Update 11-11-2015: The print head is now dead 🙁
see new post: epson-stylus-pro-4900-fixed-print-head-clog-update/
After being packed away for five months I pulled my Epson Stylus Pro 4900 printer out of moth balls. To my dismay the print heads were all completely clogged. Prior to my packing it away I diligently printed a test print weekly, the Auto Nozzle Check almost always resulted in the printer going into a clean cycle because of a detected clogged nozzle. This ends up using more ink for cleaning than is actually used for printing, sigh, this is a very expensive way to do business since a complete set of HDR inks cost well over $1000, UGH!
Now I am not a professional printer, I usually print sporadically in batches, normally printing several full size prints and panoramas after a photo vacation. This wreaks havoc on the printer heads and ink consumption. I have researched on the web and found that the Epson Stylus Pro x900 series printers are notorious for clogged print heads, the 4900 model in particular. Mine was no exception. So before calling Epson for service I decided to perform some common methods to clean the print heads, note that there is no quick fix for this problem and you will most likely need to adopt a fairly expensive procedure to prevent clogged print heads, especially if you do not print regularly.
First I tried the Windex pad method, surprisingly this partially opened up several of the heads which allowed for at least some ink to move through the heads. The exception, at least at first, were the Green and Orange HDR inks. It was only after six full days of placing the Windex soaked pads under the unparked print head, three times a day, did the Orange an Green heads open up, surprisingly completely, While several other heads were still partially blocked. In fact by this time the print patterns were becoming almost exactly the same from test print to test print, I was forced to move onto more extensive measures.
I ended up purchasing a copy of Epson’s Service and Adjustment program as well as a copy of the service manual which has the instructions for how to use the program. These two items are only made available to Epson service personnel so I think that these items may have been black market, it cost $42 for the both of them but it was still much cheaper than the $1900 Epson will charge to replace the print head which is more expensive than the printer cost new.
I also ended up buying a complete set of refillable ink carts to use for cleaning the entire ink path. The manufacturer also sells cleaning solution but I opted to use the original Windex to fill the ink carts. It is important to fill the carts completely with Windex in order to maintain a positive head of pressure on the tank exit to prevent bubbles in the pre-charge path, this is due to the thinner viscosity of the Windex versus the relatively thick ink.
I also had to buy two extra maintenance tanks as well as a Maintenance Tank Reset Tool, this is because the ink charging and ink draining uses a lot of ink and Windex. The absorbent material needs to be changed after every reset. These absorbent pads can be found on the internet but I opted for much cheaper absorbent feminine products instead. (the reset tool was not supposed to reset a box that was completely full, but mine successfully reset it anyway. So now I have three useable resettable maintenance boxes
Once I swapped out the ink cartridges for the cleaning cartridges I performed an ink charge routine from the Service and Adjustment program. This used up about 122 ml out of the 360 ml capacity of the maintenance tank. I waited an additional four hours and performed a second ink charge routine. Four hours later I reinstalled the ink cartridges and did another ink charge routine to refill the tubes and print heads with ink. After all of this the Maintenance tank was full and had to be cleaned and reset.
I had to do numerous additional cleanings to get the printer to print with ink, I actually ended up doing another ink charge routine on the left side. But I was elated that all but two of the heads were completely free of clogs. YES! The printer transformed from landfill fodder to a functional printer once again.
Is the Epson Stylus Pro worth all of this trouble? My answer is – Hell Yes. I can attest that when this thing works, it prints well. But shame on Epson for not making this knowledge and necessary cleaning tools available to the people who need them most. the maintenance program should not be necessary, in other words it should be available on the service mode from the control panel, and Epson should make available refillable cartridges and cleaning tanks.
Additionally, my initial ink cartridges were all about 90% full when I started but were only about 15% to 20% full in the end. The cost of this adventure: about $700 worth of ink, $285 for the refillable cartridges, $42 for the Service and Adjustment program and Service Manual, $35 for the maintenance boxes, $40 for the maintenance box reset tool. $15 for a box of Kotex pads and a couple of bottles of Windex refills, not to mention shipping charges and the aggravation and week of my life that I will never get back.
On the other hand, I printed one of my images of the spectacularly vibrant fall colors on the St. Croix River and, holy s**t! Those HDR inks Rock! But I just might have to invest in Cone inks to bring the costs down of this inevitable misadventure in the future, expel the ink and fill with cleaning fluid after EVERY time I print out a batch. Shame on you Epson, you forced me into using third party inks from now on. I’ll just have to live with a little less gamut from here on in. You will never make any more money from me from ultra expensive inks and maintenance boxes ever again ;-/
I just thought I would list the amount of ink required to do cleanings and ink charging for the SP 4900:
From the printer control panel:
Normal clean – 3ml
Powerfull Clean – 15ml
Switch Black Inks – 4ml
From the Service Adjustment program:
Ink Charge – 115ml
Ink Eject – 79ml
CL3 Clean – 51ml
CL2 Clean – 18ml
CL1 Clean – 4ml
I would also like to point out something that may have contributed to my clogging problems. In looking closer at the information provided from the ink cart chips, several of the Epson ink carts had a manufacturing date from 2010, these carts were purchased less than one year ago. Most of these carts were purchased from a very large and well respected photography supply store (located in New York with the initials B&H). Now Epson specifications list the shelf life of the ink carts at one year and reduces the ink life to six months from the installation date in the printer. This means that I was sold several ink carts that were a full TWO years beyond their shelf life. I realize that this date is probably when the chips were programmed and may not necessarily reflect the age of the actual ink, but I can’t help but wonder ;-\
And here is a link to the ink-sets and refillable cartridges that I used, the inks are really quite good but not quite up to the gamut of the Epson inks. ConeColor inks seem to be slightly less prone to clogging, but remember, my original Epson inks may have been several years old. At the time I purchased the cartridges they did have problems with the cartridge chips, so you might want to purchase an extra set, or two.