Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Epson 4800 nozzle clogging solved - well, nearly…

About six weeks ago I was despairing that my Epson 4800 inkjet printer would ever be reliable again and that it would forever more be clogging/losing ink channels.

This may be premature and stupid, but thanks to the advice from lots of people (an example of mass collaboration?), mostly on the Yahoo 4000/4800 forum, I think that I have pretty much resolved the problem (now that is a really stupid thing to say…) – here’s how.

If you want to know the sort of frustration I have had with this printer over the last six months then clicking the “Nozzle Clogging” label will show you, most specifically – this posting.

In a previous posting I said that I was going to try someone else’s solution – here are the details. At the time I was not that confident that it would work simply because I had tried the “print often” approach to try to keep the printer happy; and it had not worked for long. Anyway I tried it and it initially did work, but after about a week the printer went back to its bad old ways and I went through a particularly traumatic weekend trying to coax it back into health, which I managed very early on the Monday morning, just in time to go to my day job. Being a bit sceptical that the new regime would work I did not use a cover because I could not find one, although I did use a wet sponge inside the printer cover; but I had been trying that for sometime anyway.

I decided to redouble my efforts.

That was six weeks ago – since then I have tried a few more things, learnt quite a lot, but most importantly I have only suffered from 5 clogs/ink channel losses, all involving the LM ink and twice the LK as well. In nearly all the cases this happened after an "auto something or other" happened - it sounded awfully like an automated cleaning cycle, but I have turned that function off, so I am completely in the dark as to what is actually happening when this happens and why.

In the first four cases only one simple nozzle clean brought back the nozzle check to perfect, with no repeated clean/rest/puddle clean cycles – the fifth, and most recent, took a full set of clean/rest/puddle clean cycles to clear, but I think I know why...

This is what I think is the reason for the worst case of clogging happening – Initially I bought a cheap interim solution (see cover posting here) and then bought a bespoke cover for the 4800 in anti-static vinyl on eBay. I used the cheap one for a couple of weeks and when the bespoke one arrived I put it on. I had stopped monitoring the humidity inside the printer by then. I restarted it when I had the problem and was very surprised to see that the humidity inside the printer head had dropped to about 40% – clearly, given my recent experience, this is on the borderline.

The bespoke cover fits better, but is not as long, leaving a gap around the bottom of the printer; does not have an apron to wrap around the under the paper tray (which is actually the transparent zip around top of the cheap storage bag/cover I tried – see photo below) and has a big gap at the back to allow access to the roll paper cover etc. All this means that there are plenty of gaps for the humidity to escape from the machine with the proper cover; much less so with the cheap interim one. I have now reverted to the cheap one and the humidity has climbed back to 50+% again. Leaving the under wrapper undone causes the humidity at the print head to reduce by 5-10% points (e.g. 55% to 48% humidity) – I guess, because humid air is heavier than dryer air, it simply falls out the bottom of the printer…

So effectively the printer has been available to print whenever I wanted it to except for one day.

So what have I done?

Below is the recipe for what currently works for me.

The recipe comes in three parts:
  1. General set up and printer configuration
  2. Printer exercise routine
  3. Materials and techniques to have to hand

1. General set up and printer configuration

First – USE A COVER… an all enveloping cover, for the reasons described above – see photo below with the apron tucked under the paper tray.

I believe that this was the single most important thing I did. The cover is not to keep the printer clean, although that is not a bad idea in itself, but to keep the humidity inside the printer up. In a previous post I reported on what I found it did for the humidity, but essentially I found that combined with a wet sponge it keeps the humidity inside the printer at about 50%. I believe that keeping the humidity up is the key to a happy (not-clogging much) printer.

Place a wet sponge
in a tray in the paper tray – see photo below – the aim is to provide a source of humidity inside the printer. I find that I need to refresh the sponge about once a week.

Be careful not to put too deep a tray in the paper tray. The paper lifting mechanism lifts across the whole paper tray width and if the sponge tray is too deep it will be pushed into the rod (arrowed in the photo above) and cause miss-feeds.

I also now
permanently monitor the humidity inside the cover by placing a wireless remote sensor out of the way of the print head carriage to the far left of the printing area - see photo below. This sensor tends to read about 10% points below the sensor near the sponge in the paper tray (e.g. paper tray humidity reads 60%, inside the cover it reads 50%). If you do this be careful not to impede the print head movement at all, or you will hear a nasty and probably expensive crunching sound!

Turn off the auto nozzle check and cleaning function on the printer – this only seems to cause clogs. See my earlier posting about why and how to do this.

