Sunday, 29 June 2008

Does Printer Jockey’s channel flushing function clear nozzle clogs?

When I reviewed Printer Jockey recently (here is the original posting) I found that it did not recover total ink channel loss on my Epson 4800 inkjet printer, but I did not know whether the idea that single channel flushing might be able to solve the odd nozzle going missing would work or not. After a couple of months of trying it out here are my conclusions.

Originally I found that even running selected channel flushing several times at its full intensity it did not cure the complete loss of single or multiple ink channels that I have experienced. I was not sure, however, whether channel flushing would be able to restore the odd clogged nozzle without having to resort to a full cleaning cycle. It has to be said that I was really hopeful that it would as this would potentially save quite a bit of ink.

In the last couple of months I have had a few instances of the odd line of the nozzle check going missing and each time I have tried to use Printer Jockey’s selected channel flushing mode to clear it. Sadly it has had no effect in the all the cases I have tried it on – around half a dozen. In each case a small number of lines (1 to 4) in the nozzle check were missing and I tried to flush the affected colour on its own. I have tried different combinations of channel flushing in several different intensities and repeatedly, but to no avail.

Unlike the experience I had with completely lost ink channels (where no ink was used at all during channel flushes of the affected channels) channel flushing with just the odd clogged nozzle does certainly print the selected channel/s and plenty of ink comes out on the page, but this does not clear the clogs.

In each case a single running of the standard cleaning cycle cleared the problem.

So my conclusion is that, sadly, Printer Jockey’s channel flushing mode does not clear nozzle clogs at all. I am disappointed as I really hoped it would work…

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Is humidity the key to avoiding nozzle clogging on my Epson 4800?

Recent experience has told me that 40% humidity is the bottom end of acceptable to keep my 4800 running relatively nozzle clog free - I try to keep my 4800 at 50%, along with a routine of printing a little often - see this posting for details.

I recently had to go away without leaving the computer on for 10 days so I could not use my normal regimen – so what happened?

Because I could not follow my tried and almost trusted regimen of printing a little often along with keeping the humidity at around 50% I had to come up with an alternative to try to keep my printer clog free.

I puddle soaked the print head to make sure that the print head in its capping station was humid/wet; I added a pot of water inside the printer cover to the usual wet sponge in the paper tray and really wrapped up the printer in its cover, including wrapping it under the paper tray, and turned off the printer.

When I came back the humidity inside the machine was reading 72% (according to the max/min function on the weather station I use, 73% was the maximum that it reached in the 10 days I was away), with 73% in the paper tray - the room reading was around 50%.

When I turned on the printer it ran an auto cleaning cycle (I have called this an "auto something or other" before, but this time I watched the print head move around and the following nozzle check showed that it had used 9.6ml of ink since I turned it off, so I am pretty certain that it is auto cleaning, despite this function being turned off via the LCD panel...). This would normally cause a whole ink channel or two, or three, or four… to drop out, but the following nozzle check was perfect and I then ran a batch of 30 A4 prints without a hitch.

During this the fan inside the printer reduced the humidity to 43% so I put the water pot back inside the print cover to raise the humidity to 50% again as quickly as possible... leaving myself a note to remind me to take the pot out before turning on my computer or Harvey Head Cleaner would initiate a nozzle check automatically with nasty and expensive results.

Strangely the printer also ran an auto clean before the auto nozzle check first thing the following morning – why? The printer had been recently used the nozzle check was perfect etc. Luckily the following nozzle check was also perfect.

Anyone who has looked at the rest of my blog postings will see that I have had lots of problems with nozzle clogging on my 4800 and this episode just makes me think even more that humidity is the key, along with a really all enveloping cover and printing a little and often.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Two different types of Costco / Kirkland Signature Professional Glossy Inkjet Photo Paper tested

For some time I have used Costco’s own brand Kirkland Signature Professional Glossy Inkjet Photo Paper as one of my draft/proofing (before committing ink to an expensive paper) and contact printing papers and for prints for friends & family with my Epson 4800, and before that on my Canon 9000S. I have been very happy with it, but noticed recently that the box had changed and whereas all the paper I had used before was made in Switzerland, the latest batch was made in the USA. So are they the same? If not, what’s the difference?

According to the gossip on the web Costco sell several papers under their Kirkland label, with the paper made in Switzerland being rumoured to be made by Ilford and the USA made paper being made by Kodak. There are also some stories about it being made by Epson as well.

