Using Pigment Inks in Dye-Based Printers
Open up a whole new world of possibilities in your old printer.

Remember that old Epson printer thatās stored somewhere? The one gathering dust in the attic or basement because you couldnāt bear to part with it after you bought that new super-duper model? Well, check the sidebar to this article and if itās on the list, give it shake and wake it up÷itās about to spin out longer-lasting images than it ever thought it could.

Even with new dye-based inks formulated to extend print life, pigment-based inks will give you longevity that lasts for generations. Pigments withstand light, humidity, ozone and temperature variations much better than dyes, which is why most printer manufacturers are gradually moving over to them. Dye based inks will gradually fade away (yes, thatās a pun ) and hundreds of thousands of printers will be left high and dry.

But MediaStreet (www.mediastreet. com), a third-party ink and paper manufacturer, offers a pigment-based ink just for those older (and even some newer) printers. They claim their specially-formulated Generations G-Chrome Ink virtually matches (and in some cases exceeds) the rich color gamut of Epsonās own pigment-based inks and that its miniscule particle sizes ranging from .12 to .18 microns wonāt clog up printer nozzles designed to spray small dye droplets. Since the smallest nozzle opening on an Epson printhead is 25 microns (thatās twenty-five, not dot 25)÷itās as easy for MediaStreetās pigment particles to pass through the printhead as it is for a flock of chickens to strut through an open barn door.

Furthermore, MediaStreet says they have patented a technique that keeps their pigment ink particles from agglomerating (sticking together) which some other pigmented inks are prone to do, and that results in continually clogged printheads. This, obviously, is not a good thing because at best it requires multiple cleaning cycles that waste ink and at worst can totally incapacitate your printer if you donāt use it regularly.

Having several older Epson inkjets hanging around, I decided to test the process on a StylusPhoto 870 that had been used on one of our digital photography workshop cruises and then stored. The first step was to clean its nozzles thoroughly with a special cleaner called Jet Jrano (try pronouncing that, though if youāre from Sarajevo it should be easy). I downloaded MediaStreetās 7-color-purge pattern image, snapped in the two cleaning cartridges and ran about a dozen cleaning cycles until the paper showed no ink. Because the printer had been in storage for about four years, it required more cleaning cycles than if it had been in use, but thereās more than enough cleaner to do the job and plenty left over to flush out the printhead again should you decide to revert to dye-based inks. By the way, nothing drastic will happen if you still have a few drops of the old ink in the printerās system; it will quickly be overpowered by the new ink.

Now the moment of truth. I popped out the cleaning cartridges and inserted MediaStreetās pigment ink cartridges. Setting my printer to 720 dpi and its speed to high (the combination I had always used with good results) I knocked out my first print. Bummer! I had faint white lines running through sky and other solid-colored areas. OK, letās read the instructions. Aha! ćUse the highest dpi setting on your printer and turn high speed off.ä At 1440 dpi, that produced a much better result÷there were still some faint white lines in the sky areas but you really had to make an effort to see them. Other areas of the print were fine. (If my printer had been capable of 2880 dpi, MediaStreet assured me that every print would be perfect. As it turned out, about 95% of them were fine at 1440 dpi.)

Why the big deal about using the highest printer resolution (which lays down smaller dots of ink)? You need smaller droplets of ink with pigment-based inks because the dots do not spread out and blend together as they do with dye-based inks; therefore many smaller dots must be placed closer together to give the appearance of a smooth, continuous tone. Most people avoid using higher dpi settings because they think each higher multiple uses twice as much ink. Not so, says MediaStreet. What the printer does at higher dpi settings is simply break up larger dots of ink (that would normally be laid down at lower resolutions) into smaller ones÷the volume of ink used essentially stays the same.

What I found to be a killer, though, is that the printer has to think a lot more about where to place the increased number of dots. So what used to take me 2:20 to output a 6 x 8-inch print, now took 8:05, quite a bit longer. Another down side is that I had to be careful not to run my hand over the surface of a glossy print until it dried thoroughly or the ink would smear. Overnight usually did the trick. Lustre and matte surfaces, though, dried quickly.

Aside from longer print life, thereās a modest saving by using MediaStreetās pigment inks; theyāre about 10-15% less expensive than using the manufacturerās inks. I ran 26, 8 x10-inch prints before the color cartridge was depleted (black was only a third gone). Figuring a 3:1 ratio of color to black, the cost of ink for each print would be about $2.10 (a cartridge set costs about $68.00 and paper prices vary according to their surfaces). I found the color quality to be just fine, though if you want the best results you should use MediaStreetās color profiles, available at their site. That puts your output in the more capable hands of your imaging program rather than at the mercy of the printer driver. Profiles also optimize the output of the ink so you can get better results at lower dpi settings.

What if profiles for the paper and dpi settings you might want to use arenāt available? No problem. MediaStreet will custom-make as many profiles for you as you want÷at no charge! While other firms might slam you for $40 to over $100 each for custom profiles, you can download a color target at MediaStreetās site, print it out, send it to them, and theyāll email you the profile in just a few days. This allows you a perfect match between your printer using their inks and papersö or any manufacturerās paper that you want them to profile. Now thatās a deal!

It was good to hear my old printer humming along again. I was able to justify being a pack rat÷itās hell for me to throw anything out, I mean, you never know when it might come in handy, right? Now, at least, one of the hundreds of obsolete and useless items I have stashed away finally has proved my point, thanks to MediaStreet.

MediaStreet Compatible Epson Printers, and Cleaning Tips

Here are the Epson printers that will accept MediaStreetās G-Chrome inks:

š 780 š 785EPX š 825 š 870 š 875DC š 890 š 900 š 925
š 1270 š 1280 š 3000 š 7000 š 9000 š R200 š R300 š R320

If your printer has been sitting around awhile, you should make sure itās functioning properly before switching to pigment-based inks. It may need several cleaning cycles to clear the nozzles so they lay down a proper pattern. If you still have dye-based ink cartridges in the printer, start by running a nozzle check to see if the printer is functional.

Epson printers go through progressively stronger cleaning cycles so if the first doesnāt do the trick (as determined by printing out a nozzle check pattern), keep going. After three cleaning cycles (checking the nozzle pattern after each one), print an image (or the MediaStreet color pattern) and run a nozzle check again. If it still shows an irregular pattern, run some more cleaning cycles in groups of three.

Donāt overdo the cleaning cycles. If the nozzle pattern continues to show gaps in the same places, let the printer sit overnight, which will usually help dissolve clogged ink, and then run some cleaning cycles (in threes) again. If that still doesnāt do it, you can try an easy ćindustrial strengthä cleaning method (http://tinyurl.com/5motv).

Why not just clean your printhead with Jet Jrano from the beginning? Because youāll have no way of seeing the whole nozzle pattern since Jrano is a clear liquid. Jrano works best when used to flush dye-based ink from a printer that is printing up to specs, with all nozzles firing cleanly. If you must use Jrano as the first step (because you may not have a set of functional cartridges in your printer), be sure to run a nozzle check with the G-Chrome ink after itās been installed.

Finally, always leave ink cartridges in Epson printers when they are idle or in storage because the cartridges create a seal against air entering the ink feeding system which can interfere with the nozzles firing correctly. If this happens, a few cleaning cycles will usually take care of it.

÷Arthur Bleich



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