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.
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:
- The ink cartridges store the ink
- 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!
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.
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!