For several years I have bought A4 Kirkland paper in the UK mostly via eBay as I do not have a Costco account and until recently it always came in boxes containing 125 sheets and was made in Switzerland - below is a scan of the box top. Initially the paper was rated at 260gsm (69lbs), but this changed to 255gsm (68 lbs), although both were 10 mil thick and had the same product code: 77755 (circled in the image below). Since the rumours had it being made by Ilford and that it was the same as Ilford’s Smooth Gloss Paper I did try it with Ilford’s SGP ICC profiles – the results were OK, but I decided to get a bespoke profile made; which unsurprisingly was better still. The two different weights of paper seemed to look identical (or so I thought – see below) so presumably used the same paper substrate and ink receiving layer coating.

The most recent batch (May 2008) came in a 150 sheet card wallet rather than a box, and said that it was made in the USA, and although the same weight and thickness, it had a different product code: 80623 - below is a scan of the front of the wallet, with various key clues to its difference circled I red.

So before using it in anger I put it through my normal paper test process (If you want to know how I test papers I wrote about it in an earlier posting here) to see which if any of these papers it behaves like.

The Comparison
First off I was quite confused for some time in this test as my perceptions changed each time I looked at the prints, until I realised that the Swiss made Kirkland papers I was using were different – some from the 260gsm box and some from a 255gsm box. I thought that they were interchangeable until I realised that the 260gsm paper was whiter on the coated side than the 255gsm paper; or was it the other way around?

I compared sheets
in Northern morning light from the Swiss (the whiter one was actually used) and US made batches of Kirkland papers with a sheet of Epson Premium Gloss, and Ilford Smooth Gloss and Omnijet papers (I have never used any Kodak paper so do not have any to hand to compare with).

Looking at the coated sides shows that the Ilford Omnijet is the most cream coloured, with the Swiss Kirkland the whitest, with the other two looking extremely similar; but slight variations of light shifted my perceptions. The less white Swiss Kirkland looked much the same as the US Kirkland and the Epson.

Looking at the back of the papers, however, showed up significant differences (besides having Epson printed all over the back of the Epson paper). The USA made paper was whiter than the other four, and the Ilford Smooth Gloss looked whiter than the Swiss made Kirkland, which looked much the same as the Ilford Omnijet; the Epson was the most cream coloured and had a more glazed look to it and was smoother. The Epson and US Kirkland had the most fibrous looking backs in certain lights.

Since the USA made paper was rumoured to be made by Kodak I looked for a generic profile to try and the only one I could find was for their Professional papers (the same profile seems to cover both gloss & lustre papers) @

I made the following test prints through Qimage:
  • The Swiss made paper with its bespoke profile
  • The USA made paper with exactly the same settings as the Swiss paper (profile, printer driver settings, rendering intent, black point compensation etc).
  • The USA made paper with the Kodak Pro profile with all the settings as per Kodak’s instructions; most notably with black point compensation (BPC) turned OFF.
  • The USA made paper with the Kodak Pro profile with all the settings as per Kodak’s instructions; but with BPC turned ON (because I do quite a lot of printing from Lightroom 1.4 and, as far as I can see, there is no way of turning BPC on or off in Lightroom).
  • The USA made paper with standard Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper (PGPP) settings, using the Pro4800 PGPP profile – in case it is actually made by Epson.
I let the prints dry for 24 hours and then examined them.

In the Northerly morning light the most striking difference is between the B&W prints made with the Kodak profiles and the rest. Both the Kodak prints have a distinctly less neutral look to their B&W renditions, looking much warmer - on the yellow side. The other three look pretty similar with neutral B&Ws. With its whiter base the Swiss Kirkland looks cooler with there being very little to choose between the bespoke Swiss Kirkland and canned Epson profiles on the US Kirkland paper. The bespoke Swiss Kirkland profile probably makes the closest rendition of B&W images on the US paper to the Swiss paper, but the Epson profile is pretty close.

In the colour images things are a bit different.
The main difference is between the Swiss made Kirkland with the bespoke profile and the rest. The blues are more solid and skin tones are better, but the differences are pretty subtle. The Prints made with the Kodak profile look a bit brighter and thinner than the others. The mountain range image (in the multi-image test print I use) looks brighter with slightly less dense shadows, but skin tones look a bit washed out and greens look yellower.

Viewed in isolation they all look pretty acceptable, and friends and family were quite happy with prints from all of these combinations and even viewed side-by-side no one picked one over another consistently.

