The chip shortage is now even affecting printer ink cartridges

A distressed man looking at a broken printer in panic
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Elnur)

The ongoing global chip shortage is affecting Canon toner cartridges for printers in some regions after the manufacturer was forced to stop including copy protection chips, leading some printers to wrongly identify officially compliant products as counterfeit.

Users who have purchased and attempted to use cartridges lacking chips have been presented with error messages, as Canon printers are unable to scan them and recognize them as official Canon products.

These error messages are being reported online, with German Twitter user @Mariowitte stating in a translated tweet that "Wrong world: thanks to the lack of semiconductors, Canon is now apparently producing toner cartridges without 'copy protection' and sending out emails to customers with instructions on how to bypass error messages about counterfeit cartridges."

As reported by WCCFTech, Canon's German-language website has since published a response to the issue, offering a temporary fix until chips can be reinstated into the cartridges:

"Due to the ongoing global shortage of semiconductor components, Canon is currently facing challenges in sourcing certain electronic components used in our consumables for our multifunction printers (MFPs). These components perform, for example, functions such as detecting the remaining toner level.

"To ensure a continuous and reliable supply of consumables, we have chosen to supply consumables without a semiconductor component until normal supply resumes."

How to find a workaround

Canon also reassured its customers that despite a workaround being required to get the cartridges working, there shouldn't be a noticeable loss in printing quality. However, it did advise that "when consumables are used without electronic components, certain additional functions, such as toner level detection, may be affected."

The main functionality lost is regarding the printer's ability to keep track of how many pages can be printed, so you may not get an alert as to when your ink is starting to run low.

Canon has listed all of the known printers affected by the issue, as well as a workaround for each model. You'll need to translate the page within your browser (usually done by right-clicking on an empty space and selected 'Translate into English' or similar), but the images that accompany the written instructions are in English.

Opinion: more ways to 'hack' printers

Whether printer manufacturers like it or not, consumers have been finding creative workarounds to make printing cheaper for years, and it's no surprise. Printers are inexpensive, creating a similar marketing structure to that of razors and razor blades: the core product is cheap, but the consumables required to use it are extremely expensive.

In fact, according to YoyoInk, printer ink isn't just more expensive than gold by weight, it's "more expensive than imported Russian caviar per weight and pricier than a 1985 vintage Krug champagne per gallon".

Understandably, some people have been taking matters into their own hands, finding ways to cheaply refill used cartridges or bypass existing security on printers to use affordable third-party cartridges. 

Canon likely knows it could be opening a can of worms by offering a workaround that lets customers use unsupported cartridges in their printers, as they could use it as a 'hack' going forward. That said, Canon has also confirmed its plans to return to using chips in its cartridges, so there's always a possibility that this workaround could be patched out in a future firmware update.

I'm a little disappointed, but not terribly surprised that Canon intends to return to its old ways rather than ditching the chips entirely. With any luck, this 'razor' style system could be phased out over the coming years, allowing us to print more affordably, leaving tales of requiring a small mortgage to print precious family photos to tell to our disbelieving grandchildren.

Until something changes though, expect to feel that small bubble of rage forming when you have to pick up a cartridge refill from your local office supply store.

Jess Weatherbed

Jess is a former TechRadar Computing writer, where she covered all aspects of Mac and PC hardware, including PC gaming and peripherals. She has been interviewed as an industry expert for the BBC, and while her educational background was in prosthetics and model-making, her true love is in tech and she has built numerous desktop computers over the last 10 years for gaming and content creation. Jess is now a journalist at The Verge.