Cleaning, Unclogging, and Resurrecting an
Epson Stylus Pro 4000 Printer
If you've found your way to this web page, you've probably shared some of my experiences with the venerable Epson Stylus Pro 4000 printer. Let me tell you a bit about my printer. I bought it new, used it
lightly for fine arts work, and quickly became aware it was soaking me for enormous sums of money in the form of wasted ink. There were a few reasons for this, which I'll discuss below. According to my calculations, it cost me between $10 and $20 everytime I turned it on, with costs increasing daily. After running the numbers, I concluded I was better off outsourcing
all of my printing. After running out of ink in one cartridge and running
nearly out in a couple of others, I let the printer sit idle for over two years, with no expectation of resurrecting it, rather than investing in new
cartridges (a difficult decision) The printer had been stored between 50F
and 80F in a clean, interior storage area.
One day I became aware of
MIS pigment inks, which would make my startup cost between $2.50 and $5 at the same usage rate. (I managed to cut usage dramatically, though. See below.) Further, my thought was that I could/should use the printer for ordinary printing jobs to keep the ink flow as healthy as possible, thereby reducing my reliance on cleaning cycles. With these thoughts in mind, I decided it would be wonderful to raise my SP4000 printer from the dead and try the MIS inks and new maintenance strategy (i.e. of using the printer for ordinary printouts, in addition to fine art prints). However, I first had to clean out years of dried ink from the delicate print head. Was such a thing possible?
After a few hours of research on the Internet, I ran across numerous discussions and postings by a Mr. Arthur Entlich. He has taken on the cause of making economical Epson printer self-maintenance accessible to end users. Power to the people, baby! You can email him (firstname.lastname@example.org -- see note below) to request the latest version of an extensive e-manual he has prepared to instruct people how to clean their printers inside and out. I requested his manual and read it. It was full of all sorts of great information and gave me the confidence that a patient and persistent approach to the problem would eventually yield a functional printer. What I write in this article is somewhat of a supplement to his general purpose Epson manual, discussing more of the specifics of cleaning/resurrecting a wide-carriage professional printer such as the SP4000, SP4800, etc.
NOTE: This article is rather old (circa 2008), and the SP4000 is even older (circa 2004). I have long since retired my SP4000 printer, and I can't really offer more advice than what is already in this article. Also, Art Entlich is still providing his Epson printer cleaning manuals as of this date (November 2016), but he is no longer providing individualized advice via email. He invites people to contact him for an email copy of his free manual, but he would rather not respond to further emails. (He has moved on to tilting at other, more significant windmills, such as climate change!) Also please note that his manual will not refer to or support newer Epson models, beyond their similarity with older pro models.
Before I discuss what I did to restore my printer to squeaky clean condition, inside and out, let me address the ink wastage issue briefly. My first and biggest mistake with regard to ink wastage was my configuration of the printer to do auto-cleaning with nozzle checks. I did this per the strong advice of my printer and ink dealer. In retrospect, his objective was clearly to sell lots of ink. When a nozzle check is executed with this setting, a test pattern of 8 colored blocks is printed and then read, to determine whether any nozzles are not firing. If a nozzle fails to fire, suction is applied to draw approx. 5 ml of ink through ALL of the nozzles. This ink is of course wasted, at a cost of approx. $2.50. Then another test pattern is printed and read. If necessary, another cleaning cycle is executed (for another $2.50 in ink), and so forth. The number of cleaning cycles that must be executed determines the total cost of this process. My printer was taking between 4 and 8 cleaning cycles with each powerup to get all of the nozzles firing. It didn't do this when it was newer; however, the nozzles got fussier and fussier over about a year's use.
I really needed to do a power cleaning cycle to get the nozzles cleaner, so that they would fire more reliably; however, that would require about $200 in ink wastage for one power cleaning cycle. I never had the heart to flush $200 down the drain. There's also an elusive "supersonic cleaning cycle" or "SSCC" (accessible through the maintenance mode) that is supposedly rather harsh on the print head (read: self-destructive) and probably uses even more ink. Epson tech support knows nothing about this mode. Then again, they don't know much of anything else about their printers either, so I guess that's not surprising. The bottom line: Keeping the ink flowing in one of these beasts is a very expensive process when done the Epson way. The good news is that there is a better way. Read Entlich's manual, and read my procedures below. You'll be able to keep your nozzles cleaner, for considerably less maintenance cost.
Another ink wastage issue has to do with Firmware. The first firmware version (on my printer) had a bug that miscalculated ink usage and declared ink cartridges empty when they still had lots of ink left. That version was also a bit more ink-hungry on cleaning cycles. A firmware upgrade solved these issues.