Even looking at the colour bars at the bottom of the test image nothing was clear – I had to look pretty carefully and stare and shuffle strips around to see any difference. Changing the light made much more difference than the profiles.

I could not see any effect of turning the BPC on and off with the Kodak profiles, so printing through Lightroom should be fine if I chose to use this profile.

I might have been able to see some numeric differences between the profiles’ actions if I had looked at the per channel ink usage information that the Epson LFP Remote Panel utility produces, but by the time I had thought of that the data was overwritten by subsequent prints. Perhaps another time, but I do not plan to redo the prints just to gather this data.


As is often the case B&W images show differences in printers, papers and profiles better than colour. The Kodak profiles clearly produce a warmer, slightly sepia look, while the others produce a more neutral, cooler image.

So assuming that colour rendition is not absolutely critical for contact printing or friends & family prints then the US Made Kirkland paper looks pretty good with a range of profiles – I’ll probably get a bespoke one made in due course just to be sure. In the meanwhile I’ll use the bespoke profile made for the Swiss made Kirkland as it is easier just to treat all the Kirkland papers the same to avoid confusion.

Unless the real difference in B&W rendition is deliberate then I do not think that this batch of US made Kirkland paper is made my Kodak, or the profile I used (which is the only one I could find on Kodak’s web site) is for a completely different paper altogether.

In any case I am quite happy to continue to buy Costco’s Kirkland paper for non-critical prints whatever the source is.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Testing inkjet papers to use with an Epson 4800

This posting is about how I test new inkjet papers for use on my Epson 4800 inkjet printer; in future postings I will go into what papers I currently use for my for B&W and colour printing. Since I only use gloss paper, partly because that is what people seem to like and partly to avoid having to switch between the Matt and Photo ink cartridges with all the ink loss that that incurs, I can only share my experience of printing on gloss papers. I also include sources for several printer test images available on the web.

I bought the Epson 4800 so that I would be able to print images onto all sizes from A4 up to 17” width roll paper. I want to be able to print B&W prints as well as colour and I have three basic print modes; Exhibition, draft/proofing and friends & family prints. The criteria for paper choice clearly vary considerably from Exhibition prints needing excellent quality and longevity, through draft/proofing prints needing to represent what the final exhibition print will look like as cheaply as possible, to friends & family prints looking about right first time at a sensible cost.

I have never been one to blindly use the papers that the manufacturers sell as they are almost never either the best quality or the best priced solution. So when I got the 4800 I got hold of samples of all the likely candidates available in the UK, along with any ICC profiles that were available to use with them. As new papers have come out that look interesting I have tried them out as well.

I am not going to go into technical aspects of paper properties such as Dmax etc as I do not have the test equipment nor do I really understand what the technical results mean! I am most interested in how the prints look – there are plenty of technical paper tests around the web and published in magazines. I tend to have a look at them before trying a new paper just to see what professional testers think of them.

I test a paper by printing out known test images and comparing them in the light that they are most likely to be viewed in with a library of competitor papers prints that I have created and keep stored out of the light.

Over the years I have accumulated several printer test files that I use to evaluate new papers. These represent a wide variety of images on one sheet of paper, for both B&W and colour images. I have also collected some specialist B&W images to use. If I like the test prints I then use some of my own “keepers” to finally decide whether I want to invest in a new paper or not.

There are quite a few printer test files available on-line and I have listed some below:

  • Multi image B&W and Colour from Neil Barstow

  • B&W multi image and tone gradient file from Northlight Images

  • Both a multi image B&W and Colour file and a B&W and toned images file from Marrutt

  • A B&W Tonal range printer test chart and a multi image colour file from Tim Grey

  • Three multi image B&W and Colour files from Imageplace

  • Multi image B&W and Colour from Digital Dog

  • Three multi image B&W and Colour files from InkJet Art

  • The printouts that I find give me the most information are the first two: the multi image B&W and Colour file from Neil Barstow and the B&W file from Northlight Images (both shown below). I also use the B&W tonal range file from Tim Grey to check likely shadow and highlight detail properties for a paper.

    Over the last two years I have tested dozens of gloss and semi-gloss/satin papers from manufacturers such as Permajet, Lyson, Fotospeed, Tetenal, Ilford, Harman, Epson, HP, Da Vinci, Olmec and Fuji as well a own label products from Costco (Kirkland), MX2 and 7dayshop etc etc, with prices ranging from 7p per A4 sheet to £1. You can pay a lot more, but I tend to research the cheapest source for papers (nearly always on-line) before trying a paper and I nearly always find widely varying pricing.

