Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Review of Printer Jockey v1.2.0 software as a nozzle clogging combating utility for Epson printers

Printer Jockey is an advanced printer utility from C-Horse Software. This review will focus almost exclusively on the features that it has that might help Epson large format inkjet printer users to reduce or cure nozzle clogs. I have been using Printer Jockey v1.2.0 with my Epson 4800 and as you can see in my various blog postings nozzle clogs/colour channel loss is a major bugbear for me.

Printer Jockey is a Windows based printing utility that adds functionality to the standard printer drivers. The main target market for the utility appears to be direct-to-garment manufacturers and apparel decorators – full details of what features are on offer are listed on the Printer Jockey website. A basic version of the software is available to download free of charge from the site.

Before I review the software a short reprise of what the problem is I am trying to combat. The Epson 4800 print head has 180 separate nozzles for each of its eight ink channels; 1,440 in total, delivering variable ink droplet sizes down to 3.5 picoliters. I am not trying to clear the odd clogged nozzle as I do not suffer from that much. What I,
and many other Epson 4000 & 4800 Pro users, repeatedly suffer from is the complete loss of a whole colour channel - all 180 nozzles turning off at the same time, resulting in a nozzle check like that shown below, where the whole LM ink channel is missing.

Even more frustrating is the fact that these channel outages seem to be able to move around the print head, meaning that when one channel is cleared another drops out.

I was drawn to the Printer Jockey utility to try to combat this problem, specifically for its ability to flush selected nozzles and to print timed colour patterns. The free version of Printer Jockey does not have either of these two features enabled, so the full version is needed, which costs $99 for three activations (e.g. to run on three separate computers). The activation procedure is a bit convoluted, but it gets you there in the end. It comes with a pdf User’s Manual and there are tutorials on YouTube – even so I found that I had to email Tech Support at Printer Jockey to find out how things work; so they are neither very intuitive nor fully covered in the manual. Fortunately Tech Support, in the from of Fred Padilla, was extremely helpful and quick to answer questions – a real treat compared with many Tech Support functions I have come across.

The Channel Flush (and alignment grid) feature is supported on the following Epson printers:
  • Epson Stylus Pro 4000
  • Epson Stylus Pro 4800
  • Epson Stylus Pro 4880
  • Epson Stylus Pro 7800
  • Epson Stylus Pro 7880
  • Epson Stylus Pro 9800
  • Epson Stylus Pro 9880
  • Epson Stylus Pro 11880
  • Epson Stylus Photo 1400
  • Epson Stylus Photo R1800
  • Epson Stylus Photo R2400
  • Epson Stylus Photo 2200
  • Epson Stylus Photo 2100
  • Epson Stylus Photo 1280/1290 - soon
On running Printer Jockey you are presented with a list of the printers available on your system – the nozzle manipulation features I was most interested in are in the “Printer Options” tab (see screenshot below).

Not all of them, however, are there. To access features like timed printing and running a nozzle check (after a nozzle clean for instance) you have to double click the relevant printer and select “Printer Options” in the new window that pops up. Here is the full suite of options available - the screenshot below shows the options available for my Epson 4800.

The options of interest for nozzle clogging are “Channel Flush” and “Timed Prints”, with the necessary evils of “Nozzle Clean” and “Nozzle Check” available if they are needed – these latter two options replicate those available in Epson’s printer utility, although they simply do the action with none of the various options or fancy progress graphics that Epson offers. The “Print Alignment Grid” option is designed to help direct-to-garment printers who use two separate printers and want to match the output from both printers as closely as possible.

What is Channel Flushing and how do you use it?
Channel flushing is achieved simply by printing blocks of colour from the selected nozzle or nozzles.

The option is accessed by either selecting it from the drop down “Printer Options” menu on the main screen (after selecting the appropriate printer), or from the second “Printer Options” drop down menu on the screen that comes up when up you double-click the desired printer, or the direct button on the same screen – circled in red in the screenshot above.

The Channel Flush options screen pops up, shown in the screenshot below.

This allows you to choose which channels you want to flush, set the paper size and source, and use three different methods for determining how much ink you wish to flush each time.

First select the paper size and source you are using. The options include the standard US and European paper sizes that you are likely to use and offers the option of sheet or roll feed.