Finally, I was too timid to run my printer for ordinary print jobs. I really can't explain why. One can easily load up almost a ream of plain paper in the paper tray and shoot ordinary printouts all day. In fact the bulkier ink supplies of the SP4000 are more economical than the little cartridges on consumer printers. Perhaps I was scared off by the enormous cleaning costs everytime I turned on my printer. This was a mistake. Using the printer at every opportunity is the key to keeping the ink flowing, so that the nozzles are all primed and ready to go when a fine art print is needed. I have now abandoned usage of my consumer printer (an HP 5800 series), to put all possible print jobs on the SP4000. I maintain that it is almost impossible to wear one of these machines out, short of runnning a print shop with it.
CLEANING THE BEAST!
The first thing you should do is to read Mr. Entlich's excellent manual. I will presume at this point that you have done so.
The Ubiquitous Disclaimer: The methods I describe on this web page worked for my printer, but they might not work for yours. They might even damage your printer. I assume no responsibility for any damage to your printer or direct or indirect consequences of that damage. Use these methods at your own risk.
Practical, Up-Front Warnings: This is a slightly messy process. Find a place to work on your printer where you won't ruin your brand new white carpet. Also, be advised that a severely clogged head can supposedly be damaged by normal attempts at cleaning, e.g. via the power cleaning cycle. If you try short-cutting to this step, you might be sorry. Finally, don't force cleaning fluids directly into the head. That can rupture delicate internal membranes.
Pre-inspection (with the power off): Upon opening my printer, I could see that the ink lines were half filled with air. I found that the printer head released with the depression of the cutter solenoid. Find the instructions in your Epson manual for replacing the cutter blade. Use the diagram to locate the cutter solenoid. Then simply depress it gently until the head unlocks. Release the solenoid, and manually slide the carriage to the left. After doing this, I found that the cap assembly (where the head rests) was almost completely dry. My expectation was that the ink in the head was also almost completely dry.
Surface-Cleaning: Over a period of several days, I worked on freeing the dried ink from the nozzles and the face of the print head. I did this using the methods discussed by Entlich. I found the proper pad thickness was 3 layers of Brawny paper towel material, with the pad being approx. 1 inch wide. I would slide the print head first onto the dry pad, wet the exposed pad thoroughly with cleaning fluid, and then slide the head to cover the wetted part of the pad. After leaving the head there for 5 min, I would wet the other half of the pad and move the head over it. After another couple of minutes, I would return the head to the rest position. I did this several times per day for several days, until I could see flow of all colors of inks onto the pads over the entire width of the head. Note that I had also moistened the cap assembly pads liberally with cleaning fluid. I found that Entlich's recommendation of 3 parts Original Windex (with Ammonia D) and 1 part isopropyl rubbing alchohol (70%) was compatible with all 8 of my inks. (I was able to draw samples out of the ink cartridges. with a syringe.)
Ink Line Flushing: As my ink lines were full of air, I figured the ink might be a bit sludgy. I really didn't want to run it through the print head. It might not have been harmful, but I didn't want to take the chance of creating or aggrivating a stubborn clog. Therefore I resolved to flush the ink lines with cleaning fluid before attempting a power cleaning cycle. The first step of this process is to remove the plastic shield over the head. This is done by removing three screws. There are two screws on the top near the back. The one on the rightside of this pair is one of the screws you must remove. The other two screws to remove are low down, towards the front of the machine, on the right bottom and left bottom. With the ink lines exposed, it is possible to unscrew the nuts connecting the ink lines to the printhead.
Before doing this, install a set of cleaning cartridges. I prepared my own cartridges using MIS's funnel fill system and the 3:1 Windex and isopropanol. There was no need to bleed air from them before installing them. After the cartridges are installed, the lines must be flushed individually. To flush a line, unscrew the lower nut that connects directly to the print head. The nut can be turned by hand, with some effort. Lift the line off of the print head by the nut. Use caution not to let the nut slip off of the ink line, as there is a tiny rubber O-ring that would come off and easily get lost. (Lifting via the nut prevents this.)
