There are many people out there that are saying that these new print heads are junk. “They dry up too easily.” Or, “I’m constantly having to run cleanings on my printer because I get banding in my prints.” Yes, these are problems that I have heard frequently. But, just because the only thing that is seen is a bad print or nozzle check, this doesn’t mean that the culprit is the print head. Nozzle checks, for instants, should be carried out before any major job. The first nozzle check in the morning may have some nozzles missing. This is normal due to the nozzles not firing for a while and air starting to dry them up. A minor clean should fix this. If you are still having issues, there are many components that deal with the ink delivery system that need to be addressed before anyone condemns a print head.
But did you know that if dirt, residual ink, paper fiber or even hair collects onto the print head and the cleaning station it will cause the printer to not print well and clean itself properly? These components need to be checked and cleaned routinely. If the cleaning station (capping station) is dirty and not creating a good seal against the print head, the cleaning station will not clean. Also, air will seep into the sealed area and dry up the print nozzles. If the cleaning station is dirty, the wiper is dirty. The wiper cleans off the surface of the print head. So, if the print head has dirt and hair on it, so does the wiper. And if the wiper has dirt and hair on it, it is not cleaning the print head as well as it should. In some cases it can actually harm the print head by scratching it! This is why it is very important to get a semi-annual cleaning or maintenance scheduled for your printer.
It is important to keep a printer operational due to the fact that ink does settle over time. Refer to the manufacture’s manual for interval time. But, in any case, ink cartridges need to be gently agitated if they have been sitting for an extended amount of time. Aqueous based ink usually needs to be agitated every few weeks. Solvent based ink needs to be agitated every few weeks as well. UV inks a little more frequently. Once again, refer to the manufacture’s recommendations.
Why do we need to agitate inks? Well, one reason is your ink system will clog! Particles in the ink must be well mixed or they will get caught in the filters, membranes and jets of the ink system. Luckily, printers have dampers/ filters that can be replaced. But, if these particles are forced through a system, the last place for them to clog is the print head. And yes, it will clog your print head. From a cartridge that has been sitting on a shelf for a year that cost $129 to putting it in a printer and a week or two later a clogged print head with other broken components that costs $2500 to replace.
Also, it has been seen that if the ink is not well mixed, colors will be off too. If the ink has been sitting, the particles that give the ink their color or pigment will not be consistent. Thus a nice print of black will look more like a washed out grey/green.
With the new printers coming out, the print heads have gotten more advanced and are capable of printing a higher DPI (dots per inch). What does this mean? Higher DPI = finer prints. Higher DPI = More nozzles per inch. More nozzles per inch means smaller nozzles that can clog easier. And by now we know that un-mixed ink, dirt, and other debris clog nozzles. But also temperature and humidity are key factors too. If the ink is too cold (40 degrees Fahrenheit) the ink won’t flow as easily. Kind of like molasses. So, the room should be at least 50 degrees and no more than 90 degrees. Okay so sometimes shops get over 90 and under 50. This is okay, but not for days on end. The printer will have flow issues or even electrical issues.
Don’t forget about humidity and whatever else is in the air! These printers do breathe. And by breathe I mean have fans and vents to keep paper from curling while printing and exhausting heat from the electronics. These actions circulate the air around the printer and will get whatever is in the air inside the printer. So with this in mind, location of the printer should be addressed. Don’t put a printer right under or over an air vent that is blowing dusty air around. Be sure that the room with the printer isn’t a high dust environment like a wood shop! Yes, it has happened. Dry air is just as bad. Most inks are cured (dried) by being exposed to just the air. So if there is dry air (0% humidity) in the area of the printer, the ink will dry very easily which means more clogging. If possible, place a small humidifier in the area close to the printer to bring that humidity up to around 40%. Now people that live in humid areas will not have this problem. This is for people in dry and cold climates like Colorado, Arizona, Montana and Nebraska. Try a Humidor!
Altitude has a role in this as well. These printers have suction and pressure pumps to move the ink. As altitude goes up, the efficiency of pumps goes down. This goes for anything with a pump. Less air, less pressure. This factor is the hardest to overcome. But with routine maintenance and a good environment, the printer should run well up to around 10,000ft.
1: is the printer dusty on the outside? Then it’s dusty on the inside. It probably needs maintenance.
2: are the ink cartridges dated a few months back? Agitate them before running them in the printer.
3: are you constantly having to run power cleanings in a row? Something isn’t working right. Call the service center.
4: are the ink tanks/cartridges abnormally low on ink but are heavy like they aren’t empty? Low flow issue, call the service center.
5: is the maintenance tank full but is abnormally light in weight? Low flow issue, call the service center.