Then select the “Ink Channels” you wish to flush- it can be a single one, all of them or a selection of any of them. In the screenshot above the K and LM channels are selected (circled in red).

The three ways for varying the amount of ink flushed are:
  • Option 1 is the “Flush Ink Amount” option (circled in red above). This lets you decide how big a block of colour you want to print, although all the options are full page width; in four steps up to most of a page.
  • Option 2 uses the print “Resolution” to vary the inking – low resolution (360 x 360 min – 1440 x 1440 max). The higher the resolution the more ink is used.
  • Option 3 is a separate option to set the individual ink channels’ levels. This is accessed by clicking the “Levels” button (circled in red above). Sliders for the channels selected earlier appear in a separate screen. The screen shot below shows the screen that appears when K, C, M, LK & LM channels are selected. The slider allows you to choose levels from 100% (the default amount) down to zero, in increments (or decrements) of 1%.

Then simply press the “Create” button and the utility creates the relevant flushing programme and sends it to the printer.

The output has all the selected colour channels printed one on top of the other – so unless you select only one channel the output will not help diagnose whether some channels are printing, although if it changes as the print progresses some colour change might show up.

Personally I found this disappointing as I hoped to be able to use it for more than simple ink flushing. I gather from Tech Support that this could be changed reasonably easily – personally I would like to see the option of either superimposed or separate channel printing.

Does individual colour channel flushing resolve nozzle clogs/colour channel loss?

For me this is the key question and my raison d’ĂȘtre for trying Printer Jockey – to try to keep ink usage as low as possible when having to run the inevitable nozzle cleaning cycles that clogs etc require.

Sadly… no
, in my experience it does not. Specifically if a whole ink channel "disappears" ink channel flushing will not bring in back.

Three times I have lost a complete single colour channel (LM in all three cases) in the couple of weeks that I have been trying Printer Jockey. In the first two cases I ran a couple of channel flushes; starting with the least ink option, skipping to the maximum ink option as soon as that did not work. In neither case did it print one discernable dot of the colour that I was trying to recover. The third time I simply went to the maximum and tried five times without any ink showing up on the paper at all. In all three cases a single conventional nozzle clean cleared the problem, which is unusual in itself as recently it has usually taken more to do the job. This is probably due to my new daily printer “exercise” routine of printing little and often, and keeping the humidity up; it is just possible that the single failed channel flushes helped, but I can not really see how.

Ink channel flushing and nozzle cleaning are clearly not the same thing. Using ink channel flushing to clear out the odd blocked nozzle may well work, but I have not experienced that (yet) so can not comment. [After a couple of months I have now tested this and my conclusions can be found in this posting].

What are Timed Prints and how do you use them?
Timed printing is a way of sending small jobs to your printer at pre-determined times; mostly to keep them exercised.

You access the “Timed Prints” option by double clicking on the printer you want to print from on the main programme screen; then select “Timed Prints” from the “Printer Options” drop down menu. The “Scheduled Print” screen (see below) appears.

On the right hand side you have the same set of Ink Channels, paper size and source options available as in the Channel Flushing screen, which you set up in the same way.

On the left hand side are the timer options – which are pretty self explanatory. You select the frequency from the list of “Day” options and the time of each scheduled print via the “Add Timer” button. To add in further timed prints just click on “Add Timer” and repeat the process.

Down the middle are a set of three “Print Pattern” options controlling what the actual timed print will produce, with a preview of what they will look like in the box below.

These various options essentially use differing amounts of ink. The image below shows the printout using Pattern 2 with just the Magenta ink channel selected. The print appears down the middle of the page with the pattern repeating four times on a US Letter sized sheet of paper.

When the timers are set, press “Save Schedule” which returns you to the main screen. Here you will now see a clock face to the left of the printer which will run the timed prints – see screen shot below.

You are now ready to go, but…

Printer Jockey does not create a task to run in Window’s “Scheduled Tasks” utility (which is what Harvey Head Cleaner and MIS Autoprint do) – instead it runs the schedule from within Printer Jockey itself and it does not seem to store them. This means that if you exit Printer Jockey and re-enter it the Timed Prints schedule disappears and you have to re-enter the data.

In other words – if you want to use Printer Jockey to run timed printing tasks you will need to leave your computer on all the time with Printer Jockey active.

