Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sign Shop

I've avoided politics in my postings here. I never expected life with a 7900 would have anything to do with that, and it doesn't. But life in the U.S. (and around the world to various degrees) has been, uh, interesting these last 429 days. My wife (Pat) and I are quite liberal in our attitudes and approach to life in general; living in Montana, overall a very conservative state, has sometimes been frustrating. We didn't come here to be annoyed by our Republican neighbors and generally angry all the time, so we aren't, in spite of news reporting that makes it seem most of this country is.

Back in January Pat asked me to make some signs for a local (Kalispell, about 60 miles/97 km north of home) version of a nation-wide 'Women's March.' I'd made signs for a climate march we attended in Missoula in March, 2017. I printed those on Epson Luster (24 inch roll) and attached the prints to sheets of quarter-inch foam core. This worked out well, and the signs looked great for minimal cost. I thought they were much nicer than hand-lettered signs on poster-board, the kind of things commonly seen at these sorts of events.

Signs I printed for a local version of the nation-wide Women's March

And just like that I became a sign shop. Since that climate march a year ago I've made signs for the Women's March mentioned above, and last week made another pair for the 'March For Our Lives' held in cities around the world yesterday.

The message may be serious, but the signs are fun to make. Pat and I will kick around ideas, or she'll make up or find a slogan she likes. I'll dig around the Web looking for clip-art or other appropriate images I can legally use. I often modify them, changing colors, filling in areas, vignetting the image, etc. to best suit my design and the slogan of the sign. Often the images are small jpegs, which must be enlarged by orders of magnitude to accommodate my design. You'd expect these to look terrible, but the results are often surprisingly good.

Printing these signs is done the same as any other job. I size the image as needed for the sign, complete the design work, set up the printer with a 24-inch roll of luster, and then print. The prints are then cut to fit the foam core, which has been stapled to the yardstick handles. A spray adhesive is used to attach the print to the foam core.

The signs above, for yesterday's March For Our Lives, were made in the same way. I printed the nozzle check as usual, and then printed the larger sign, which looks as expected. About a half hour later I printed the smaller sign. I could see as soon as that print started to emerge from the printer that the color in the cow manure photo was way off. As this is a non-critical application I let the print finish. I then did another nozzle check and found the entire LK pattern had gone missing. It's not common, but also not unheard of for a channel to disappear in the middle of a print job; this was one of those cases.

When I got the 7900, and its Canon predecessor, I never imagined I'd print things like this. I don't plan to do it for anyone other than Pat. Making these things provides another opportunity to run the printer during slow periods.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Paper Loading Error

Not long ago I finished a print job that took me near the end of a 24-inch roll of Epson Luster paper. I removed the roll and found, after cutting away the usual end-of-roll scrap (the adhesive patch that pretends to attach the paper to the core), that I had exactly 17 inches of usable paper. I placed that under my heavy cutting mat to help flatten the curl. Nothing unusual or interesting about any of that.

A few days later I got a job to make two black and white prints on 11 x 17 inch sheets; the job, and the images perfect for that little bit of luster I'd saved. The sheet had flattened pretty well. Using my cutting rail and an Xacto knife I cut it into two sheets of the appropriate size, set up the print job, and fed the first sheet. I could hear the feed rollers slipping, and the sheet didn't feed into the printer as they normally do. This appeared on the 7900's LCD:
I removed the sheet, cleared the error, and tried again with the same result. I've fed hundreds of sheets into the machine and I don't recall ever seeing this before. It's been rare, but I know I've fed sheets I've cut, either from larger stock or from roll paper, and had no troubles.

I removed the sheet and because the cut edges were slightly raised I used a burnishing tool to smooth them. When done all edges felt the same; no raised edge. But feeding the sheet I got the same slipping feed rollers and the same error.

If I wanted to use these sheets I didn't have many options left. I tried forcing the paper when I heard the slipping rollers. That didn't help, but had it worked I suspect the sheet would have been misaligned anyway. Eventually, after several retries, the rollers grabbed the paper, fed it normally, and I got a perfectly centered print.

I had exactly the same experience when making the second print, but at least I knew the sheet would eventually feed. Since then I've made a number of prints on boxed sheets of CIFA Baryta; those fed perfectly. I still don't know why my cut sheets, after smoothing the cut edges, provided such a challenge.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Minimum Print Size

I'm in the middle of a painting repro job. The client has provided two "full sheet" size watercolors, each slightly larger than 30 inches high x 22 inches wide (76.2 x 55.9 cm). The watercolor paper has "deckled" edges, so I'll crop to 30 x 22 and my prints will have clean edges. I've completed the photography, and the color matching and other Photoshop work. I've printed some test strips, which is where this story gets interesting.