With the ink line open, insert the Luer tip of a 10cc syringe (i.e. with no needle) gently into the tip of the tube. This will form an air-tight seal. (DO NOT INSERT THE SYRINGE INTO THE HEAD ASSEMBLY OR ATTEMPT TO INJECT CLEANING FLUIDS INTO THE HEAD! THAT CAN DAMAGE DELICATE INTERNAL MEMBRANES!) Draw the air and/or ink into the syringe, pull the syringe loose, and then deposit any ink into a waste cup. Repeat, repeat, until the ink is flushed from the line. You will be drawing up approx 30cc, possibly more. Then reconnect the line, and move to the next line. Note here that it is impossible to reconnect the tube without the cleaning fluid falling back, and leaving a huge air bubble. Don't worry about it. Also be aware that the back-flushing fluids can result in ink back-flushing into the cartridge and mixing with the cleaning fluid. I didn't find this to be a problem, other than loss of efficiency. However, it is possible to buy Luer check-valves and T-connectors, to create a pump that will not allow back flow. It's not important to do this, however. I found that having traces of ink in the lines helped me to view the nozzle check patterns to assess whether the nozzles were firing. (Although I didn't try this, I think a more useful cleaning fluid might be created with the introduction of small amounts of dye-based ink, such as may be found for consumer cartridge refilling kits. Dye-based inks are broadly compatible in many fluid environments. Before trying this, though, test to ensure that these inks do not "clot" in the cleaning fluid.)
Power Cleaning: All of the above procedures were done without power. (I didn't even have a power cord connected.) When I was ready to execute a power cleaning (i.e. actually turning on my machine, after laboring over it for several days), I was imagining a long drum roll. It was very satisfying to turn on the printer and hear it whir and churn, coming to life. With about 110cc of cleaning fluid in each cartridge, I proceeded forward. The power cleaning cycle drew the remaining air out of the lines and consumed about 20-30cc of fluid from each cartridge. I then did a nozzle
check with auto cleaning enabled. The first pass showed a few blocked nozzles; however, the second
pass was clear. I continued running nozzle checks with auto clean, to keep flushing fluid through the head, attacking dried ink deposits. Occasionally nozzles would clog and then clear. Eventually the test pattern printed so lightly (because of the extremely anemic "ink") that they could not be read. At that point each nozzle check would fail, resulting in the flushing of of 20-25cc of cleaning fluid through the head. I repeated this until the nozzle check patterns disappeared, and then I left the machine overnight with the cleaning fluid in the head. The next day I did a few more nozzle checks/cleans and was ready for introduction of the new inks.
The Moment of Truth: Finally it was time to load up my set of MIS Pro inks and reap the fruits of my labor. Before proceeding further, I tested for compatibility between my cleaning fluid and the MIS Pro inkset. It was compatible. I then loaded up the funnel-fill cartridges, purging them of air with a syringe. Note here that one can (and probably should) draw up a generous quantity of ink and then simply discharge it back into the cartridge. After cleaning the barbs on the printer, I installed the cartridges and did a series of nozzle checks with auto cleaning, until the inks were drawn up into the head and ejected onto the paper. In hind sight, a power cleaning might have worked better, as the slow process of auto cleanings resulted in a lot of shaking and mixing of the inks and cleaning fluid, making the transition from cleaning fluid to ink more gradual than it should be.
In the end, all of my inks created a beautiful test pattern on the paper that, to my eyes, could have easily been from Epson Ultrachrome ink. I did have some intermittent problems with nozzles failing to fire over the next week, on two inks in particular. I noticed air accumulation in those two lines and concluded there might have been an air leak in the connection to the head. After re-seating the two connections (taking them apart and reassembling), the problem was resolved. The remaining nozzle failures seemed to be attributable to tiny bubbles and eventually resolved.
Life After Death: As of this writing, I have been using my resurrected printer for about a month. I have turned off the auto-clean option and do nozzle checks the more economical way. I manage to print at least several pages per day, even on a very slow day. On a more active day, I'll make a few large photographic prints. On a typical morning, I'll have a couple of non-firing nozzles. This will often resolve with an ordinary printout or two. Whenever I need to make a fine art print, I do a final nozzle check, and if necessary, I will run a cleaning cycle (holding down the Menu button for 3 sec, for a total cost of 5cc of ink), which will draw out the offending air bubble(s) and cause all nozzles to fire. I have also done one surface cleaning to correct an issue whereby the ink from one of the nozzles was misdirected slightly to the side.
Those interested in MIS Pro inks will be happy to learn they are very similar to Ultrachrome inks. I have used the ColorMunki system successfully to profile my printer/ink/paper combinations. B&W prints are not completely color-neutral across all gray levels with the first profile, but ColorMunki profiles can be refined by profiling specifically for neutral grayscale photos. I find it useful to have both color and B&W profiles, depending on what I'm printing.
Other Suggestions: MIS offers a freeware utility that will run a printout on your printer at specified intervals while you are away on vacation. You can download it here.