Turn off the auto paper size checking function – See my earlier posting about why and how to do this, but suffice to say that you will be using plain paper in the printer as part of the print “little and often” routine. I have found that this tends to cause the printer to stall as its sensitivity to correct paper size seems to be greater than the size tolerance on plain paper.

2. Printer exercise routine

Fill the paper tray with plain paper – I have found 100gsm paper to feed more reliably than normal cheap 80gsm copier paper.

Download and install the free utility MIS Autoprint (see here for instructions on how) and choose a purge file that exercises all the ink channels (here is why). Also make sure that you have “Print Preview” turned off in the printer set up, as that will stall the process as well. In my set up this uses about 0.6ml of ink a time, or 1.2ml a week.

Buy a copy of Harvey Head Cleaner
– unless you are willing and able to print nozzle checks manually every morning and evening. Harvey makes sure that, by running a small amount of ink through all the ink channels by printing a nozzle check, you exercise the whole print head regularly. I have set Harvey to print twice a day at 7.00am and 7.00pm; I have also set it to run if I turn the computer on within 24 hours of the last scheduled run time – circled in red in the screen shot below. This makes sure that you automatically run a nozzle check even if you turn your computer on after the scheduled time.

The printer reports using 0.1-0.2ml of ink per nozzle check, although this seems high compared with 0.6ml for a full page of colour for the Autoprint output. In any case it uses around 2ml of ink a week, which is about the equivalent of 1-2 A4 prints, or 1/50th of the ink to clear a bad clogging problem.

The combined Autoprint and Harvey ink usage over a year would be around 180ml of ink if you religiously stuck to the regime, although even over a month I have only really managed to do 90% of it. This equates to a couple of major cleaning bouts – only you can tell whether the time and frustration vs. routine ink wastage equation works for you.

I am pretty sure that I can reduce the actual number of nozzle checks and Autoprints, but don’t want to tempt fate just yet. As you can see in the screen shot above you can also tell Harvey to "Skip check if printer used within xx hours".

For me the reduction in frustration and the increased availability of the printer to print when I want it to are well worth the effort, even if it is something that Epson should be ashamed of…

(If you think that this is wasteful of paper I put the nozzle check paper back into the paper tray so that I get 4 checks per sheet…).

3. Materials and techniques to have to hand

Learn how to do a “Puddle Clean”my method is posted here.

Become aware of the head cleaning protocols that have built up as “lore” for Epson printers. This effectively amounts to:
  • Do not use Auto nozzle check – it often just moves the problem around
  • Only run two consecutive nozzle cleans before running a full page print of some sort
  • It is often wise to let the printer rest for an hour or so if a couple of nozzle cleaning cycles and full page print have not cleared the problem
  • For major clogging/ink channel losses use puddle cleaning

Buy some “Fixyourownprinter” head cleaning solution – I have found it is very effective in clearing clogs; more so than distilled water.

Useful things to have at hand are:
  • A small torch/flashlight
  • A 20ml syringe with plastic extension (Kwill filling tube)
  • Distilled water
  • Lint free wipes – Pec Pads, the same ones I use for sensor cleaning on my DSLRs - I use these wrapped around a stick instead of cotton buds which might leave strands of cotton around to upset the print head etc
  • A sense of humour
  • …and one final requirement: patience!

So if I have one piece of advice it is – KEEP THE HUMIDITY UP AT AROUND 50% – all the rest helps but does not do enough if the humidity drops significantly below 40%.

Now all I have to work out is what the "auto something or other" is and how to stop it and why the LM channel is always the first one affected – any ideas?

Good luck – please let me know if you have any suggestions, refinements or comments to make.

Just one more thing - I have no commercial connection with any of the companies producing any of the products or services mentioned in this blog, other than as a happy customer.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Speculation over new Canon DSLR models

I have a pair of Canon DSLRs – a 10D and a 30D. I have hankered after a 5D since it was launched and would generally like to upgrade. Like most people I do not want to buy a camera and find a newer, better and cheaper one launched the next week, so I have been looking into what the speculation is.

The table below lists the announcement dates (and the sensor’s megapixels) for the non-Pro Canon DSLRs launched since the 10D. I have broken them into the two families of double and triple digit ranges, and included the 5D. I have also put in the time in months between the intra-family launch dates.

Model / Megapixels
Model / Megapixels
Date announced
10D / 6.3

+ 18 months
300D / 6.3
20D / 8.2
+ 21 months
+ 18 months
350D / 8.0
30D / 8.2
+ 15 months
+ 18 months
400D / 10.1
40D / 10.1
+ 19 months
+ ?
450D / 12.2

+ ?

