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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 11 Issue 9
September 2017
Moving to Another Country? Cartridges You Buy There May Not Work in Your Printer

The problem
You decide to move to another country. You bring your computer, along with your printer and spare cartridges. After a few months you've used up the last of your cartridges, so you go to a local store and buy brand-new, genuine name-brand cartridges (not third-party ones) for your printer. You then discover that your printer refuses to print with them!

To be fair, moving to another country may create other, more significant issues, especially if the power outlets in your new country are incompatible with your equipment. Power converters and adapters may help, but for many people buying a new printer after the move is the simplest way to avoid all of these problems.

The explanation
This is called "region coding" or "regional lockout." Many printer manufacturers have adopted this approach, grouping each of the world's countries into "regions," so a printer from one of those regions will only work with cartridges from that same region. In other words, if you travel to another country within the same region, the cartridges you buy there will continue to work in your printer, but if you move to a different region, cartridges that you buy there won't work. The choice of which country is in which region varies among printer manufacturers.

How can a printer detect such a cartridge? Does this affect both inkjet and laser printers?
If you look closely at a modern inkjet cartridge, on one side you'll see a small circuit board, a flat piece of (probably green) plastic with metal traces on it. Inside your printer there are metal pieces in the cartridge socket that connect to those traces. This enables the printer to "talk" to the cartridge and find out its ink level, region code, and other information.

While I haven't personally noticed circuit boards on laser printer toner cartridges, I have read that a few laser printer manufacturers have adopted region coding as well, so this issue affects both types of printers.

Will region coding affect you if you move to another country?
It might. You'll need to gather the following information:
  • The make and model of your printer,
  • Whether your printer's manufacturer enforces region coding (according to my research, most of them do),
  • The country where you bought the printer, and
  • The country where you're moving to, and where you'll buy future cartridges.
Armed with this information, I suggest that you research your printer manufacturer's region-coding policy by contacting them directly, looking on their web sites, or using online searches like the following, substituting your information as appropriate:
  • google: COMPANY region coding
  • google: COMPANY MODEL region coding
For example:
  • google: HP region coding
  • google: HP OfficeJet J5700 region coding
Here's what you're looking for:
  • Does your printer manufacturer (and your particular model) enforce region coding? If not, then there shouldn't be a problem, but unless you find a specific policy stating that they don't do this (or that your printer is "region-free"), I suggest that you contact them to be sure.
  • If it does, which countries are in which regions? If you're moving to another country within the same region (as defined by your particular printer's manufacturer), then you shouldn't have a problem.
  • If your new country is in a different region, what are your options?
Read on for my advice on your most likely options.

Dealing with region coding - Option #1: Bring it, then replace it
Here's an expedient approach:
  • Bring your printer and your spare cartridges to your new country.
  • After you've used up the last of your cartridges, if you've moved to a different region (or you just don't want to spend the time to research or deal with this issue), buy a new printer and cartridges locally.
Dealing with region coding - Option #2: Give your printer away before you move, then buy a new one after you move
Here's a simpler approach:
  • Before you move to your new country, give away (or donate or sell) your printer and your spare cartridges. Keep your USB cable if appropriate.
  • Move to your new country.
  • Buy a new printer and spare cartridges there.
Dealing with region coding - Option #3: If possible, change your printer's region code
Some printer manufacturers (including Hewlett-Packard) let you change your printer's region code. Find out if yours permits this. If it does, and you want to try this, you will need to do it after you move and have working cartridges both from your old and new region.

Since I have an HP OfficeJet 4630 inkjet printer, I researched this online and also contacted HP to find out more about how this is done. Here is what I learned from these various sources:
  • First-level HP support people may not know that this is possible, and that even if your printer's warranty has expired, there should be no charge for getting help with this since it's apparently covered under the cartridge's warranty. Be prepared to ask for a second-level person or a manager.
  • The HP printer must be connected to your computer with a USB cable. Some sources (including their own http://support.hp.com/us-en/document/c02558798 page) may tell you that you can also use a network connection to do this, but given what I've learned, I'm skeptical of that.
  • You should already have bought HP cartridges from the new region so you'll be able to see right away that the change was successful, but don't put them into your printer just yet.
  • You must also still have working HP cartridges from your old region in the printer because of the next step below.
  • The HP technician will have you print a special test page, and then give them some of the code numbers from the printout.
  • Using special software on their end, they will generate some additional numbers and have you type them into an undocumented (secret) place in your computer's printer software. (All of these numbers are unique to your printer, so they won't change the region code on any other printer.)
  • On Windows, they'll probably have you right-click your printer icon, then click "Printing preferences," then the "Paper/Quality" tab, then (here's the secret part) hold down the Control key and double-click on the blue HP logo, which opens the window where you'll enter those numbers.
  • On Macintosh, they'll probably have you open the HP Utility (via System Preferences, Print & Fax, etc.), click on any heading in the Devices sidebar to deselect your printer. Then (here's the secret part), holding down the option key, click on your (USB-connected) printer in the sidebar to select it again. That reveals the "Set New Region" page where you'll enter those numbers.
  • After turning your HP printer off for 2 minutes, then back on again, you'll be able to print with cartridges from the new region, and your cartridges from the old region will no longer work.
Please note: An HP person I talked to via Twitter proved to me that a Macintosh can be used to change your printer's region code, but the HP support manager I spoke to was adamant that this could only be done on a Windows computer, so not all of their support people are fully trained.

