My HP Photosmart Printer Just Stopped Printing…

In December 2010, I set about selecting a new printer. As documented here on my blog, I purchased an HP Photosmart Premium all-in-one (C410a) thanks to its AirPrint capability and decent photo quality. This week, after less than two years of light use, my Photosmart stopped printing. I tried two new black ink cartridges but nothing worked. The photo “side” is fine, but it’s worthless for documents.

I just spent $40 to replace the print head on my newish HP Photosmart printer… But it’s still dead!

Deja Vu All Over Again

My previous HP Photosmart printer failed after four years of use with an “ink system failure” error. It then began rebooting constantly, probably a power supply issue, before I recycled it and purchased this new printer. At the time, I remarked that foreign a half years of use was pretty good for a plastic mechanical device like an all-in-one printer, and noted the fact that two sets of ink costs as much as an entire replacement. For that reason, I wasn’t so disappointed with the sub-five year lifespan of my HP printer.

This time, I’m not so happy. This printer is in perfect shape, and has never moved from the spot I unpacked it. I have religiously replaced the inks before they went completely dry, always using official HP replacements. And I haven’t used it all that much, since most of my work is done electronically these days.

The symptoms of this printer failure were quite simple: the printer completely stopped printing black ink on plain paper. Color printouts contained only the color, and photos continued to print perfectly.

So what happened? Apparently, the “printhead” failed. See, inkjet printers like my Photosmart have two separate parts in the ink system:

  1. The ink cartridges store the ink
  2. The printhead funnels the ink to the paper

My HP Photosmart Premium has two separate printing systems in one printhead: One for colors and photos and another for black ink on plain paper. This is why it uses two separate cartridges of black ink, and why photo printing continues to work fine even after the plain paper black print head failed.

I searched online for solutions, and found that some people had success cleaning the print head. I tried following their instructions, cleaning the printhead using rubbing alcohol. Although it made quite a mess and dislodged a few clots of black ink, the printer still did not function. I also checked the venting on the cartridges.

Eventually, I decided I would need to replace the printhead itself. HP sells these as replacement parts, and it is actually quite easy to remove the printhead. I placed an order for a new genuine HP printhead, and it should arrive in the next few days. I will update this blog post at that time.

Update: The printer still doesn’t work. I replaced the printhead and after seemingly an hour of chugging the printer came back to life, only to continue to not print in black. Perhaps the old printhead killed the two brand new black ink cartridges I tried? Perhaps the new one is defective? Perhaps this is just a really terrible product?

Interestingly, it was almost impossible for me to find the correct printhead for this printer. HP’s own printer parts site does not seem to know this printer exists, and the page for the printer doesn’t include a link to the printhead. The printhead itself does not have any sort of part number, and I couldn’t find a reference to it in the product manuals either. An Amazon listing says that all HP 564-ink printers use the same printhead, and a review came from someone using the C410a. Therefore, I believe I ordered the right one. But HP sure didn’t help!

Disposable Printers?

It’s one thing for a printer to fail after four years of use and a cross-country move, but quite another for it to fail in less than two years.

Whenever I write about product failures on my blog or on Twitter, someone suggests that I shouldn’t cry about it since his problems are much worse. “Be glad your printer lasted 18 months,” they will say. “Mine was dead on arrival!” Others will suggest an alternative brand or simply nod and say, “HP printers are crap.”

I find it interesting that HP made the printhead so easy to replace yet so hard to find. Could it be that they know these fail after just a year or two, and wanted to make them a user serviceable item? If this was true, however, you would think that HP would make it easier to find the correct part!

I think the more likely answer is that HP knows these fail, and made them easy to fix for technicians, not end-users. They expect users to contact support or go to an HP authorized service center for repairs. Although this is probably wise for some users, it is disappointing that HP prefers the printhead not to be user serviceable!

Some printers (especially those from other brands) integrate the print head with the ink cartridge. This raises the incremental cost of inks, but means you get a new print head every time you change out the ink module. Perhaps this would be a better solution if they indeed have a short half-life, though the financial angle is not so certain. HP ink isn’t cheap, so I can’t imagine how expensive it would be if it included an integrated printhead!

The long-term solution is simple: No more printing. As stated at the beginning, I have used my printer less and less over the years, especially now that I am a Mac user. With excellent integrated PDF support, including contract signing, Mac OS X means I rarely need to print anything out at all! And I hardly ever need to fax anymore. Perhaps the Photosmart will be my last printer.

Stephen’s Stance

With a printhead failure in less than two years of ownership, I can no longer recommend purchasing HP printers. But I’m not going to start looking for another brand. Instead, I will replace the printhead and reduce my printing even further in hopes that I won’t need to replace this one!

  • Stephen Hucker

    A not uncommon story. I only print once or twice a year so I have a $60 laser printer that is now over 5 years old running on its first toner cartridge. Since I print very little when I did have an ink jet, the ink cartridge would often malfunction before I needed it. Combine this with manufacturers putting use by dates for the ink and I will never touch an ink again.
    Too much hassle, too much expense, just print your photos at your local photo shop and print coupons, etc with a cheap laser printer.

  • PrinterFanatic

    Printers are disposable these days, I doubt you’ll find any brand printer these days that will last you more than 2 years. Just buy a new one, for what you pay for ink on the old one it will cover half the cost of the new one.

  • adriennemonk

    Just found your story because I have the same story! And don’t know what to do! Am just about ready to buy a new printer but they all seem just as bad…..

  • Mike

    Although probably too late to help, I may have a solution. Like you, my C410a printer suddenly quit printing black. After nearly two hours of trouble shooting, I found that the print head was gunky with black ink. I removed it, cleaned it as thoroughly as I could, and replaced it, but no luck. So I ordered a new print head from eBay, reconditioned from a third party – part CN642A. New print head arrived, I installed it and everything is working fine. HOWEVER, I noticed there was a small rubber adapter included with the reconditioned print head. It is sized to fit the output on the black cartridge on one side and the black ink screen of the print head on the other. Here is what I suspect: I seem to recall that the 564 black ink cartridges have been changed. The hole on the cartridge is now bigger than the screen on my three year old printer. This would explain why I got such a surplus of black ink on my original print head. So I installed the rubber adapter/gasket and it fit perfectly. I suspect my original print head was not bad at all, but that it had so much ink in it that I hadn’t sufficiently cleaned it. But it was worth it to buy the reconditioned print head for $20 (instead of HP’s $50 for a new one), because it included the rubber gasket and seemingly solved the mystery.

  • nezzie

    I also have an HP Photosmart Premium c410 series. I allowed the color cartridges to go dry, just printed in black, and when I replaced the color cartridges it would still only print in black. I followed the tutorials to clean the print head but it will no longer align. I ordered and installed a new CN642A print head, but it will not align either…the printer/scanner will only print out in black. Any ideas as to a potential solution? Bummer!