Take That, Stupid Printer! How to fight back against the lying, infuriating, evil ink-and-toner cabal.

I bought a cheap laser printer a couple years ago, and for a while, it worked perfectly. The printer, a Brother HL-2040, was fast, quiet, and produced sheet after sheet of top-quality prints — until one day last year, when it suddenly stopped working. I consulted the user manual and discovered that the printer thought its toner cartridge was empty. It refused to print a thing until I replaced the cartridge. But I'm a toner miser: For as long as I've been using laser printers, it's been my policy to switch to a new cartridge at the last possible moment, when my printouts get as faint as archival copies of the Declaration of Independence. But my printer's pages hadn't been fading at all. Did it really need new toner—or was my printer lying to me?

To find out, I did what I normally do when I'm trying to save $60: I Googled. Eventually I came upon a note on FixYourOwnPrinter.com posted by a fellow calling himself OppressedPrinterUser. This guy had also suspected that his Brother was lying to him, and he'd discovered a way to force it to fess up. Brother's toner cartridges have a sensor built into them; OppressedPrinterUser found that covering the sensor with a small piece of dark electrical tape tricked the printer into thinking he'd installed a new cartridge. I followed his instructions, and my printer began to work. At least eight months have passed. I've printed hundreds of pages since, and the text still hasn't begun to fade. On FixYourOwnPrinter.com, many Brother owners have written in to thank OppressedPrinterUser for his hack. One guy says that after covering the sensor, he printed 1,800 more pages before his toner finally ran out.

Brother isn't the only company whose printers quit while they've still got life in them. Because the industry operates on a classic razor-and-blades business model — the printer itself isn't pricy, but ink and toner refills cost an exorbitant amount — printer manufacturers have a huge incentive to get you to replace your cartridges quickly. One way they do so is through technology: Rather than printing ever-fainter pages, many brands of printers — like my Brother — are outfitted with sensors or software that try to predict when they'll run out of ink. Often, though, the printer's guess is off; all over the Web, people report that their printers die before their time.

Nikole Belanger, WIN & NIM founder
Resource Network . Reseau de Network
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 T.416.226.3288/F.416.226.2788
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