Starting Out – Printer and Inkset Selection

Printer Selection

You can use QuadToneRIP (QTR) and Piezography on pretty much any Epson 13″ or larger photo printer, and on some of the smaller ones as well.  But they divide into two broad camps – those with ink cartridges on the print head, and those that locate the cartridges elsewhere in the printer and use ink lines and dampers to deliver the ink to the print head.  The ink-lines-and-dampers printers are generally the so-called “Pro” printer series, the smallest of which is the 17″ 3800 / 3880 / P800, and the carts-on-head printers are the smaller desktop printers.  An exception is the R3000 / P600, which is an ink-lines-and-dampers printer but not a Pro printer, so it’s in something of a “no man’s land” – I have more to say about this printer below.  Carts-on-head 13″ printers are now quite rare, with only the R1430 and R2000 / P400 still available new, and none of these are K3 printers, but even so they’re just perfect for Piezography.

There are three issues to consider when choosing a printer for Piezography – (i) How big do you want to print?  (ii) How much of a maintenance burden are you prepared to accept?  and (iii) How worried about micro-banding are you? As you will read, you’ll need to be prepared to accept a trade-off between these three.  The print size choice is fairly obvious – I noted in the previous article on the benefits of Piezography, printing larger is better.  The other two issues are not as immediately obvious.

Maintenance

All printers need regular use and regular maintenance.  It’s worth reading the InkJetMall maintenance instructions and watching their maintenance video for your printer model.  The Pro printers come with a heavier maintenance burden than the desktop carts-on-head printers.  All pigment inks will sediment to some extent.  This seems to be less of a problem with Epson inks.  It’s a bit more of a problem with third party colour inks and it’s a significant issue with black and white inksets like Piezography, simply because the effect of any significant pigment sedimentation can be seen in prints much more readily. 

Agitating the inks and dealing with sedimentation is less of an issue with carts-on-head printers.  The action of the head moving back and forth will provide enough agitation, if the printer is turned on sufficiently regularly.  If you let the printer sit for a month or two, it’s not hard to deal with sedimentation.  I use a syringe and a blunt-tipped needle to carefully drain each cartridge, put the ink back in the bottle (being careful to use the right bottle for each ink shade!), agitate the bottle, and refill the cartridges.  The mandatory head clean when the cartridges are reinserted will help. 

This doesn’t work for the ink-lines-and-dampers printers, as the cartridges are not agitated by the action of the print head.  You must remove them every few weeks and agitate them manually yourself.  There’s also the ink in the lines and dampers that need agitation, and the only way to deal with this is to print something regularly, like every week or two. 

But wait, there’s more!  If you have a printer with switchable MK and PK inks, like an R3000 or 3880, you’ll need to do the switch once every couple of weeks as well, and that’s around 6ml of ink for each MK-PK round trip.  Read about the ordeal of one user who didn’t do this sufficiently regularly, or in more detail here. So the price you pay for being able to print 17″ or larger and avoiding certain forms of micro-banding (see below) is to become a “prisoner of the printer”, either printing frequently or burning up ink in other ways in order to keep it flowing. (You can reduce the cost a little by opting to run P2 rather than K7.) 

Micro-banding

This issue merits a detailed discussion, and so this site has an article dedicated to how to deal with it in practice.  But it’s also potentially an issue in printer selection, so here is a summary.  Read the full article for more detail.

On Epson non-Pro printers (R3000 or smaller), micro-banding occurs in the first and last inch of the page, in terms of the direction it is fed into the printer, i.e. not on the sides.  Why?  In short, special secret, proprietary Epson algorithms are needed to print in the first and last inch of the page on these printers.  These algorithms control holding on to the page and advancing it while printing when the page is not held by both rollers, i.e. at the beginning and end of a print.

For the Pro (3880 and above) printers, this code is built into the firmware of the printer, and so any software that drives the printer automatically has access to the code.  However for smaller Stylus Photo printers (R3000 and below), the code is in the driver, and so only software that prints via the Epson driver can access it.  This does not include QTR.  Hence you get micro-banding on the first and last inch on the non-Pro printers. 

So, Which Printer?

