Maintenance Matters

Most of us already know that as our printers age, their print quality tends to drift. In addition to the printer’s age, and for lack of a better term, mileage, there are other factors that affect print quality.

Changes like new printheads, different lots of ink and media, and even environmental factors like temperature and humidity can have an impact on quality and consistency, especially over time.  In order to keep the quality of your output optimal, there are certain fundamentals that you must adhere to.

Routine Checks: While all printers are different, there are three basic steps that you can follow to maximize the quality and consistency of your output. These steps are nozzle check/cleaning, bidirectional alignment, and media feed adjustment.

Nozzle Check/Cleaning: This step seems like a no-brainer. However, many people only print nozzle checks when they see horizontal banding. It is possible to have several nozzles missing for a single color and not notice any horizontal banding, especially when printing in a high quality or high-pass print mode.

Keeping that in mind, if multiple nozzles are missing for a single color, your color may still shift. For example, if you are printing a shade of blue and you have some cyan nozzles missing, your blue may take on a purple hue. Nozzle checks should be done on a daily basis to ensure you are getting optimal print quality. If any nozzles are clogged, you should run cleaning cycles until the clogs have been rectified.

Bidirectional Alignment: In order to optimize print speeds, most shops print in a bidirectional print mode, which means that the printer lays down ink as the carriage moves in both directions. While this mode significantly increases print speeds, it also introduces the possibility of less accurate dot placement which will result in a “fuzzy” image.

This is a target used to check bidirectional head alignment. This check was done on the Epson 11880 under Manual Alignments. Though the 11880 has the option for an auto head alignment, I printed this for demonstation purposes. After printing the target, select the number that best represents the closest alignment of the two colors. This number is then entered into the LCD display on the printer's control panel.

To ensure the highest print quality, you will want to run a bidirectional alignment calibration. This involves printing a target that typically consists of a pattern (usually a series of vertical lines) printed while the head is moving in one direction, then another corresponding pattern (series of lines) is printed above or below the first series of lines while the carriage is moving in the other direction.