Despite a supreme court ruling in favor of third party ink suppliers, printer manufacturers remain relentless in their quest to eliminate cheaper ink alternatives. Everything from issuing stealth firmware updates disguised as security patches, to questionable takedown notices on eBay, these companies are determined to make consumers pay for their high cost ink.
For Epson, new firmware updates are applied by default as part of the routine software update checks. Although the firmware frequency varies by model, many printers were issued a January 2018 update that effectively disabled the majority of third party ink cartridges. Printers affected by this will suddenly receive notices that one or more ink cartridges are unrecognized, incompatible or non-genuine. The company expects you to replace the ink with their much more expensive name brand format in order to continue using the printer at all (e.g., $100.95 from Epson's shop for the full 410XL ink pack, versus $27.79 by a competing ink remanufacturer).
Luckily, it is usually possible to restore an older version of the printer's firmware and resolve these newfound and self-imposed incompatibilities. The difficult part is figuring out how, since printer companies are notorious for removing old firmware as soon as the new version gets released and they rarely document how to get the printer into recovery mode or transmit older firmware.
This guide is for the Epson XP series and should work on any model from 300 through at least 830, and likely many others with minor adjustments in the instructions. Please refer to the video for an illustrated demonstration.
Epson Downgrade Firmware Instructions
- Connect a USB Printer cable from the back of your printer to a computer or laptop. You must use a Type A/B printer cable and plug it into the correct USB port on the printer (square) not the standard USB input port on the front. When in recovery mode, a USB connection is required to transfer the firmware to the printer, even if you already have it connected wirelessly.
- Remove all of the ink cartridges from the printer. This will ensure that all cartridge-related errors will be reset after applying the alternate firmware.
- Power off the printer. As soon as the printer is completely shut down, perform the following key combination until the firmware update screen appears in white text [if the printer instead boots to its regular screen or IPL mode with red text, you may have to look-up or experimennt to find the proper recovery mode combination for your printer model]:
- For many series from XP-300 to XP-630: Press and hold the STOP button, LEFT ARROW button, HOME button and POWER button simultaneously
- For the XP-440 to XP-446 and XP-640 to XP-646: Press and hold the STOP button, LEFT ARROW button, DOWN ARROW button and POWER button simultaneously (thanks to Ken for the combo)
- For the XP-800 to XP-830 and similar single button models: Press and hold the TOP-RIGHT corner of the TOUCH SCREEN and POWER button simultaneously.
- For other models or if you can't get the above to work: Try all of the above and if you still fail to reach recovery mode, you can check this link for additional combo keys.
- Download the older firmware onto the connected laptop or computer. For your convenience, a table containing older firmware for the most common printer models (XP-200 through XP-960) is available below. If you have a different model, it may take some research to find the desired firmware since most printer manufacturers remove obsolete firmware from their site immediately and provide no downgrade instructions. Epson's printers use a self-installing firmware updater that can be run directly from Windows or MacOS. In the case of the XP-630, the earliest firmware update that is the most compatible with third party cartridges is NQ10F8.
- After launching the downloaded firmware installer, step through the wizard by following the on-screen instructions. In the case of Epson, you mostly have to click next through a few pages of disclaimers. Assuming the printer is connected to the PC with a USB cable and powered up to the recovery screen, you should see a single entry in the Model list and it should be checked. Click Start to begin the firmware downgrade, and then click Yes to confirm. The prior firmware will be transferred to the printer, where it will begin flashing automatically. This process can take several minutes, but when it is completed the on-screen display will indicate that it has finished.
- Once the downgrade is complete, press OK or unplug the printer to power it off. Then power it on again. When prompted, insert the ink as usual and then let the printer complete the ink initialization.
If all of the instructions have been followed successfully, you should no longer receive errors about incompatible ink when using third party cartridges and will be free to print once again. Make sure to disable or otherwise ignore any prompts to update the firmware again to avoid this happening in the future. For Epson, you can uninstall Epson Software Updater as an extra precaution, or simply remember to always uncheck the firwmare updates when prompted (it is safe to update the other software packages).
One unaffiliated third party site that I found of value is Xtrime Printer Drivers, which includes variety of software and firmware downloads for Epson, Canon and Brother printers circa 2015-2016. You may wish to run any downloaded file through a scanner such as VirusTotal to ensure it is clean before running it). You may also find WIC Utility of interest (also unaffiliated); the free version can query many printers to detect older firmware versions and list them for review, but to actually downgrade using this software instead of manually as described in this video costs $20 per reset. Some additional firmware downgrade key combination instructions for other XP models can be reviewed here.
Epson Firmware Download LinksFor your convenience, a table containing 2016-2017 firmware files for a wide range of Epson printers is included below (Windows and MacOS). These are official Epson download links (secure and virus-free).
Update: Since posting this, Epson has been retroactively removing all traces of the old drivers from their FTP server. As such most of these links are currently invalid and I unfortunately did not make a mirror copy of some. You can still find some of them on driver sites by searching the firmware number, but use caution on said sites and be sure to scan the EXEs through a virus tool before running.
An Alternate Method (Scrape Carbon Band Off Cartridge)
This tip comes courtesy of Greg, who received these instructions and images from an ink supplier and confirmed it solved the rejection notice for him. Your success may vary depending on the cartridge type. I would still recommend to first attempt downgrading the firmware as described above, but if that fails or still gives you error notices you can try this as an alternative:
- Locate the carbon film band on the upper right corner of the chip.
- Scrape the carbon film band with a box cutter or scalpel (or even a sharp knife if that is all you have).
- Install the cartridge into the printer again to check if it is recognized.