This was a surprise to me – and I turn my computer off at nights or when I am out during the day (not withstanding my regime of printing nozzle checks morning and evening and some images every two or three days) to try to reduce my carbon footprint, so this does not really work for me.

Overall conclusion

I was really hoping that this interesting utility would help with the nozzle clogging challenges that Epson printer users face, but viewing Printer Jockey purely as a utility to help resolve or reduce the incidence of nozzle clogging/colour channel loss my conclusion is that it does not help, and at $99 it is not something I would suggest buying.

The ink channel flushing does not clear nozzle clogs/colour channel loss and the timed prints option is flawed as it does not remember the schedule and requires the computer to be left on at all times with Printer Jockey running. This does not suit me and MIS Autoprint can be made to do everything I really need, although it does not actually print from each specific ink channel – and it’s free.

I really like the option to be able to print specific nozzles in separate colour blocks – ideally I would like to be able to replicate the solid colour blocks that Epson’s auto nozzle check prints without the cleaning etc that accompanies it within a Windows Task Schedule.

I suspect that the developers could produce the ultimate printer conditioning software if they wished, but this does not seem to have been the original idea behind the software. A combination of Harvey Head Cleaner and MIS Autoprint printing the choice of conventional nozzle checks or the automated nozzle blocks from the Epson Auto facility for around $50 would be a very attractive piece of software - for me at least.

Even better would be an implementation in the printer's Firmware that did this without having to have the PC on all the time to run the routines externally. Epson's firmware based auto nozzle check and cleaning functions only make matters works in my experience so I have them turned off.

Of course Epson should not have produced a printer that needed this level of molly coddling, but that is a different story.

I stress that for those looking to use the other printing utility options that Printer Jockey offers I have no opinion to give as I do not need them and have not tried them.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Turning off auto nozzle check and cleaning on an Epson 4800 Pro inkjet printer

I have frequently found that the auto nozzle checking and cleaning cycles that my Epson 4800 inkjet printer carries out at random times usually causes more problems than it could ever solve. I have found that turning them off helps. This posting explains why you might want to turn them off in more detail and how to do it.

Why would you want to turn them off?
On the face of it having the printer regularly check the quality of the output by doing a nozzle check and automatically cleaning the print head if need be sounds a really helpful and quality enhancing idea.

In reality, however, I and many other Epson 4000 and 4800 printer owners, have found that the printer often does “something or other” that looks and sounds just like a nozzle cleaning cycle without being asked to do anything – e.g. an automatic nozzle check and clean. The problem is that this often seems to happen when there is nothing wrong with the output before the action; but after it whole colour channels are often (I am tempted to say usually) missing, which require the usual palaver of cleaning and nozzle check cycles to get back to where we were before the auto “something or other” happened. This is both expensive in time (it can take hours or days) and money, in wasted ink.

In effect these auto actions seem to cause nozzle clogging/loss of colour channels, not reduce them. I have found that in
my experience turning off these two functions is a good idea.

If you too suffer from continuous nozzle clogging/loss of colour channels then this may be a small contributor to reducing your problems.

The picture below shows the LCD printer display and the various buttons mentioned in the instructions below.
You can turn off both the auto nozzle checking and cleaning functions by following the button pressing sequence
detailed below in the LCD control panel on the printer:
  1. With the display saying “Ready”, press the “Menu” button twice – the screen will display “Printer setup” then “ Platen Gap” on the second line of the display

  2. Press the “up arrow” button three times – the screen will display “Auto Cleaning”

  3. Press the “menu” button once - you should see Auto Cleaning, *On

  4. Press the “down arrow” button once - you should see the word “off” on the second line of the screen

  5. Press the “menu” button once – an asterisk should appear next to the word “*off”

  6. Press the “left arrow” button once – the screen will display “Printer setup, Auto Cleaning”

  7. Press the “up arrow” button once – the screen will display “Auto NZL CK”

  8. Press menu once – you should see “Auto NZL CK, *On”

  9. Press the down arrow once - you should see the word “off” on the second line of the screen

  10. Press the menu button once – an asterisk should appear next to the word “*off

  11. Press the “left arrow” button three times to bring you back to the “Ready” screen

This turns off the two auto actions, although in my experience it does not completely stop the printer from running the occasional auto
something or other cycle – it does, however, seem to reduce the frequency of them. Read more...