5D / 12.7 - full frame

+ 32 months and counting

Firstly the 5D is getting on a bit in terms of the digital world product life cycle; there has been a lot of speculation about its possible replacements – 3D & 7D, 5D mkII etc, whichever rumour you believe. Northlight Images have a useful rumours page here. There were strong rumours that Canon would be announcing something on the 22nd or April this year, but nothing materialised. There are rumours again for the 22nd May, but my bet would be on Canon announcing something in August 2008 - around the end of the month, somewhere between the 20th and the 26th, as they seem to stick with mostly February or August announcements towards the end of the month, unless they want to see even more defections to Nikon.

The 5D price has come down considerably since its launch and there are plenty of near mint used ones around so I could buy one now, but I would really like to have a newer version with all the advances such as weather sealing (partial or otherwise), Digic III / IV processor, 14 bit processing, the dust reduction and removal systems, improved focusing etc etc. I also anticipate Canon having to respond to Nikon’s recent resurgence with its fantastically well received D3 and D300 DSLRs, so I expect the 5D replacement to be a considerable step up.

I’ll wait…

I would ideally like a full frame and cropped frame camera in my arsenal as they meet different needs. The 30D is OK for the time being, but the 40D is tempting. Looking at the table above Canon have stuck with an 18 month replacement cycle for the double digit range, but the 40D is under severe attack from Nikon along with Sony, Pentax/Samsung and Olympus so the 50D (presumably based on the 12.2 megapixel 450D) may not wait until the 18 months is up (February 2009).

Canon do not seem to be so fixed on their triple digit family replacements cycle – varying from 15 to 21 months – probably responding to market challenges more promptly.

All in all I think I’ll wait – Canon have to respond to Nikon in these market segments and soon. I have even thought of moving to Nikon myself, but for the time being my investment in Canon lenses it too great, but I’ll not wait for ever… (actually probably not past the end of the year) and with eBay to help sell old gear the cost of switching is not as great as it used to be.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

MIS Autoprint purge file update…

In a recent posting I suggested changing the purge file used with MIS Autoprint from the MIS 8 ink file to a multi patch file. I said I would post any evidence that I got that it was worthwhile or not to make the change when I had it – here it is.

Recently the LK & LM ink channels dropped out on my 4800. So I ran the MIS 8 channel purge file and the combined 936 patch file through Autoprint manually to see whether it was worth changing the purge file.

Firstly – the MIS 8 image file printed out exactly (to my eye at least) as it had with only LM missing. So it looks as it the LK is not doing much either.

Below are scans of the combined 936 patch file. The first image is with all nozzles firing perfectly. The second is the same file printed, onto the same paper with the same printer settings, with both LM & LK missing (confirmed by nozzle checks before and after the prints were made).

As you can see there is quite a lot of difference between the two, mostly in the columns from “K” onwards. It is also clear that the M ink is being used, which it was not in the 8 ink file.

So my conclusion is that it was worth making the change.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Changing the purge image file I use with MIS Autoprint

In a previous posting I have gone through my experience with setting up and running MIS Autoprint. I have recently changed the purge pattern I use – this posting tells why I felt I needed to and what I changed it to.

In my previous posting I have explained what MIS Autoprint does and how it fits into the nozzle clogging avoidance scheme for my Epson 4800 inkjet printer.

The whole point of using Autoprint it so “exercise” all the printer’s ink channels more thoroughly than just printing frequent nozzle checks alone manages.

I thought I was doing this by using the 8 channel purge file supplied by MIS, but recently I found a printout of it printed with the LM channel completely missing, as confirmed by the automated, via Harvey Head Cleaner, nozzle checks printed out in the morning before and an hour after the purge file automatically printed.

Below is a scan of what the 8 channel purge print looks like when all nozzles are running perfectly:

Below is a scan of what it looked like with the LM channel completely missing (but the M channel was perfect):

The M & LM ink blocks have tuned blue with no sign of M in either, and the blacks (K, LK & LLK) have taken on a bit of a green’ish tint; the Y, C & LC look normal. This tells me that whatever is going on the purge print is not faithfully using all the ink channels as I thought it was – which rather misses the point of the whole exercise. It is possible that the paper setting affects what inks the 4800 uses, but I don’t have any way of checking that without losing a channel again – which I have not intention of doing deliberately. Currently I use copier paper in the printer for these maintenance prints with the media type setting set to "Plain paper" in the pinter settings.

So now I have swapped the MIS 8 channel purge file – if you want to know how to do this then look at an earlier blog posting here – for one I made up myself (see below). This is derived from a couple of colour patch files from Permajet used for creating ICC profiles of their papers; each set having 936 patches. While I have no proof that they are any better
at exercising all the ink channels than the simpler 8 channel purge file from MIS, it seems logical to think that it has a better chance.

