Troubleshooting Printer Issues

Last week we had a major printer glitch in our studio and I figure it was instructive enough for a blog. Since we teach fine art printing workshops regularly, we get a good share of questions from the alumni of our workshops and from online printmakers. But this case even stumped us for a while.

I’ll state at the outset that we primarily use Canon printers. In fact, we like them so much we recently decided to become a Canon-exclusive studio. We like their ease of setup, better use of ink and the stunning prints they produce. So, it was a shock to us when we printed the following image on our newest Canon Pro-1000 printer. This image is popular with our clients, so we have printed it dozens of times with no problems at all. Here is how it should look out of the printer, in this case on a rich Moab fine art paper (all images here taken on the fly with an iPhone 7).

Inexplicably, the print instead come out looking like this:

What on Earth? This came as a complete shock, because the Canon Pro-1000 is such a reliable workhorse for us. It does 17” wide prints and churns them out without a hitch. In our workshops we might go through 50 prints in a day with never an issue.

So, we ran a built-in Canon nozzle test and came up with a completely blocked color channel, which you can see next to the starred bracket in the far left of the next image.

But since the square was totally blank, and we were in a rush, we didn’t even notice it at first! We did a couple of other prints and we noticed that the issue was restricted to a small slice of the blue spectrum, which kept rendering pink. Nothing else in the print seemed to be affected. Notice the pinkish water in this image. Also note the pink tint in what should have been solid blue in the woman’s coat and scarf. What was going on?

My assistant, Bob, is a stickler for details, so he sent a B&W print through the Pro-1000 just to see if there was an issue there, too. Nothing. The B&W print on plain paper was perfect. So we ran a cleaning cycle, thinking that somehow the blue channel was compromised. The danged thing still printed with a pink cast.

We did a second cleaning with the same result, except this time when we did a nozzle check, the blocked channel registered, but showed a missing stripe, which you can see in the 2nd and 3rd test sheets from the left side. Aha! We were narrowing the problem and maybe even on the road to solving it.

The question is what can one do with a blocked printer channel? Unfortunately, the only thing to do is to run it through a cleaning, which we all know uses up ink. When that happens all I can see are dollar bills flying out the window.

So we sent the printer through a deep cleaning cycle. Marginal improvement; pink cast still noticeable.

Finally, after a couple of other nozzle checks, we resorted to the dreaded SYSTEM CLEANING! This is not to be taken lightly. It’s like going to DefCon 6, waiting for the printer to be nuked. But, to Canon’s credit, it is easy to initiate, doesn’t take too long and - guess what? - it solved the problem. Take another look at the fan of nozzle checks above and below. The print on the far right shows the channel fully functional.

Lesson Learned

So, here’s the lesson for all you printmakers out there. Stuff happens. Machines are still machines and even the best designed can encounter hiccups. The point is to be patient, try to analyze the problem, and use the tools provided by the manufacturer to troubleshoot. We ended up with five Nozzle Checks and several test prints.

As a final explanation of what happened, this Pro-1000 was only three days old, the second Pro-1000 we have in our studio. We figure that some gunk got caught in the tube during setup and the cleaning cycles and System Cleaning managed to push it through the system. Happily, we spent the rest of the day churning out prints for a professional portfolio… without a hitch!

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