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Setting up and trouble shooting MIS Autoprint 2.0

Some inkjet printers are very prone to nozzle clogging and my Epson 4800 is certainly one of them. Frequent printing is often recommended as part of a package of solutions to try to avoid the problem. For those who do not need to print frequently this is a nuisance, but for those unable to do so because they are away etc this is a real problem. MIS Associates have very generously made their Autoprint utility freely available to help solve the problem.

I have tried to use the utility a couple of times and come across annoying little problems which stopped me using it, but given my clogging problems I thought it was about time I got it to work. Since I have now got it working and found solutions to several small issues along the way, this post is aimed at sharing what I have found out.

Initially the utility was only available for PCs but it is now available for various versions of the Mac operating system. My experiences reported here are all with Autoprint v2.0 on a PC running Windows XP SP2.

MIS Autoprint is available to download from MIS, free of charge.

It is simple to install – simply unzip the downloaded files, click on the Autoprint application file and follow the instructions; which, if you follow the defaults, will put the application in a folder called “MIS Autoprint” in your main “Program Files” directory and place a shortcut on your desktop. In the folder, along with the application file and instructions, are the jpeg files that it will use for automatic printing.

Autoprint uses the Microsoft Task Scheduler to print a jpeg file at a time interval that you select. Autoprint is not password protected, but it needs the authorisation of the User ID’s password to run. It will not run unless Windows is set up with a password protected User ID with administration privileges.

If you do not have a password protected PC then you can add a password to your User ID by going to the “User Accounts” control panel and setting one. If you do not want to set one for your main User ID then there is a workaround on the MIS Forum involving setting up a dummy password protected User ID, but I simply password protected my main User ID, which was probably a good thing to do anyway.

To set up an Autoprint task schedule and run a test print simply click the Autoprint desktop icon and follow the instructions – they are very clear and should not cause any problems, unless…

I run an Epson 4800 Pro inkjet printer and it is an 8 ink printer – The largest (most colours) option that came with the original download was a 7 ink option. Since the aim is to regularly exercise all the ink channels an 8 channel option seemed sensible.

Autoprint will, in fact, offer you the choice of printing any jpeg file that is in the same directory as the application file. MIS also offer a stand alone range of additional files to use (from here) which includes an 8 colour file. I simply dropped this into the MIS Autoprint folder, along with a jpeg version of a colour patch printing file I use for paper calibration (See screenshot below).

Click on the images to see them full size

And hey presto, these are now available options in Autoprint (See screenshot below).

The 8 channel ink print looks like the image below:

I don’t see any limit to the number of image files that Autoprint will offer so long as they are jpegs (it also appears to support
.bmp, .ico, .emf & .wmf file formats, but I have not tried any of these and it did not work with tiff files I tried) and in the right folder (but I have not tried that many). The images supplied with Autoprint are sized to fill a US letter sized (8.5” x 11”) sheet of paper – I find that they work fine with A4 as well. I do not see any reason why you should not use a favourite photo if you prefer, so long as you are happy that it uses the full range of inks and it is sized correctly.

If you want to save some ink by printing smaller blocks of colour you can modify one of the files to make it smaller and use it instead.

Autoprint allows you to set the interval between prints (in days – 1-14 days in the dropdown menu, but it will allow you to enter more days if you wish, although I am not sure whether it actually works then, nor why you would want to go beyond 14 days…) and the exact time of day.

If you want to set up several schedules for more printers, or for the same printer but at different intervals or using different images (I have not tried this, but I can not see why it would not work) then there are instructions in the readme file to do this:
"The task that is created by the GUI can be edited to allow for more advanced schedules. However if you rename the task, then Autoprint will not find it and simply create another one.

This could be used for people with more than one printer. Basically the procedure here is to create a task with Autoprint, test it and then rename it. Then start Autoprint again and create another task for the next printer, test it and then rename it. This procedure can be repeated for any number of times to create multiple schedules."
You can edit the task name in the “Scheduled Tasks” control panel (see screenshot below) by right clicking on the task name, then “Rename”; you can also see details of the scheduled task(s) etc in the control panel (where you can also see that I use Harvey Head Cleaner).