Conclusion: So there you have it! If my printer could live to print another day, so can yours. Go ahead and pull it out of moth balls, and have at it. It will take you some time and several bucks in supplies (Windex, alcohol, and paper towels).
Pay Back: If you've followed these procedures and saved your printer, I've just saved you about $500, the current price of this machine on the used market -- if you can find one. I've also saved you from having to "upgrade" to a more modern Epson printer that will force you to do a $200 ink purge to switch between K and MK inks when going back and forth between matte and glossy printing. (What WAS Epson thinking?!) Anyway, I want something in return. Money? Nah. That would be too Ken Rockwellish. No, I want help with an important cause that will make the world a better place for my children -- and yours -- and for you too. It won't cost you money. In fact it will save you money-- $500 of it over the next year (the value of your printer). This is a cause over which people across the political spectrum can certainly come together.
The cause? Energy and peace. It's really the same cause in a way. When energy gets tight, as it is right now, nations go to war over it, and people die. My own uncle died long ago in a war with Japan. Japan waged war over (you guessed it) OIL! More recently our children have been fighting in not one, but two gulf wars. Even Vietnam had an oil motive, even though the war was billed as an effort to contain the spread of communism. As oil dwindles and becomes more costly, the problem will only get worse. And eventually when we all have sufficient power from our rooftops, wind farms, etc., with which we can charge our electric vehicles, the problem will be resolved. My question is this: How much oil can we stop burning right now?
Your challenge is to save $500 in oil usage over the next year. I'll be thrilled if you even cut back by half of that, but certainly feel free to cut back much more. It's really not hard. Here are some suggestions:
- You can save maybe $250/yr ($20.83/mo) by planning your chores to eliminate 25% of your driving, assuming you normally drive 10,000 miles per year, get 20mpg in the city, and buy $2.00/gal gasoline.
- Don't drive like a maniac in the city. Go easy on the gas and the brake. Time lights. Drive sensibly. You'd be surprised how many more miles you'll get per gallon.
- Drive slower on the highway. Remember when speed limits were lowered from 70 to 55 mph nationally? People were very angry, because the government did a very poor job of explaining how this would save so much fuel. Very simply, wind resistance is the primary factor your engine must fight on the highway, and it is approximately proportional to the square of speed. When you do the math, you find that this speed reduction cut oil usage by about 40%. That's quite a lot! Even if you're unwilling to slow down, try to reduce drag on your vehicle. If you drive a pickup, consider removing the tailgate and putting a web on the back. Also, keep your windows rolled up! An air conditioner actually drags on the engine less than open windows, which disrupt airflow and create turbulance.
- If you have a small motor fleet, as we do, drive the smallest, most efficient vehicle you can for a given trip. We own everything from a little 2-seater that gives us about 30mpg to an enormous pickup that gets half that if it's lucky. The truck is for towing and hauling ONLY. The two-seater is for runs around town. (The remaining vehicles are for sale, for the most part.)
- If you heat your home with heating oil, consider retiring your oil furnace. A natural gas furnace or heat pump will pay for itself very quickly. And to state the obvious, set your thermostat back a bit. Go to this site, and read about how much you can save for each degree you change the thermostat setting in your home or business. Also do simple things, such as not heating rooms you're not using. Finally install a programmable thermostat to shut off or substantially reduce heating while you're away. Programmable thermostats pay for themselves very quickly and are fairly easy to install.
- Push your Congress critters to make plug-in electric vehicles a reality. A plug-in electric vehicle can achieve a whopping 100-300 mpg equivalent efficiency (based on operating cost) when running on electric. If the electric range is exceeded, it will still run on a very efficient gas-powered generator. Here's the thing: Because almost all of our power generation is from sources other than oil, there will be an enormous shift of energy usage for transportation from imported to domestic. Eventually our green energy (wind, solar, etc.) can be piped directly into our automobiles. How far can an electric vehicle run on battery power? Our domestic manufacturers are currently striving to develop vehicles with 40 mi electric ranges, as most people do not exceed this range in their daily driving. China's BYD F3DM, the first mass-produced plug-in electric, boasts a range of 60 mi on a charge. How peppy or sexy can a plug-in be? Well, these vehicles aren't exactly golf carts. Check out the Tesla Motors sports cars, which I think anyone would be eager to test drive. Or perhaps a plug-in Hummer is more your style? Yes, you can have great style, high performance, and extraordinary fuel economy, all in the same vehicle!
- Finally, change the way you think about oil. Before you stomp on the accelerator or crank the heat up to 77F, remember that our kids are often asked to fight wars to support that luxury.
Now, go and save money/oil, and above all, make lots of pretty prints with your squeaky clean printer!
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