First, of course, I had to prepare the printer. Due to travel and some local photography work I'd not used the 7900 for 32 days, a long (for my machine) idle period. Seven channels showed problems on a nozzle check print. I'm fairly sure that's the worst I've ever seen. Two of those channels had only small nits missing, but the remaining five were at least 50% blank. I spent about two hours doing pair cleanings (all of them "powerful") and swapping low-quantity ink cartridges for fuller ones, but finally I had the danged thing cleaned up and ready for use. Just the usual hassle, magnified.

I planned to make a full-width test strip, but I needed only a few inches of the image's height, so I made a custom paper size of 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) high on the 24-inch roll. I set up in the usual way to make that print. Here's a screen shot of the Photoshop print dialog box (double-click to enlarge):
This clearly shows the dimensions, the image to be printed, and its location on the paper. I clicked the Print button, and then the printer produced and cut a perfectly blank 5 inch high piece of paper. This sort of thing has happened before, and it's always a WTF? moment. If you dig around in past postings here you'll find at least a couple of similar occurrences. I've never been satisfied I've found the cause, but in each case I did eventually complete the print job.

This time I decided to dig in to see if I could find any reports of similar problems and perhaps a solution. These kinds of Web searches often turn up plenty of interesting, but tangential pages. That was true of this one, too, but I got no answers to the original question.

"If all else fails, read the instructions" is never bad advice; I did that, and found nothing of use in the U.S. manual (PDFs of the manuals are available via the Web). In the European version of that manual I found this:
"Depending on the paper type, the minimum length of paper you can cut is set from 60 to 127 mm. You can not change it."
That's also less than helpful, but it set me to thinking differently about the problem. I remade my test strip so the print area would be slightly over 8 (20.3 cm) inches high. In setting up the print I made a custom paper size of 9.5 inches (24 cm) on the 24-inch roll, with the rest of the set-up identical to the first (failed) print. This printed perfectly.

That may indicate there is a minimum print size, or at least, a minimum paper size, below which the 7900 will pretend to, but not really print, generating only a blank piece of paper. There's nothing conclusive here because nothing ever is with these machines, and because I changed too many variables (both print and paper size) when doing the experiment. I don't have time to pursue this now, but perhaps next time I need to make similar test strips I'll play with only one variable at a time. If I do, and if I learn anything useful, I'll post it here. Right now I need to get on with making 12 prints for the client.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Slowest Prints Ever

I got a job a few days ago to make three small prints, these for a local newspaper for whom I've done a few dozen similar jobs. In the newspaper business they have to work fast; their photographers "run and gun," shooting lots of jpegs, mostly with low-end "consumer" DSLRs. The staff cull their photos and go to print quickly; there's no time to process raw files. After some false starts a couple of years ago I've finally trained them (ha!) to set their cameras to make the highest-quality jpegs of which they're capable. This is overkill for what gets printed in the newspaper, but the files now are generally of suitable quality to make nice small prints.

This job was like most others. I made the three files print-ready, set up the 7900 with a sheet of Epson Luster, and sent the first job. Printing started normally, but after a few passes of the printhead it stopped, hunted a bit, and then "parked", as if printing were complete (but had only just begun). Several seconds later the paper advanced a normal distance, the printhead came out, made a pass or two, and then stopped. After a few seconds it made a pass back to the home position, hunted a bit, and then parked. This repeated over and over. Printing did eventually complete, but it took over 20 minutes. For a letter-size sheet! Fortunately the print is perfect.

I started the second print, and the machine behaved exactly the same. This time I grabbed my phone and made a video. This was my first attempt at shooting a video. I have no video editing tools, and really don't have time (or interest) to find and learn any. I hope the video here is at least playable.


It shows the printhead moving as a blur, as this is under available light from an overhead fixture out in front of the printer. My apologies for the glare of the printer's front plastic cover, but please understand this wasn't a planned shoot. I just wanted to quickly grab a video to show you this weird behavior. There's sound, but you'll probably have to turn up the volume considerably to hear it.

After the second 20-minute print I cycled power to the 7900. After it booted up I ran the third print. The machine behaved normally, with its usual speed, and the print is fine. I let the printer sleep, and haven't powered it down in many months. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned.

Update: The day after this happened I printed a pair of panoramas 2-up on 24" roll paper. This was two copies of the same image, 36 inches long x 10 inches high (91 x 25 cm). I did my usual setup, first waking the machine from standby and then printing a nozzle check, which found problems with LLK. A standard cleaning of the Y/LLK pair resolved that. The printer once again exhibited the behavior described above. I canceled the job after a couple of minutes, cycled power to the printer, resent the job, and it printed normally.