Nearly done:
One last problem I had was that Autoprint now worked fine, but every time it wanted to print it opened the Epson Print Preview pane first and asked for permission to print – which meant that it did not print unless I said OK, rather missing the point of the whole exercise!

To solve this I went to the “Printers and Faxes” control panel; right-clicked the Epson 4800, and selected “Properties” (see screenshot below).

In the "General" tab, select the “Printing Preferences…” tab (circled in red in the screenshot below)

Then untick the “Print Preview” box (circled in red in the screenshot below). Since I shall be printing these images on plain copier paper I also selected “Plain paper” as the media type (circled in red in the screenshot below).

If you subsequently tick the "Print Preview" box in another application you may find that it stays ticked interrupting the next Autoprint - this happened to me when I printed something in Lightroom and ticked the "Print Preview" box; the next time Autoprint ran I found the purge pattern on screen awaiting my return for approval to print...

Now it all works fine!

When setting up a scheduled print I suggest you do run a test print at the end of the process as it will show up any likely problems, such as size, print previews etc. If it does not print anything it probably will not print on schedule either so it is best to sort it out at this stage.

Clearly this utility will only work if both your printer and computer are turned on when the scheduled task is due to run. In the default set up Task Scheduler will wake the computer up to run the task if it is asleep but unlike Harvey Head Cleaner it will not run the task next time the computer is turned on if it was turned off at the scheduled time for the task - or at least if there is a setting to tell it to do this I have not found it.

I have found that the 4800 is very sensitive to paper size - I often get the "Wrong paper size" warning message when using a stack of copier paper - on some sheets but not others.... Anyway this is not at all good news if you are running automated prints via Autoprint as it simply stops any printing until you clear the warning. So I simply turn it off as I can not remember actually trying to print on the wrong sized paper.

If you do not know how to do this I have posted instructions here.

I also find that plain 80gsm copier paper is prone to miss-feeding so I try to use thicker paper, such as 100gm, to avoid this problem. Again a miss-feed completely messes up the automatic process.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Cover for Epson 4000 / 4800 Pro inkjet printer & humidity readings

One of the most common suggestions for reducing the incidence of nozzle clogs on Epson 4000 & 4800 inkjet printers is to increase the humidity inside the printer by putting a water soaked sponge in the paper tray and to put an impermeable cover over the top to keep the moisture in. This post is about finding a suitable cover and the humidity results using one gives.

Various people use polythene or bespoke covers. I could not find a suitable piece of clean polythene and in the UK I could not find any suitable bespoke covers anywhere - not even from Epson, so went looking for an alternative.

I did find one available on the US eBay site so I ordered one, but keen to try to solve my interminable clogging problems I wanted to find something to use now.

I looked around at general printer covers from the likes of Fellowes, but none were anywhere near large enough - the 4800 needs a cover about 850 x 850 x 400mm; much bigger than anything on offer.

I looked at other covers like BBQ covers, but none were remotely like the right dimensions. Eventually I came upon an underbed vinyl storage bag that looked nearly big enough - from Argos, in the UK. If anyone is interested the bag comes in a set of "2 Jumbo Vinyl Storage Bags", Argos' code: 875 0967, costing £3.99 for the pair.

In practice a single bag fits the printer almost perfectly (see photos below) even with 220ml cartridges fitted (or a mix of 220 & 110ml in my case).

I measured the humidity and temperature in the printer head area and outside the printer for the day before putting on the cover and for 2 days afterwards, using an Oregon Scientific Weatherstation with a couple of remote sensors. The temperatures were the same inside and out, but the humidity differed as shown in the the table below.

Humidity outside printer - % Humidity inside printer - %
With sponge but no cover 39 - 40 43 - 44
With Sponge and cover 39 - 40 50 - 53

Clearly even without the cover the humidity is higher in the printer due to the water soaked sponge and putting on the cover takes it significantly higher again. Whether these figures actually make a difference only time will tell.

As you can see in the extract below from the User Guide for the 4800, Epson recommend keeping the humidity in various ranges depending on what you want to optimise.

It looks as if a humidity around 40% is at the low end of good and 45-50% is a good range to aim for - so I am happy that my results put my current set up in the right range.

