Fighting the Epson ink chip and winning!!
Or how to void your printer warranty on the internet.

This project continues at


My CIS page.

Part 2 build your own reseter

What is a Intellidge ink chip.
Epson fit small circuit boards to most of their ink cartridges. These record the amount of ink that is estimated to be in the cartridge. I read that the official epson line is that it is for the customers benefit and not an anti-refill device. Whether you believe this or not they are a bloody nuisance to anyone wanting to refill the cartridges or use bulk ink. It also stops people using old cartridges full of solvent for cleaning the heads. Another problem was early printer models didn't check if the cartridge had been changed while power was on. This was good if you wanted to trick the printer into copying a “full” chip to and empty one, however the reverse was also true and you could easily copy and “empty” one into your full one.
They are just a small memory device holds 32 bytes of data, they do not measure real ink level and nor does the printer. The printer reads the chips on startup, estimates (sometimes badly) how much ink should have been used and writes this back at shutdown. They hold other data as well.
So epson go to the trouble of fitting chips to cartridges and building all the extra sockets, wiring, electronics and software into the printer so you can use the computer to see the predicted level and it can stop you printing if it think you've used enough ink. High-end Canon's on the other hand make the inks tank clear so you can see and have optical sensor to detect emptiness. This make a lot more sense – unless you are making an anti-refill device that is. Canon almost got my business this time but nobody I could find has run pigment in them – too risky.
To get around the chip problems someone usually end up producing read-only chip which always read full (for use with CIS) and chip reseters for those who want to refill. These are not available for 2100p at the time of writing as far as I can tell.
Before ordering my 2100p I did my homework and it seemed fairly likely a chip reseter would become available at some point and read-only chips as well. I was also cocky enough to think I could crack it myself and I have. It didn't go quite as expected though.
What do I want to do?
I want the easiest way to fool the printer into believing it has full cartridges present so I can build my CIS.
What did I expect?
A logical interface for Intellidge is i2c (i squared c) or TWI (two wire interface). Then the chip could just be some standard i2c eeprom. The Intellidge have too many pads for this but I was hopeful. After that would could SPI or microwire – again this could use off the shelf parts. If the chips were micro-controllers then plain asynchronous serial would be my choice.
I had a look.
To do this I use a AVR mega323 micro, I declined offers of logic analyzers being a homebrew type of guy. The 323 has 2K of internal ram which is enough for some minimalist data logging. It was about $50AUS in parts ($30US) to make. I wired a cartridge to bring the signals out and took a quick look with a voltmeter.
There was nothing there. I expected some power but no, the chips are only powered briefly when the are accessed. I used leds to get a rough idea what was what and hooked up the micro via resistors to give some degree of protection to the printer if I screwed up. The code in the micro was written is assembler and captured data sent via rs232 to my PC where I wrote a delphi program to display and process the data.


Click here for more traces.

This is the sort of thing I got. No protocol I ever seen. Obviously synchronous with bi-directional data, very short format. I was confused a little by how short it was - because I expect much better precision for the ink level.
The traces seem to be.
Top – some sort of sync line, this always goes low before the start of transmission.
Next – power this goes low (off) between chip reads at printer startup but stays high during the shutdown – when data is written to the chip.
Next – the clock, data is read of the rising edge and changed on the falling.
Bottom – bi-directional data, the first 4 bits are always from printer to the chip, the rest depend on whether it is a read or write. LSB first (left).

Convert to binary and some patterns emerge.
It was not real obvious how the chips were addressed or which bits encoded ink levels. Some more data when some ink had been used made it easier.

Below is one chip being read at startup, there are 7 accesses one for each chip. Only 3 block have data – the other chips must be hooked to different data lines.

Below is the complete shutdown stream. Again we can only see 3 chips from here.

After printing a few bits near the beginning of the bit stream did change. It looks to me like the first 3 bits are the chip address the next is a write bit then the ink level, I get the feeling there aren't many bits used to encode it (later looks like 6).
So – the top one shows 252 bits of data being read out of the chip.
The first part of the shutdown shows just the ink level being read out, this is to check the same chip is there.
The second part is the ink-level and some other stuff (printer serial number maybe) being written into the chip. Seeing I didn't use any ink the bit-stream is identical to the read except for bit 3 – presumably the write bit.

Tuesday 24 Sept 2002. I fooled the printer.

The interesting thing about this screen grab is the black cartridge is really only two thirds full. I spoofed the printer by pulling the serial data line low during the time the ink level bits are being clocked out of the ink chip.
This is means 6 bits starting at the 5'th bit in the stream.

The first 3 bits appear to be the chip address, I guess the next is a read/write select. I used a AVR mega323 to detect the start of the serial transmission look for the address of chip1+read (black apparently) then pull data low for 6 clock edges.

I'm sure I can reset 3 of the chips by tapping into chip1 signal. Reseting the rest will mean tapping into at least one more.

The current set up is for experimentation only – it is not “the real thing”.

Shorting the data to ground may be a bit drastic but it is only for a very brief time. I hoped the data line would be open collector but this doesn't seem to be the case.

Tuesday 1'st October. - reading the chip without the printer.

I don't really need to do this but I wanted to see if I really understood the protocol. I wrote code for the micro to act as a master for the chip. I knew the chip was a low voltage part but I hoped it would be 5 volt tolerant and save me some trouble. After getting no sense out of two chips and confirming the printer couldn't read them either I assume I've killed them. I went shopping and bought 3V3 zeners and 330R resistors to limit the output of the micro port to 3V3. Data started to flow. The micro would not read it because is was below the input threshold so I added a pull up to the data pin (on the micro side of the 330R current limiting resistors so the inkchip didn't see 5V). I could then read the contents of the chip.

I then spent the afternoon trying to write to it without any success.

Wednesday 2'nd October – reseting the chip without the printer.

After sleeping on it, I wrote a better trigger routine for my data-logging program so I could get a better look at what the printer did differently. The trace revealed all.

What you see here is the printer starting a write sequence at normal speed then after transmitting the address and write bit the clock (2'nd from bottom) slowed down to around 1 Khz. I wrote a “slow write” routine and presto I can write to it. My code simply writes zeros to the first 8 bits in the chip. I repeat the process 7 timse using every chip address. The proof was to take an empty cartridge - zap it and feed it to the printer. The printer said yum and did it's charging thing - then showed a full cartridge on the status monitor. I won't bore you with another image of it. A chip reseter could be made with a $2 micro and not much else – the socket is a problem. Most people can't program micros but for those who can it is trivial now that the protocol is knonw. My hacked about code is too ugly to show here.

Alan Chan has sent me this hoping it would help people ID their chips.

My home page.