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August 10, 2005 12:03 AM

Broken: HP printer error codes

C00056668Matt Wilkie points us to this HP Support page that describes how to read the error codes on an HP printer:

System error codes consist of four digits that explain which component or system is failing and what action should be taken to correct the problem. The front panel of the printer can only display graphics, so the system error codes are represented as bars. Determine the error code by counting the bars on the front panel display...
Matt concludes:

This is in sharp contrast of the designjets of a few years ago whose front panels, which can only display text, give very hard to understand messages like "paper misaligned", "ready to load paper", "cyan ink low", "paper jam" and so on. Now that we have graphics, it's so much better.

I griped to HP technical support about this. Their response was that they moved to pure iconography in order to better support their international clients, many of whom do not read english. Yup, it's much easier to read the internationalised verison of than it is to look up "paper jam" in a translation dictionary. Or spend the extra time and money to code multingual error messages into the onboard computer. Or dispense with words altogether and use pure numerical error codes. I mean mongolian numbers are so different from english ones right? (Sarcasm...)


OH MY GOD! I'm actually FIRST... Actually, I don't care about being first, I only mock the stupid readers that take pride in it.

Anyway. Yes, this is definitely broken. Certainly, a graphical screen is capable of both text and graphic simultaneously, why don't they use that? I'm thinking a "Paper Jam" message accompanied by a crumpled up paper in a printer clipart image. This would suit all users!

Posted by: Chris B at August 10, 2005 12:55 AM

No chance of call that this will require more paid-for maintenance call-outs? No, surely not!

Posted by: Richard Gillin at August 10, 2005 03:11 AM

Hmmmm... it's a conspiracy!

Posted by: Bob at August 10, 2005 04:46 AM

This paragraph (which follows the one quoted in the original post) has to be a joke:

"Each bar represents one numerical unit, and each flashing bar represents two numerical units. The first two columns of bars represent the first digit in the error code, the next two columns represent the second digit, the fifth column represents the third digit, and the sixth column represents the final digit. The error code displayed in figure 1 below is 79:04."

And that's easier than the other ways of doing it? B to the R to the OKEN.

(I think this is a classic example of the phenomenon whereby groups of managers in large organisations somnehow reach decisions that would make a small child snort derisively.)


Posted by: DJM at August 10, 2005 06:02 AM

Using symbolic representations to mitigate the problem of multiple languages is a good idea; however, throwing away well-known messages is not!

Why can't the printers have a textual message (in English) AND a unique numeric code (to be looked up in a manual) AND a graphical icon? Wouldn't it be great if system designers made a real effort to actually communiucate?

Here's why this doesn't happen: Somebody in HP looked at the bill of materials and realized that the simpler the displays, the fewer the buttons, the less languages programmed into the ROMs, the lower the overall cost of the product. Sacrificing costs often reduces quality. For HP, this loss of quality is apparently acceptable.

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at August 10, 2005 08:44 AM

This is one of the most broken interfaces I've come across in quite some time. Could they possibly have done ANY user testing on this?

What makes the situation if that's that the page you refer us to DOESN'T EVEN SHOW GRAPHICS next to the error much extra time would it have taken to put an image next to the error code so I could see if I had at least tracked down the right one.

I guarantee I will not be buying an HP printer any time soon.

Posted by: Michael McWatters at August 10, 2005 09:39 AM

And this is a large format, expensive printer!

Error codes would have worked much better here, because, last time I checked, arabic numbers are used universally.

Posted by: Alex at August 10, 2005 11:18 AM

I have a solution!

Buy Lexmark :)

(And no, I'm not a lexmark dealer, nor do I represent the company in any way. I just got totally pissed off by the overwhelmingly poor quality of HP printers, as well as their cryptic error codes.)

Posted by: Michael at August 10, 2005 01:28 PM

I've got a Canon i960, no errors, no error codes, justs prints everytime perfectly. Best printer I've ever had.

Posted by: Tom Wylie at August 10, 2005 01:39 PM

So what HP did, so they'd be able to communicate with speakers of all languages, was to communicate with nobody?

Posted by: Bob at August 10, 2005 03:16 PM

Ironically, Alex, the Arabic don't use Arabic numerals.

Posted by: Bob at August 10, 2005 03:17 PM

The claim by HP that this is to "better support their international clients" who may not all speak English is, to put it nicely, hooey.

I went to HP's Dutch site and tried to find the same information. The only search results I got in "Support en Problemen oplossen Zoekresultaten voor producten" (Support and Problem solving search results for product) are "HP Designjet 120 Printer (alleen Engels)"--which means "English only."

