Progress along the path to Piezography

22nd August 2015
It has been an interesting time learning the wonders of b&w printing in general and Piezography in particular. I am about to replace the 3880 with an R2000, and have added a 1430. Printing in colour is a less demanding exercise than b&w as I have recently discovered. It is much more forgiving of less than perfect maintenance, and the inks in the Epson carts seem less inclined to settle.

All non-Epson inks are prone to settling of the pigment. Best practice is to shake the carts and bottles regularly but what about the ink in the lines from the head to the ink cart. There is enough ink in those lines to make quite a few prints. The only way to ensure that everything stays in spec is to print regularly. On a 3880, that also means swapping between photo and matte black inks too. I made this discovery when I switched from matte to photo black after a few months and immediately measured a 21x4 greyscale chart. It was way off what it should be. After a lot of gnashing of teeth, measuring, power cleans and a lot of support from Inkjetmall, I came to the conclusion that I was becoming a prisoner of my printer.

I want to follow best practice so that I can print a file any time and get the same print as the last time I printed it. However to do this required a lot more printing than I need to do, and what happens when I don’t print for a few weeks. Simple answer is to install Piezoflush carts in the printer and then run three power cleans. To restore the printer, put your ink carts back in and do three more power cleans. Power cleans are the only time I have been able to watch ink levels drop before my eyes. It’s a very expensive proposition, but it is the cost of best practice, repeatability and as quiet a life as you can expect as a b&w printer.

Fortunately, there is another way. Piezography will produce the same print quality on any supported printer. Epson has been moving away from on-head carts to fixed carts with ink lines for some time now. The R2000 is the priciest printer that still has on-head inks. It lets you run both K7 gloss and matte. These on-head carts are much cheaper to swap and maintain. No ink lines means quick changes, and you can hibernate them easily by inserting flush carts, doing two head cleans to move the flush to the head. Turn it off and it’s good for months. To restart, put the ink carts back in, two head cleans and you are good to go.

Repeatability is yours for a much-reduced cost. You don’t even need to take the carts out and shake them weekly. A little printing will do it for you. The downside, and there is always one, is that you need to fill the carts more often, you can’t print A2, paper handling is not as good as the 3880, and microbanding is an issue in the first and last inch on every print.

I don’t print larger than SA3 often so that is not an issue, and microbanding is something that I can live with. In case you have never heard of microbanding, the Epson desktop printers need support in the driver to avoid banding in the first and last inch approximately of a page. The Pro printers solve this in firmware. Unfortunately, QTR does not have access to the driver code for desktop printers so it is an issue. In reality, it is not a big deal most of the time.

If that doesn’t sound like enough of a challenge, I decided that I wanted a printer that I could easily swap inks on and try different inksets. Enter the Epson 1430, possibly the screaming bargain of the 21st century for B&W printers. Even in Australia, these are under $400. They can’t do gloss but, given that I don’t do a lot of gloss, who cares.

That was the theory anyway. If you buy one of these, install off the CD and avoid any updates. Epson will install something along the line that will reject non-Epson carts. I managed to avoid that bullet but that was the only one that I did. My 1430 worked perfectly with Epson carts. Other carts were an issue, I could not get them to maintain a nozzle check, or stop leaking. I tried four sets of carts from various suppliers to no avail. I just couldn’t get it to work properly. Put the Epson carts back in and it was perfect. In the end, I admitted defeat and sold it.

After a couple of months, I decided to try again. There are lots of people out there using these printers very successfully. Anyway, the printer and carts arrived and worked. It took a bit of fiddling, of course, but it is looking very positive. Like the R2000, the1430 can be hibernated quickly.

I’ve learnt a lot along the way. I probably know more about printer maintenance now than I ever thought that I might need, and I have measured more step-wedges than would be considered normal but I am making progress.


Photo comment By Damien: Hello Jeff, I am also on the long way to get exceptional black and white digital prints. I was thinking about getting an Epson SC P800 (it replaces the 3880) till I read this page. I will not print that much and I can now see the trouble I will get if I get an epson pro printer just for printing infrequently at home. I have 2 questions on the R2000 and 1430: 1- Is it easy to swap bw inkset with colour one? Do you need to use flush carts (with head clean) after you have removed the inkset you want to replace? or can just swap the inksets, run 1 or 2 head cleans and you are done? 2- Why microbanding is not an issue for you? is it because you do not print the first and last inch of the page or is it because it does not affect the quality of the print that much? Thank you a lot!
Photo comment By Jeff: Hello Damien, Swapping inksets is easy. A couple of head cleans should be all that you need. If that doesn't clear it, you can print purge patterns via QTR for the affected inks. I had to do that recently but it is still a lot better than trying to clear the ink lines. Microbanding is a funny thing. It is more obvious on some prints than others, and sometimes you just can't see it. I leave enough margin to avoid it. You can use lead sheets but that is just too painful for me. So much of my work is square that it is rarely an issue. Cheers, Jeff

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