Today I made another single, small print for the newspaper client. Again, the usual setup, waking the 7900 by inserting a sheet of bond paper and then running a nozzle check. No problems found. I then printed the single letter-size sheet of luster. The printer behaved normally.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ink Cartridge Error

I've spent much of late spring and early summer preparing for the three-day outdoor "Arts in the Park" show organized by the Hockaday Museum of Art, in Kalispell, Montana. The show would run July 15, 16, and 17. I'd not exhibited in an outdoor show since 2014. I have a lot of work that's new since then; to prepare I needed to make a number of prints in an array of sizes. This included prints for frames, and also for the 'matted and bagged' pictures that are popular with summer visitors.

It's a juried show and competition is tough, so I was quite happy back in May to receive the acceptance email. That's when the work started.

I determined early on which images I'd display, and the sizes of prints needed. The 7900 performed very well. As is often the case when printing daily or nearly so, I experienced very few nozzle issues. Run these things a lot in the conditions they prefer, and they'll behave nicely.

We did well at the show, and while there I was talked into exhibiting in another show, this one running two days, at the end of the month. To prepare for that I need only print replacements for some of the pictures sold at the Hockaday show, plus a couple more that weren't shown there. I made the first of these prints two days ago, and once again had no problems with the printer. I wasn't so lucky yesterday.

When setting up to print, a nozzle check showed some missing nozzles in PK. This is paired with LK, and my LK was at 1%, so I swapped in a new LK and ran a cleaning cycle on that pair. When I tried to print a nozzle check after the cleaning, the printer's LCD showed this:

VLM is installed, and should have about 20% remaining.

A few days prior to this I'd noted the ink levels in each cartridge, and VLM should have had something over 20% remaining. Nothing I'd done, as described above, touched the VLM cartridge. I opened the right cartridge door, removed the VLM, gave it a shake, reinstalled, and after the inks pressurized checked the LCD. It showed the normal VLM, so I tried again to print a nozzle check. This failed to print and the LCD again showed the "NO CARTRIDGE" message for VLM.

Again I removed the cartridge, and this time I lightly rubbed an ArtGum (tm) eraser on the cart's chip contacts. I reinstalled the cartridge, and have been printing without issue since.

Just for fun I had a "chat" with an Epson support person via their Web site. He suggested this: "Ok, please try pressing the Pause button like 4 or 5 times some what fast then see if the printer goes to a ready state." Of course, by then I'd already used the eraser and the printer was working, so I don't know if following his instructions would have made a difference. In the end he suggested I call their "Professional Printer" support line because they may want to replace the VLM cartridge.

I made the call, explained everything from the start, and was told to buy a new VLM, install it, and see if the problem returns. If it does, it indicates a sensor fault in the printer. If it does not, it points to a failed ink cartridge, which Epson will replace.

Since I need to do a bit more printing for the next show I did order a VLM, which will be here tomorrow. In the meantime I've made more prints and experienced no problems.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Long Overdue Update; Roll Printing Failure

In July, 2016, I posted here about a problem I had printing multiple images across the width of a roll. My computer (Macintosh) and OS (10.11.6, "El Capitan") have not changed, although I have installed several security and other updates from Apple. Epson's OS X driver and the 7900's firmware have received no updates, but both are the current versions. However, the problem occurred with Photoshop CC 2015.5. I've got the now-current version 2017.1.0, and I can report success printing 2-up across a 24-inch roll.

Yesterday I wrapped up a job making 48 prints, each 10 inches by 15 inches (25.4 x 38.1 cm). I printed these 2-across, with the printer cutting the paper after each pair of images. This resulted in a sheet 24 inches wide by a little over 17 inches high. I then cut each into 11 x 17 inch sheets with the picture centered (I use a Dahle 444 cutter, which I'd describe as "the right tool for the job").

When setting up to print, I sized and optimized each image file, and then pasted a pair into a new Photoshop document 24 inches wide by 17 inches high. I put guides in the appropriate places, pasted each of the two images into a new layer, cropped to the edges of the image pair, and then printed on a custom paper size (17 inches on 24-inch roll, centered, with standard margins).
The 7900 printing a client photo 2-across on 24-inch roll paper
This worked exactly as I expected. No errors, no truncated prints. Whatever was happening back in July seems to be resolved. I can't know with certainty since I never did further testing with the older version of Photoshop, but it seems a fix was made in some version after 2015.5.

In any case, I'm happy, and the client's happy.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017