Generally people who report on nozzle clogging problems reckon that the higher the humidity the less the problem - but I have not seen any mention of a practical upper limit. Around 50% would seem a good target to me.

In any case at £2 a time the covers from Argos are a bargain and look better than polythene or bin liners.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Epson 4800 saga - 6 days on....

Having cleared my printer to a perfect nozzle check early on Monday morning I implemented a new active routine: using Harvey Head Cleaner morning and evening to automatically print a nozzle check, a wet sponge in the paper tray (no cover yet as I can't find a suitable anti-static vinyl cover or bit of polythene big enough and no one, not even Epson, sell a cover for the 4xxx series printers in the UK) and occasional printing most evenings. So on Saturday morning, six days on how is it going?

Well, all through the week I have had perfect nozzle checks and enjoyed being able to print on demand. Come Saturday morning the auto nozzle check print showed the LM channel about 40% missing - this despite it printing both prints and nozzle check fine last night.

Trying not to despair I thought I would run the lowest level (according to the Epson manual) KK0 nozzle cleaning cycle from the LCD display on the printer (see my SSCL posting for more info on this). I then ran a nozzle check to confirm that the nozzles were clear and now I find that it is worse - nearly all the LM is missing, and to add insult to injury it has used up 14.1ml of ink, more than the 4-9ml range that cleaning via the printer utility normally uses. Below are the nozzle checks from yesterday through to this morning after the clean.

On top of that when I tried to run a nozzle check from the utility after the cleaning cycle the utility refused saying that the maintenance tank was full, while telling me that there was 87% left. Also that all the ink cartridges were empty... turning it off and on again solved that problem.

In disgust I have set the head to puddle soak in distilled water...

Also it has prompted me to look for a cover again - I have just found someone on eBay in the USA who sells them, so I have ordered one.


Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Someone else’s strategy for keeping their Epson Pro printer happy

Coming down off the ceiling of despair caused by my recent trials I find that on the Yahoo 4000/4800/4880 forum someone posted a solution to keeping their Epson 4000 printing after being near to scrapping it due to continued nozzle blockages. This is their strategy plus some printing utilities that might help as well.

From ragnar22751:
Anyway, here is what has worked for me (for the last 3 weeks anyway)

1. The printer is left on

2. It's dust cover is draped loosely over it with a wet sponge in a dish placed on the left side of the paper tray. (I didn't think that liquids were a good idea as the printer would splash things around from the motion of the printer) Add water to the sponge as needed.

3. The Harvey Head Cleaner program runs a nozzle check twice daily.

4. The MIS autoprint utility is set to print the 8 color purge file every third day.

Of course it goes without saying that the printer is stuffed with standard laser print paper and not expensive ink jet art paper. I found that the nozzle checks alone were not enough to keep things clear although it did improve greatly when the printer was covered and the damp sponge was introduced.

Now that Harvey Head Cleaner works on my PC I shall give this a try – HCC’s current price is $39.99, with a free 7 day trial on request if you want to try it before buying.

The MIS Autoprint utility mentioned is another automatic printer utility (free this time) – this prints a bigger ink purge file, but I have not found their 8 ink purge - the largest option I can find is a 7 ink option. I don't use MIS Autoprint as on a Windows XP system it will not run unless Windows is set up with a user ID and password, although there is a workaround for this.

MIS offer a selection of purge files, including an 8 ink file, but I have not found that it isolates nozzles, so I simply use a colour patch file for inkjet paper calibration as a general purge file to exercise my printer when needed.

On the same forum another program called “Printer Jockey” has been recommended. This is a $99 utility that seems to do what HHC does as well as allow for individual ink channels to be cleaned, which, if it works, would really help save ink & money. I may have a look at it and decide which way to go, but at $99 with no trial period I think that I need some convincing that it really does work.

In my experience just printing blocks of colour when the nozzles are blocked does not do help clear the nozzles; that is what it looks as if Printer Jockey does - it does not say that it runs a cleaning cycle just for one channel. The YouTube tutorial seems to indicate that channel flushing is just printing through a particular colour's nozzles rather than cleaning. Anyone know any different?

