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Use it or lose it: Keeping your inkjet photo printer happy

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Posted 09-22-2007 at 07:18 AM by JDArt

Inkjet photo printers can last for years - or they can cause trouble within months of purchase. When there's trouble, a defective part can sometimes be the culprit. Just as often, though, problems arise because the printers are not maintained properly. As much as we'd all like to set our printers up and forget about them, inkjets are finicky, so knowledge of just how to care for them can go a long way toward helping your printer give you years of beautiful prints.

--- Use it weekly.

Ink jet printers are made to be used. Those that sit around for weeks or months at a time without being used are likely to give their owners the most trouble.

That's because the most commonly-reported problems with inkjets - clogged print heads and irregular printouts - are often caused by ink that has dried. When inkjet printers sit for long periods, the ink in their tanks changes viscosity at the very least, causing clogs in the print heads or gunked up cartridges that need to be discarded.

Even if you do not intend to print a photograph each week, consider running a sheet of paper through the printer using the printer's software utility. Often, you can simply print out a test pattern, using just enough ink to keep the printer heads from clogging.

If you're the type of person who might use your printer only every few months, consider abandoning home printing altogether and using a service bureau instead. In the end, you'll save money this way - and you'll certainly avoid the hassle of trying to figure out why your infrequently-used printer is giving you problems.

--- Turn it off.

Many inkjet photo printers park their print heads on a special surface that helps to keep ink from drying out and heads from clogging during periods of inactivity. But you'll only park the print heads when you turn the printer off using the on/off switch on the printer itself.

If you leave your printer on all the time or if you turn it off by means of a power strip into which other equipment might also be plugged, you will not get the benefit of head parking.

Some printers also go through a cleaning cycle when turned on, so turning your printer off will ensure that your printer goes through this cycle periodically.

--- Don't stockpile ink.

Believe it or not, the ink used in today's inkjet printers has a well-defined shelf life. In fact, cartridges from many of the major manufacturers have a "use by" or "sell by" date printed on the cartridge's packaging.

Those dates are not there to try to get you to buy ink more regularly. They are there because the quality of ink can change when left sitting for long periods of time, and the ink you ultimately use may not be the same as the ink that was packaged by the manufacturer. The result could be inaccurate colour or problematic printouts.

--- Use recommended inks and papers.

Yes, ink from the major printer manufacturers costs way too much. Buying ink just two or three times for an inkjet photo printer can add up to more money than you paid for the printer itself.

But there's good reason to use the ink manufactured by your printer maker. First, third-party inks have repeatedly been shown not to provide the consistent colour that the printers were designed to provide. Second, using third-party ink will void any warranty on your printer, meaning that if you have problems related to ink spillage or usage - the most common types of problems experienced by inkjet owners - the manufacturer has a right to refuse to service the unit.

Finally, third-party inks are sometimes offered in refillable cartridges. These cartridges can be much more prone to leakage than the cartridges supplied by the manufacturers.

Ink and paper work together to provide the results that you expect. That's why it makes sense to use the photo paper recommended by your printer manufacturer. In short, the software that controls how ink is applied to the page compensates for papers that are preprogrammed by the printer maker.

If you wish to use a type of paper not recommended by the manufacturer, you can still do so. But in order to get reproducible colour, you will need to rely on custom colour profiles. You can create these yourself through the use of devices such as Gretag Macbeth's Eye One (http://world.i1color.com). But be warned: custom profiling equipment is not inexpensive - easily costing as much as a good printer itself.

--- Cover your printer.

Dust is your printer's enemy. No matter how clean the environment in which your printer resides, dust will accumulate on the inside of the printer if it remains uncovered while not in use. A simple cloth towel over your printer is an easy, inexpensive preventative measure.
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