Sunday, November 18, 2018

It DIdn't Help

The new LLK cartridge I ordered (see the previous posting) arrived and has been installed. I ran a nozzle check and got the expected result, most of the LLK channel missing. I then did the usual standard cleaning of the LLK/Y pair, which as usual fixed the problem. I had one small print to make, did, and it looked great, also as usual.

A week later (yesterday), having four small prints to make, I started up and ran a nozzle check, found LLK mostly absent, cleaned LLK/Y and then got a perfect nozzle check print.

Clearly the new LLK didn't resolve the issue, leading to the obvious conclusion that something in the cartridge-to-nozzles path for that channel is failing. As long as I can get a good nozzle check I'll continue, expecting LLK to need a cleaning any time I want to print. I'll let you know if (when) things change.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Seven Years....

My 7900 is seven years old, as of a couple of days ago. This wouldn't be interesting except it seems seven years is approaching the typical end-of-life for these things. Of the people I know who have had x900 and x980 printers, none has maintained a working machine very much beyond its seventh birthday. The sample size is small, but beyond those few reports, there's ample evidence on various forums that seven years is a pretty good life for these models.

My printer has been inactive lately. My "print studio," the room in which the printer lives and where I do my matting and framing, suffered a water leak back in July, an event about which I wrote for the articles section of my Web site. The article includes a few photos of the damage. Here it is 1 November, and the final part of the restoration, the painting of the repaired ceiling, is just now being completed. I hope to get the last coat of paint on tomorrow.

The printer has been powered down and stored in a clean, dry space while the sheetrock work, with it's "mudding," sanding, and spraying of texture were completed. This weekend I expect to return the 7900 to its place, along with all the other "stuff" that belongs in that room.

I've had a recurring problem with the machine most of the summer: every time I start it and run a nozzle check, more than half, sometimes all, of LLK is missing. Every time but one a standard cleaning of the Y/LLK pair cleared the problem and I then printed as usual. Once when that didn't work, a "powerful" cleaning did. I should mention that at last check LLK was at around 20% capacity, so it's not an issue of low capacity (which I've seen, too).

This sort of thing has happened with other channels, and a new ink cartridge solved the problem. To that end I've ordered a new LLK, which will be here before I'm ready for it. That may resolve the issue. If not, it could be the capping station, or any of the many components between the ink cartridge and the head.

I need to make a couple of prints, which I should be able to do early next week. I'll post here with the results of the new LLK.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Best Packing Ever

Continuing the story I started on 22 June: For the MAM printing job I started by printing the largest of the images, on a 24-inch roll of EEF. At a final size of 37 inches high X 24 inches wide (94 x 61 cm) the print required careful handling until I could get it packaged for delivery.

Next I made six prints on 11 x 17 inch sheets. That consumed the last of the EEF I had in appropriate sizes, putting the job on hold until I received the 24 x 30 inch sheets I'd ordered a few days earlier.

Most of my orders for paper and ink over the years have been with IT Supplies. They have the papers I prefer, the ink the 7900 uses, and much more. When I compare prices they are always competitive, and often the lowest. Shipping is free for orders over $149 (it had been $99 for a long time, but recently increased when they 'merged' with Atlex, with whom they've shared an address for years). It's pretty hard to place an order for less than that amount, which, at least in my case, means free shipping all the time.

The two boxes of 25 sheets would be large, heavy, and prone to shipping damage. Here in rural Montana, it's rare that a package arrives via UPS or FedEx, the main shippers, in good condition. Without exception the boxes arrive filthy, as if there's some kind of contest to see how cruddy they can make a package. And they often are smashed, with crunched corners, punctures and tears, and broken tape seals. If the corner of a paper box is crunched, you can be sure every single sheet in that box will have damaged corners. I've had to return too many packages to any number of suppliers because of this; the contents simply weren't packaged to accommodate whatever abuse the shipper might inflict. While the vendor has little control over that, I can fault them for embarrassingly bad packaging. The typical practice seems to be to fold and tape the bottom of the box, toss in the product, and then stuff bubble wrap, or a wad of crumpled craft paper, or a few inflated air pillows on top of the product, and then seal the box. This puts the product in direct contact with the bottom and at least one edge of the carton, with protective cushioning only on top at perhaps another edge.