Printer region coding notes by manufacturer
Here's what I have learned from articles on http://en.wikipedia.org and elsewhere, plus conversations with support people:
  • Brother, Canon, and Epson: Their printers enforce region coding, their regions are not listed on their web site, and they have no mechanism to change your printer's region code.
  • HP started region-coding printers and cartridges in 2004, their regions are not listed on their web site, but if you contact them, subject to certain limitations they will help you change your printer's region up to 3 times, after which your printer will be locked to that last region.
  • Lexmark: Unlike every other printer company I researched, when I googled "lexmark region" I easily found the following web page which not only explains that their printers enforce region coding and that Lexmark is willing to help you change your printer's region code if you move (using a USB or network connection, and either a Windows computer or a Macintosh), but it also clearly lists which countries are in which region: http://www.lexmark.com/en_us/products/supplies-and-accessories/brand-protection/regional-supplies.html
  • Xerox laser printers come with "neutral" starter toner cartridges. The first region-coded cartridge you install later will "lock" the printer to that region, with no option to change regions later. They also don't permit more than 3 starter cartridges per color. I can't find a list of regions on their web site. I also found some online reports that once it's locked, trying to use a cartridge from a second region may "brick" your Xerox printer, i.e., render it unusable.
Other ways to work around printer region-coding
Here are some other approaches that might work for you:
  • You could continue to buy cartridges from your previous region and have them shipped to you.
  • You could keep the cartridges that you were using from your previous region and refill them with ink. However, in my experience this can be an awkward and messy process, eventually refilled cartridges will wear out, and some printers can detect and reject refilled cartridges.
Related issue: Your printer may refuse to print with "compatible" or third-party cartridges
Although they may use the same detection mechanism, region-coding is different from a printer's potential ability to detect third-party cartridges and refuse to print with them.

With region-coding, using HP as an example, your HP printer from region A will probably refuse to print with genuine HP cartridges from region B.

Third-party (or "compatible" or "off-brand") cartridges are made by companies other than the printer's manufacturer. Your printer might be able to detect that you've inserted a cartridge that was made by another company and refuse to print with it, even though it's from the same region as your printer.

For example. in September 2016 the "cartridge authentication procedure" that HP had added to the firmware in certain higher-end printer models made the news for refusing to work with non-HP cartridges. After a public outcry, HP made downloadable firmware updates available that removed this "dynamic security feature." See http://newsblog.ext.hp.com/t5/HP-newsroom-blog/Dedicated-to-the-best-printing-experience/ba-p/451 and http://support.hp.com/us-en/document/c05308850 for more information.

This sounds like DVD region coding
Yes, this is very similar to the DVD industry's region-coding of discs and players, where a movie you might buy in one country might not work in a player from another country. This is another type of "regional lockout" that began back in 1997.

Do your homework before you move to another country:
  • Does your printer enforce region coding?
  • If so, depending on how your printer's manufacturer defines them, are you moving to a country in a different region?
  • If so, can your printer's region code be changed?
  • If so, what does the process require? A USB connection? A Windows computer or Macintosh?
  • If your printer's region code cannot be changed, or even if it can but you find this too complicated to deal with, which solution to this issue is best for you?
Even if you don't move to another country, you might still have a region-coding problem if you buy a printer or cartridges from outside your country, or from a local vendor who in turn bought them from another region.

In theory, international travelers can avoid this issue by buying a region-free printer, but I have not yet found one.

Many people feel that printers refusing to print with third-party, refilled, or differently-region-coded cartridges helps the manufacturers maintain control over the price and availability of cartridges. Be that as it may, I think a good approach starts with learning about these issues, and then making the best choice for your situation.

Where to go from here
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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