Even more broken: The "English only" link...takes you to a page in French.

Even MORE broken: Searching through one of the most hideously unusable sites I've ever been tortured with (in French, though my experience wasn't any better in English) I had to keep reminding myself that I was playing the part of a customer who HAD to find out what this error code meant, so I wouldn't just throw up my hands in frustration and quit. I finally found the document!

And what, do you suppose, did HP give me for my perserverance?

The EXACT SAME ENGLISH DOCUMENT, only with the web page menu items in French and the page title "document de support commercial" at the top.

Let me see...I started in Dutch, the site took me to French (after telling me "English only"), and the only support document I could find telling me what I wanted to know was in English.

So basically HP not only forces English speaking customers to figure out an arcane system of flashing lights to decode an error code number and match it up with a symptom...

...but in the name of "internationalization" for their customers who don't speak English...

...they force non-English speaking customers to use ENGLISH INSTRUCTIONS to accomplish the same thing!


Posted by: Erich at August 10, 2005 03:31 PM

We should write a note to {[-+*&$~`)=| at Hewlett-Packard.

(Please note, the name above has been converted to an elaborately constructed employee reference code. Simply go to the company directory, and search for the matching set of symbols to find the representative above.)

Posted by: Michael McWatters at August 10, 2005 04:22 PM

Broken broken broken. Not as bad as the diagnostic interface on modern cars though - you have to turn an unmarked analog potentiometer to various locations like 55% of the way, hold for a certain number of seconds, then turn to other positions (like a combination lock), then count the number of blinks and pauses from a single led that uses a morse-code like signal to indicate feedback to the user who must quickly look up codes in a reference and respond with more turning combinations before the timeout. (I think this particular one was on a Nissan Pulsar I tried to fix.)

Posted by: J. Scott at August 11, 2005 03:05 PM

Tsh !nt brkn. N mi plAnti of Sirius bbb, ee ulwaaz uzi blink blink lit meaning di numper 22.

Posted by: Voltar at August 13, 2005 02:45 AM

What is amazing is how, even after someone decided to use a bargraph-to-error-code translation system, how awfully they implemented it.

There system where some digits are represented with two columns and others one is bad. The blinking=2 is bad.

The system can represent 100 * 5 * 5= 2500 possible error codes (plus or minus). Isn't that kindof high, too?

A better, simple system would be just to make it a 6-digit error code, and limit each digit from 1 to 4 (that way there is no uncertainty about empty columns). This would yield 4^6 = 4096 error codes -- even more codes (way too many), and easier to read.

Posted by: morcheeba at August 13, 2005 03:24 AM

Well, I wasn't exactly intending to buy any more HP equipment anyway. This is just another nail in their coffin as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: Loren Pechtel at August 14, 2005 01:13 PM

This is the best "This Is Broken" for a long time.

It's like being returned to the era of Commodore 64 when only the subtle pattern of the flickering lines on the screen told you when your program wasn't loading correctly.

What on earth did the HP designers smoke the day the came up with that?

Posted by: Klaus Silberbauer at August 17, 2005 03:40 AM


Posted by: anon at August 17, 2005 02:46 PM


Posted by: cesar marin at December 1, 2005 04:57 PM

Well, I work for HP printer support. But in Laserjet not Designjet. I can tell you that all the laser printers of HP's that have a graphic control panel are capable of both text and graphic error code readouts as well remote access of the printer to read the codes either through a 'toolbox' program or for network printers by bringing up a copy of IE and typing the printer IP address into the address bar.

Most numeric error codes run this way.


XX is the general error. 13 for a paper jam, for example. yy is for a location. 13.21 for example would mean "paper jam, fuser area". The ZZ is optional and only used when the error needs or is capable of even more zeroing in. "13.2107" would mean "paper jam, fuser area, PS7 fuser sensor". BTW that's just an example off the top of my head. Error codes vary from printer to printer.

When in doubt, call tech support. Keep your warranty up to date and its free. Otherwise you gotta pay. But remember this. HP consumables have their own warranty. In other words your printer may be out of warranty but the cartridge or other customer replacable part may not be. The general rule of thumb is: If the part has more than 20% expected life remaining the part is covered under the consumable warranty. BUT THE PART MUST BE AN HP PART AND FOR CARTRIDGES MUST NOT BE A REFILL.

If it is covered, and the problem is with that part you can ask the tech to have your tech support fee refunded and nine times out of ten the tech will be able to get that for you. Also, if you ask a tech can usually email you a list of all the error codes for a printer with a general explanation of their meanings.

Hope this is helpful......

Posted by: Penalt at June 11, 2006 01:27 PM

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