With all of that in mind, I asked IT Supplies (via their ordering Web site) to please, please package the order carefully. I needed the paper right away; there'd be no time to return a damaged shipment and wait for a replacement (which may well be as damaged as the original).

A few days later the delivery arrived in an enormous 39 pound (18 kg) box. Inside I found enough crumpled craft paper to wrap the Golden Gate Bridge, miles of bubble-wrap, and two large boxes of EEF. All of this centered in a double-walled cardboard carton. A note on the packing slip, intended I'm sure for the warehouse crew who packaged the thing, simply said, "Please double-box."

Pictured above is the outer carton against the back of my 2010 Toyota RAV4, just to give you an idea of the scale. The dotted outline is my estimation of the size of the Epson boxes inside the carton. Those boxes looked perfect. IT Supplies did a great job, no doubt burning through much of the profit on this sale just to make sure it arrived here in good condition.  Nicely done, and thank you.

Interestingly, Epson's normally robust product boxes didn't fare so well. The cardboard bumpers that center the pack of paper inside the box were completely smashed, allowing the paper (which is inside a heavy plastic bag) to slide around. The condition of both boxes were identical. They looked perfect on the outside. It's not impossible that this damage happened before my boxes were packaged into the large outer carton, which contained so much packaging that the product should have withstood the worst UPS could do. Whatever the case, the paper was undamaged.

I've now completed the MAM job. More on that next time.

(Other than being a long-time happy customer of IT Supplies, I've no affiliation with them, and did not benefit from this posting. I just wanted to pass on a story of what was, in my opinion, impressive customer service.)


Friday, June 22, 2018

Here's What 46 Prints Look Like

For several weeks I've been working on a large job for the Missoula Art Museum (MAM). This is a Big Deal for me, and perhaps my most "prestigious" client so far. While certainly not the Art Institute of Chicago or New York's MOMA, the MAM is quite nice, with one very large gallery, several smaller ones, library and media rooms, and an outstanding curatorial staff that's brought in some spectacular exhibits over the years. In 2017 they added, in cooperation with the City of Missoula, an impressive outdoor art "park" adjacent to the museum.

This job has been in the works for a year, and finally, in May, I received 46 files. The images, made by a Salish Kootenai College photography student, capture and narrate a story of modern Tribal (American Indian) life on and around Montana reservations. Some of the photos are beautiful, some are gritty, one or two are just disturbing. But my job is to make prints, so I'll withhold my opinions and get back to my story.

Part one of the job was to make small proof prints of the entire lot. I used letter-size sheets of Epson luster, in part because it's cheap, and also because luster has a tough, durable surface and would tolerate the handing I expected the prints to receive. They'd be spread out on a large table; the photographer, his teacher, and the museum's senior curator would rearrange, stack, sort, and otherwise cull the lot down to something appropriate to the narration, to fit within the available space for the exhibit, and to stay with their budget for printing and framing.

Everything about the job was routine. There is some time pressure, so I printed over four days. During that time the photographer and his teacher visited here to look at paper choices for the final prints, and I also had some other small client jobs to complete. The printer behaved as I've come to expect: each day's start-up and nozzle-check print revealed some missing nozzles (this aging 7900 is never 100% clean anymore at start-up), some cleaning was done (which, as always, required swapping out some ink cartridges for fuller ones, and usually required multiple channel-pair cleanings as I'd chase missing nozzles around the channels), and then I'd print the day's batch. One small problem: making room for 46 prints! I prefer to let them dry at least 24 hours before stacking them, so I often had a couple of day's prints spread out.

For the picture below, after all were printed, I spread them out on my main studio bench and a couple of temporary tables.

The group met at the college, culled the images, and then called me in to talk about final print sizes. With that sorted, I placed an order for the paper (more on that in another posting), and then did other work while burning off the lead time.

I'll follow-up with another posting or two about making the larger prints.


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.