The carts-on-head printers have a number of advantages.  Not only are they simpler to maintain, but you can switch from one Piezography inkset to another easily and at little cost of wasted ink (see below).  In a similar vein, you can insert cartridges with Piezoflush solution to hibernate the printer, and then reverse the process to print.  It is possible to do this on a Pro printer and the R3000, but only at a very large cost of wasted ink & flush.  And there is a work-around to the micro-banding issue on desktop printers.  So on balance I strongly recommend a carts-on-head printer for Piezography, especially the R2000, if you can still get one.  Or an R1430 for K6 matte-only. 

The R2000 was not widely promoted as a Piezography printer, which is a shame.  The earlier version, the R1900, was physically identical to the R2880 which was widely promoted, and the R2000 is only a minor update of the R1900.  I’ve strongly advocated using the R1900 / R2000 for Piezography.  I use an R1900 myself, and I’ve bought a new R2000 and put it aside as insurance against the day when I will need to retire the R1900.

There is a not insignificant paradox here.  In the expert comments section of the Is it worth the trouble? article, I quote a couple of noted practitioners who say that the benefits of Piezography become more apparent the larger you print.  I think that’s right.  However the R1430 and R1900 / R2000 only print 13″ / A3+ wide, which is not all that large by contemporary exhibition standards.  Anything larger will need an ink-lines-and-dampers printer, but that leads to the maintenance issues and challenges discussed above.  As with many things, you pays your money and you takes your choices.  Think very carefully before you opt for a Pro printer, because of the maintenance burden and cost, notwithstanding their obvious attractions.

Finally, I’d strongly discourage anyone from buying an R3000 or P600 for Piezography.  You have all the maintenance problems of a Pro printer, without any of the benefits – i.e. you still get micro-banding in the first and last inch, and you can’t print larger than 13″.  You can print on CDs (not a big advantage with Piezography), and you can print on roll paper, unlike the 3880.   But even the 3880 can print on sheets cut from a roll and the new P800 can use rolls, so there are almost no practical piezography benefits to the R3000 / P600.  It’s cheaper than the 3880 / P800, but after you allow for the cost of included ink in each model, not that much cheaper.  You have been warned.

Inkset selection

There are a couple of choices to make – which inkset to use and whether to use K7 or P2/K6?

Because there are no colour inks used in Piezography, you can’t change the toning of the image.  Well that’s only partly true.  For a given inkset you can’t change toning, but there are five Piezography inksets, each with different toning:  Neutral, Carbon (warm), Selenium (coolish), Special Edition (split-toning) and Warm Neutral.  The apparent toning also varies with the paper used, as some papers are warmer than others, with gloss and baryta papers typically being a lot warmer than matte.  So you have five options for toning, but for a given inkset, you only change toning by changing papers. 

Inkjetmall sells a pack of sample prints that demonstrates the difference between the five inksets on one type of paper for matte, and another type for gloss. But that’s about all they show, as it’s not a great demonstration image in my view – it’s been criticised for emphasising the upper and lower zones more than mid-tones – and for the prints being too small to really see the benefits of Piezography.  There was talk of selling a pack of A4 / Letter sized prints, but I’ve not seen anything. 

It’s tempting and probably sensible to start with Neutral inks, but Selenium and Special Edition are also popular.  Be warned that Carbon is rather warm, and Special Edition, which I use, is also rather warm on gloss papers.  Even on warmish matte papers, like Canson Rag Photographique, Special Edition can look a touch warm, but even so, I find that its split-tone effect is subtle enough on all the matte papers that I’ve tried.  I don’t recommend it for gloss.  This is where a carts-on-head desktop printer has advantages – you can readily switch from one to another, and for a switch from Neutral to Special Edition, you only need to swap shades 2-5.

There’s another aspect of inkset selection, and that’s whether to use Piezography with the full set of seven shades (K7), or with only six (either K6 or P2).  Although the issues involved are a little advanced, I think it’s something a new user should consider, as it affects what inks you buy and how you initially set your printer up.  Changing later is possible, and not all that hard on a carts-on-head printer, but is tedious and expensive to do on an ink-lines-and-dampers printer.  This issue is sufficiently important in my view and something that I feel strongly about, that I’ve written a separate article on this topic.  I encourage those considering Piezography to read it, as well as those currently using Piezography.

Last: Is Piezography Worth The Trouble?  Next:  Six Piezography Shades Or Seven?

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