    I always leave the prints to dry for at least 24 hours to make sure that they are fully dry - I have noticed that some papers seem to have a magenta tint at first which disappears on drying and some also look "fuzzy" before drying.

    Monday, 2 June 2008

    Lowepro D-Pods 30 case for Ricoh GX100 compact digital camera

    A couple of months ago I posted my experience of the Lowepro D-Pods 30 case with my Canon G9 - Click here to read it. Recently I have been able to play around with a Ricoh GX100 compact digital camera, so I thought it would be useful to report on my experience with it and the D-Pods 30 case, and to compare it with the G9 as well.

    Description and specifications
    The D-Pods 30 was designed by Lowepro for small digital cameras. It is made from a black stretchy, water-resistant fabric; it has a Velcro secured belt/SlipLock™ compatible loop on the back, a battery/accessory pocket on the front of the case and a memory card pocket in the inside of the front flap. You can also slip something under the memory card pocket (as shown in the photo below). It also comes with a removable shoulder strap and the table below lists the dimensions. In the UK it costs around £7.99.

    Interior - Inches / cm
    Exterior - Inches / cm
    4.9 / 12.5
    5.4 / 13.8
    2.8 / 7.0
    3.2 / 8.2
    1.4 / 3.5
    2.5 / 6.3

    Lowepro D-Pods 30 case with the Ricoh GX100 in it, along with a spare battery in the front pocket and a spare SD card in the memory card pocket. The GX100 has the supplied wrist strap fitted.

    What is it like in use?
    Well the good news is the GX100 fits nicely into the pouch; it is not nearly as tight a fit as the G9 and it is easy to get the camera in and out. Being a looser fit means that you can not really feel any of the buttons, dials and flash bracket through the case that you can with the G9. This is also partly because the GX100 has a smoother body outline with fewer protrusions than the G9.

    You certainly can not use the case with the VF-1 electronic viewfinder attached to the GX100, but it fits OK into the bottom of the case without the VF-1’s supplied case; but I feel that the “naked” VF-1 might well get damaged in transit. With the VF-1 in its supplied case I could fit it in at a squeeze with the Velcro closure tab just making contact, but I felt that it was just as likely to damage the VF-1 as protect it. I suppose for “gentle” transport situations it would be OK – at least the viewfinder would not get lost – but not for carrying on the belt or hanging off a rucksack strap.

    The Ricoh DB-60 battery for the GX100 (I also use Hähnel HL-005 batteries with the wide range of Panasonic, Leica and Fujifilm cameras that use the same battery) is much slimmer (10mm vs. 16mm) and lighter (26g vs. 43g) than the Canon NB-2LH battery used in the G9, (as shown in the photograph below) so it fits into the front pocket very neatly without making the whole package too bulky, as you can see in the photo above. In fact I did not really notice the battery in the pocket at all as it fits in nicely just below the GX100’s lens bulge in the case.

    The Canon battery on the left - the Ricoh on the right

    A SD card fits neatly into the memory card pocket, which is made from stiffer material than the stretchy outer case. If, however, your camera takes Compact Flash (CF) cards then it might be worth knowing that the memory card pocket is not big enough to take a CF card. CF cards will slip in behind the memory card pocket, although it is not as secure as the proper pocket and might easily fall out. The front pocket takes a SD or CF card in a protective case quite securely.

    The weight of the whole package (camera, strap, spare battery and SD card, and VF-1) comes in at 386g. Without the VF-1 it weighs 364g. By comparison the G9 weighed in at 500g.

    I found it much easier to slip the GX100 in and out of the case when on my belt than the G9.

    I have not used the neck strap so have no comment to make on it other than it looks like the standard one that Lowepro supplies with most of its small cases.

    All-in-all it is a pretty good choice for a Ricoh GX100. It is a good fit; slipping in and out easily. It is no bulkier than it needs to be and gives good enough protection against accidental knocks and abrasion that occurs when these things rattle around inside bags, glove compartments and sundry other places day-in and day-out.

    There is, however, no room for any much larger accessories such as wide angle attachments or with a viewfinder attached (although it can take the dismounted VF-1 at a pinch) – for these you will need a bigger case.