If/when an ink channel goes missing I will check out the results and post them.

I have done that now and here are the results

Monday, 5 May 2008

Eliet Minor shredder review follow up

Two months ago I posted a review of the Eliet Minor garden shredder. Two months later I have had a chance to review the composting results from the resulting shreddings and to test the courage of my convictions following the test results to decide on whether I would buy one or not.

Composting results
When I trialed the Eliet Minor two months ago I had basically two types of material to deal with. The first was general woody garden prunings and trimmings etc; the second was the contents of a rough mixed open composting bin that had a mix of semi-rotted down woody and soft material gathered over about a year.

Two thirds of the first lot of shreddings was mixed into a 1m3 wooden composting bin along with what was already there and the general composting material over the next couple of months, including the first lots of lawn mowings. The rest was put into a bin with the product from the second type of shreddings. In the two months that have passed since the shred-fest this material has essentially rotted down into usable compost. It has been turned into a 0.5m3 (500 litre) bin where it is maturing and being used as needed. The Head Gardener is very happy with it.

My experience (about a decade of competent composting) tells me that this is pretty quick for the time of year. Since we have had a cold couple of months and I have not done anything exceptional to make this material rot down quickly I am impressed and can only conclude that the claim from Eliet that its “Hatchet Principle™”, which cuts the woody stems lengthwise, does indeed work and produces material that composts quickly.

The Minor dealt with the second lot of material with the optional general purpose screen. At the time I picked out the largest unshredded bits (the screen is pretty course) and re-shredded them. The rest filled a second 0.5m3 bin along with the remainder of the first type of shreddings, where it was watered occasionally and turned once in the two months it was in it. After about two months it was pretty much completely rotted down and it was then spread onto the borders as a mulch. The Head Gardener was pretty happy with the quality of it.

So my conclusion from observing the composted shreddings for the Eliet is that it produces shreddings that rot down quickly and easily.

So did I buy one?

Recently I realized that we had built up a mound of woody material needing shredding as big as the one at the end of February. So presented with the choice I had to decide whether to spend days (literally) with my old Scheppach Lonos, hire or buy.

It was really a very easy decision– I bought the Eliet Minor, along with the optional general purpose screen.

I looked around for the best price and delivery option and decided to buy it from the on-line UK retailer Gardenlines (who often appear in Google AdSense listings). They were helpful and courteous on the phone, both before and after the purchase, and it arrived exactly when they said it would.

I have just spent most of a day shredding the mountain of mixed woody and mushy material, producing about a cubic metre of shreddings which is now in my compost bins steaming as I write. The time consuming bit was not the shredding itself, but getting the material to the shredder and carting the shreddings away from it. The actual shredding was as easy as I remembered it.

So I am happy and I expect this lot to rot down in record time.

In case you think that I have any commercial relationship with either Eliet or Gardenlines, then I can categorically say that I have never had any dealings with Eliet and my only dealings with Gardenlines were for this one transaction. I am just a happy customer.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Turning off auto paper size check on an Epson 4800 Pro inkjet printer

I find that the Epson 4800 is very sensitive to paper size variations. This post tells you how to turn it off, and why you might want to.

Why would you want to turn off auto paper size checking off?
On the face of it having the printer automatically check that you have loaded the right sized paper every time you print sounds a really helpful idea.

In reality, however, I print a lot of nozzle checks via Harvey Head Cleaner and purge prints via MIS Autoprint to try to keep my printer nozzles clear. I use a stack of copier paper for this and I often find that the odd sheet brings up the “Wrong paper size” warning message, although I can not ever remember the nozzle check failing because of it – the printer does not seem to check for paper size when doing nozzle checks. I also quite often get this problem in a print run using A4 or letter photographic paper. Since this is inconvenient, or in the case of automatic timed printing to reduce nozzle clogs completely counter productive, and since I can not remember every trying to print on the wrong paper size I turn off the auto paper check function.

The risk of course is that the printer will print on the wrong sized paper. If the paper is larger than needed it is just a bit of a waste, but if it is smaller you risk having it print all over the platen – which is, at best, messy.

You could of course just turn it off when you are running in automatic mode and need to be sure it will print each time.

The choice is yours.

The picture below shows the LCD printer display and the various buttons mentioned in the instructions below.
You can turn off the auto paper size checking function 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 “down arrow” button five times – the screen will display “PPR SIZE CHK”

  3. Press the “menu” button once - you should see “PPR SIZE CHK, *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 three times to bring you back to the “Ready” screen
To turn it back on just follow the sequence again, swopping “on” for “off”.