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Epson 4800 printer nozzle clogging – new strategy report no 2

Some time ago I reported on a new strategy of not molly coddling my printer to see if it behaved any worse, or even better. Last time the report was indeterminate. I recently left the printer unused for about four weeks and this is my report on what happened when I turned it back on to use…

Before I go any further I shall use abbreviations for the colours in this posting, so in case there is some ambiguity here are the abbreviations I shall be using:

Colour Abbreviation
Photo black PK
Cyan C
Magenta M
Yellow Y
Light black LK
Light cyan LC
Light magenta LM
Light, light black LLK

I wanted to make a load of prints so I turned the printer on on Friday evening and ran a nozzle check. Not surprisingly it was not very good (see below for a scan of the nozzle check – I apologise now for the quality of the images, but as you will see I was not exactly full of patience by the time I came to put this posting together!). Since the LLK channel was missing when I turned it off I was actually quite happy with the initial check (why should I be happy with it not being perfect? Well, that is what I have come to expect from this printer…)

Click on the images to see them full size

The exact details of what I did to resuscitate the printer are in the spreadsheet extract below (although I may have missed the odd nozzle check) and the sequence ink usage can be followed by looking at the ml count in the 6th column from the left.

A narrative description of the bare details in the spreadsheet goes as follows, with a representative series of the resulting nozzle checks (not all of them as that would be truly tedious):

I then ran a few printing exercises to help the printer limber up and test out Harvey Head Cleaner. Nothing much changed so I set it to puddle soak in distilled water overnight.

Saturday morning - The first nozzle check (See below) after the puddle soak showed some improvement, but not much.

I then spent Saturday doing Saturday things - After one nozzle clean I was really encouraged with all the colours except some M looking fine (see below). I then set it to puddle soak again overnight in distilled water.

Sunday morning and hopefully the chance to do some printing. I naively thought that one more cleaning cycle would sort out the M and it did – just that the C channel went missing! (See below)

At this point I had to change the LLK cartridge as the printer refused to run a cleaning cycle as it had hit the 5% full limit. Then one cleaning cycle later I was truly horrified to see that while some of the C had come back, PK, M, LC, LM & LLK had all disappeared completely. A much worse state than after leaving it untouched for four weeks. (See below).

A further cleaning cycle brought back all but M and C (see below).

Since I could think of better ways to spend a Sunday than tending the printer I set it to run an auto nozzle check & clean programme. I have not used this cycle for a long time as it often seems to make things worse, but I wanted to see what happened. After 5 cycles the printer gave up trying; it had improved things slightly, but a bit of LM and LLK, and most of M was still missing. The image below shows the results and also shows the problem that cleaning these printers often shows – the random loss or moving around of problem colours. In the third cycle the LM & LLK have suddenly decided to disappear…

Slightly better after a further cleaning cycle – see below, which also shows that the auto sequence used up 25.9ml of ink.

Then it all got worse again – some M came back, but all of LLK, nearly all of LM and some C went missing again…

A couple of cycles later all the colour channels were back except M was still missing about 30% (See below).

It was getting late so I decided to run an overnight puddle soak using Fixyourownprinter head cleaning solution. Then very early on Monday morning just before work one further cleaning cycle and the M was back; but LM went missing… howls could be heard around the house… (See below).

One more cleaning cycle and Eureka – every one of them was perfect (See below)

Just in time to leave it and go off to work… what a productive weekend.

This is quite a representative example of what it can take to get a printer back if the colours go missing. It took 96.3ml of ink, 10% of the maintenance tank capacity, at least 14 cleaning cycles (including the 6 done in the auto check), 21 nozzle checks (probably more), 8 purge prints, 3 puddle soaks and nearly three days to bring it back to perfect nozzle checks.

One good piece of news is that by updating the firmware and drivers for the 4800 the actual amount of ink used per cleaning cycle was probably 25% less than before and I can see no evidence that the smaller ink volume makes the cycles less effective – a small, but helpful, comfort

So, no I don’t think that treating it rough by leaving it alone is the solution, but this was not much worse than I have experienced even when molly coddling the machine.

So what next?

Having wrestled with constant clogging and colour channel loss with my Epson 4800 for 6 months I must admit to being quite dispirited and disillusioned now, although a wave of euphoria usually accompanies a perfect nozzle check, especially after a saga like this.

I have pretty much tried everything that I and the Yahoo forum can think of to keep my printer healthy, but to no avail really. I have tried babying it, treating it rough (not literally, just not trying to use it every day).

