One of the casualties of our move back to Nelson last year turns out to have been my printer! I use an Epson R800 for high quality printing in colour (not B&W though). Epson printers like this one have the actual printhead in the printer itself, rather than (as in many HP printers) in the cartridge. If the printer is not used regularly the ink can dry out and cause blockages. The result is banding, or in more severe cases a huge shift in colour balance as one of the 5 colours disappears.
With all the chaos of a move followed by house renovations, I hadn’t done much printing for quite a while (and had neglected to do even a quick print every week or so). When I received an order recently and had to fire the printer up again, the prints appeared with a terrible muddy yellow cast. After delving into all the various possible errors in my colour management setup with Photoshop (I had changed to Vista 64 in the interim), I finally ran a head check. Should have done that first: it was clear that one set of nozzles was blocked.
Then the fun started. The manual has various things to do to clear a blocked nozzle, starting with an “auto clean”. This failed to do the job, but did cause a visible drop in ink levels in every cartridge. The computer suggested I repeat the exercise, which I did. Still no luck. From earlier examples (this is not the first time my printer has clogged), I knew that there was a trap lying here, best avoided. Repeated head cleaning cycles can cause the waste ink recepticles to become overloaded, the extra ink sloshing around just makes the problem worse.
A search on the internet threw up various alternative cleaning tips. I tried a few of these: soaking household paper in a solvent and placing under the printhead for a few hours, even removing the cartridges and using an eyedropper to pass cleaning solvent through the printer nozzles from above. None of them worked. The various cleaning fluids recommended were often not sold in NZ, although for some it was possible to discover their composition (by searching for their ‘Material Data Safety Sheet’). After some initial improvement, I found myself going backwards. Worse, each time I did a cleaning cycle, turned the printer off and on, or removed a cartridge, the startup and purging drained the ink levels further. Over the weekend I went through a whole set of 8 cartridges!
So finally I had to admit defeat and call our local Epson repair service. He had a special Epson cleaning fluid and knew how to remove the printhead without breaking it. A couple of days later it was as good as new. The exercise cost me $135, plus another couple of hundred dollars for new ink. Incidently, he did say that replacement printheads are available, for around $200. That would still be an attractive alternative to buying a new (photo quality) printer.
Apart from occasional problems like this, however, I am still pleased with my R800. It produces excellent results for colour prints, even on fine art papers. (These heavy matte papers do have problems of their own, though – more on that later).