several Epson SureColor 9000 printers believing, that according to Epson, they had the darkest dMax. That notion changed in less than an hour.

Upgrading non-USA version large format Epson SureColor printers from the Epson HD MK to our new Ultra HD MK is as easy as inserting a refillable cartridge and making new ICC profiles. The gain in dMax is readily apparent. The new ICCs required because of the gain in dMax increase both the dynamic range and shadow color gamut.

The guys in the photo above compared our new Ultra HD MK ink to the black ink in all of the latest printers from Canon, Epson, HP, Roland, Mutoh, and Mimaki. They have them all. They were duly impressed and through translation explained that they would immediately purchase large quantities of our new Ultra HD Matte Black ink. In the photo above, the production manager in the middle has just been told that we are not there to sell him this ink, but only to find out whether the market is interested in this ink. He told us, this ink would allow his production to satisfy his most difficult to please artists and photographers. As of this writing, our ink is now being distributed in China.

In case you are curious, you can raise the dMax of an Epson X900 or X880 printer using OEM inks from 1.64 to 1.84 by just replacing the OEM matte black with ConeColor Ultra HD Matte Black. That’s a 12% gain in dMax! But, it also means that you can get 1.64 (like you used to on expensive grades of paper) on much less expensive grades of paper if you have been choosing paper grade by its dMax. And if you are thinking of upgrading to a SureColor P printer for its dMax, they can only achieve 1.72 on expensive grades paper. This is why we say “Upgrade your inks rather than your printer!”  Read more here.

Incidentally, or to change the subject slightly, Vermont PhotoInkjet is providing a slightly different formulation of the Ultra HD matte black and ConeColor inks to a printer OEM that serves the fine art market in China. Our ink is branded by the OEM and that OEM competes with Canon, Epson and HP for the China photography and fine art market. They are using formulations we designed specifically for their printheads so that they can continue providing warranties for their printers. It is also a sign of our maturing ink development and formulation which we moved directly to our Vermont location a few years ago, and that we continue to invest in, and which we produce responsibly and without impact to the environment!

So, in China the SureColor P-800, P-6000, P-7000, P-8000, or P-9000 are called SureColor P-808, P-6080, P-7080, P-8080, and P-9080. These are the same exact printers as the USA models without the internal mechanism that forces the owner to use only Epson branded cartridges. In China owners of these printers are free to choose their own consumables. Unlike their American counterparts they are also able to use flush and clean cartridges to repair them.

Before you go “hey wait a minute….”    I can report to you that installing Chinese version firmware and printer drivers will not remove the lock-out mechanism in a USA SureColor printer. I can already report to you that replacing the chip controller board with an aftermarket chip controller board is not effective in USA printers. I can report to you that EU and Asia version motherboards are unavailable to anyone without a legitimate EU or Asia printer serial number. Therefore getting one is much more difficult than getting an EU or Asia version printer. Those can be imported easily enough.

New InkjetMall products for the China photography and fine art market:

Vermont PhotoInkjet is actively developing new products for Chinese photographers and fine artists. We are developing something special for China for the Epson SureColor P-7080 and P-9080 printers that will rival the ink system I invented to print the Ashes and Snow projects of the early 2000’s. 11 ink positions, and our own printer driver, will allow us to do even greater things than what we’ve done in the past with Roland printers. Vermont PhotoInkjet was the ink supplier to the $25,000+ Roland D’Vinci wide format printers that featured 12 different inks and simultaneous ConeColor and Piezography solutions. Whatever we develop for the China version large format SureColor printers will also work on USA Epson 4900, 7900 and 9900 printers. It will also work on the USA version SureColor P-5000, P-7000 and P-9000 printers when the anti-3rd party cartridge problem is fully solved.

What I find fascinating is that China is rapidly becoming the center of our development. We have been at the forefront of every inkjet breakthrough in the US since the early 1990s. In fact, we introduced pigment inks and light blacks into Epson printers before Epson did. Prior to this, we were IRIS Graphics Development Partner for Fine Arts. We were responsible for 50 of the first fine art “giclee” studios, and we developed one of the first archival ink sets ever produced. And of course, we invented the first black & white inkjet systems. While I am deeply saddened by the turn of events that have progressively closed off USA inkjet printers from innovation and experimentation – I am hopeful that whatever we fuel in China will find its way back to the USA. It’s just not the direction of travel of innovation that I imagined. Yet, it is also an opportunity to reinvent everything all over again, again.

The new Epson printer drivers we are producing for the China SureColor printers will also work on USA versions. And we are developing drivers also for legacy Epson printers. We intend to drive these printers at twice the resolution that Epson does. So, lots of cool things to come for USA InkjetMall customers – even as its fueled by happenings in China. We intend to continue inspiring you to continue using our inks in your printers! In terms of us walking the extra mile for you, we’ve actually walked, driven, flown, rode on buses, trains, taxis and subways an extra 7,122 miles to do this!

I still promise to report on the Piezography Experience Center in Shanghai. I will soon. Also within just a few weeks, we should have ConeColor Pro and Piezography setup and running on our imported China version Epson SureColor P-808 printers using the new Cone drivers. Lots of exciting stuff happening and I will keep you informed.