I am a keen amateur photographer who wants to make large prints and a variety of smaller ones on demand – I bought a pro printer because I believed that it would produce prints of consistent quality without any fuss. For the first 18 months the 4800 did this with only occasional problems, but in October 2007 the yips really set in.

I have now come to dread trying to make prints and I find it is ruining my enjoyment of photography as a whole. The last episode found me checking on a Friday night what the condition of the printer was and of course finding that there were problems. By Sunday evening I had not managed to clear the problems and I had not managed to print one single photo, but used up hours of time, 96ml of ink and not a little good humour. I finally managed to clear it very early on Monday morning in time to go to my day job. How infuriating is that?

Surely a pro spec printer ought to be better than this – it ought not to rely on voodoo and magic to get it working. If I bought a pro spec camera I would not expect it to sulk if I did not use if for a few days; I expect my car to work if I go away on holiday for a couple of weeks; I expect my lawnmower to work after a Winter in the garage – and surprise, surprise they all do. In fact I can’t think of anything else I have that is so unreliable. Even Windows, for all its problems, works most of the time. I know that the inkjet is a marvel of technology, but so are all these other systems – is inkjet technology really so much on a knife edge?

If they can only really be used by pros who use them all day every day then I really wish Epson would make that clear and price their pro printers accordingly – if the 4800 had been £5,000 instead of £1,500 I definitely would not have bought it.

Do Epson engineers ever look at this sort of user reprot and wonder how they can improve our experience?

I’ll keep trying because I can’t afford not to and because I don’t believe that there is a more reliable solution from HP or Canon – pardon me if I’m cynical.

So the saga will continue…

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Harvey Head Cleaner now works outside the USA

In an earlier post about my historical problems with my Epson 4800 I said that I had tried Harvey Head Cleaner (HHC), but for some reason it did not work. I was contacted recently by HHC to say that they thought they had solved the problem - so I tried the new version and it does now work.

HHC is a utility program designed to reduce the frequency of clogged heads in inkjet printers.

The aim is to reduce the incidence of nozzles clogging by using a small amount of ink (in my case it seems to run a nozzle check) automatically at user defined intervals.

When I first tried to use the programme last October (2007) it simply would not work on my PC. I assumed that there was some sort of conflict on my machine, but the developers have found that there was a problem with the format for the way the USA and Europe (and much of the rest of the world) write dates (in the UK we use dd/mm/yyyy, whereas the USA uses mm/dd/yyyy) - having fixed it it now seems to work fine outside the USA.

Essentially you programme HHC to run a nozzle check at whatever intervals you wish - once a week, three times a day; whatever. It will run them if the printer has not printed anything recently (again you can change this setting if you want).

It also runs a nozzle check if you turn your computer on after the programmed time has elapsed to run the check.

It only works, however, if you leave your printer turned on - it obviously can not print a nozzle check if the printer is off.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Windex for cleaning printer heads?

For some time there has been a bit of controversy over whether Windex® Cleaner should be used to clean clogged Epson printer head nozzles as many recommend; the active ingredient is usually said to be Ammonia. Since Windex is not available in the UK it has always seemed a bit academic to me, but I thought I would try to see what is actually in Windex to see if I could find an equivalent.

Looking on the Windex web site I found the Materials Safety Data Sheet for Windex Original which is the Windex that I assume people are referring to. This is dated 19 Apr 2007 and only lists (as you can see in the extract below) Ethylene glycol n-hexyl ether, Isopropanol and Water as ingredients - no Ammonia, although the description of Windex says its key ingredient is Ammonia-D®.

Click on the images to see them full size

So is there ammonia in it or not? Surely not as I can not imagine that the data sheet would leave out such an important ingredient. What exactly is Ammonia-D®?

It does, however, describe Windex Original has having an "Ammonia-like" odour - see extract below.

The manufacturers may have had ammonia in it originally and had to remove it for health and safety reasons, but kept the smell for brand continuity...

It may well be the Isopropanol that is the active ingredient for cleaning nozzles as it is certainly a solvent and I think I have heard it mentioned in some nozzle cleaning posts somewhere...

If anyone can add anything or enlighten me with an equivalent UK product please leave a comment.