Epson Stylus Pro 4880 printer user experience report
Part six: print head clogging

One of the key features of the 4880 is the "New ink repelling coating to dramatically reduce nozzle clogging". This feature leads one to think that nozzles never clog, or, at least, that was the impression that I initially had. Looking back at it now, the wording was actually very accurate—"dramatically reduce" does not mean "eliminate". So does nozzle clogging occur? Unfortunately, yes. How often it happens primarily depends on how frequently you print (the more regularly you print, the less likely nozzle clogging to happen) and the level of humidity in your environment (the more humid it is, the less frequently the problem will occur).

Every time you switch the printer on it asks whether you would like to run Auto Nozzle Check (well, it is not that polite). Knowing that the procedure wastes ink as well as given the fact that nothing was wrong the previous time I used the printer (and I do not tend to fix something that is not broken), I never run it. Then one day I was printing as usual and, all of a sudden, all colours were off. Since I was printing several black–and–white photographs that were post–processed in the same manner and the first two were perfect, I knew that the fault was not with me.

Nozzle clogging happened for the first time at approximately 25th meter of the first 30.5m roll of Enhanced Matte Paper. The amount of ink remaining at the time is shown in the screenshot below. #1 is a 220ml Matte Blank cartridge that was installed right in the beginning; #2, #3, #4 and #8 are the initial cartridges that came with the printer (110ml); #5, #6 and #7 are 220ml cartridges that replaced the initial 110ml cartridges that came with the printer.


So I run Auto Nozzle Check and, indeed, it shows that nozzles are clogged. The printer attempts to clean them automatically but after five iterations reports that it failed to solve the problem. As shown below, this procedure consumed 19.3ml of ink and 34.7cm of paper.


After that I run Head Cleaning and, subsequently, Nozzle Check again. After two iterations of the latter the job is done. The amount of ink and paper further consumed is shown in the image below.


This whole procedure wasted 24.3ml of ink (equivalent to USD15.55 in terms of ink prices outlined in part two of this report for 110ml cartridges) and 62.2cm of paper. It is also quite time consuming—I did not time it but judging by the music that I was listening to at the time it must have been approximately half an hour.

Update—December 2009

I have now used the Epson 4880 for two years and my experience has been that nozzle clogging occurs very often—so much so that I run auto nozzle check each time before printing a batch of photographs and, if I print more than five photographs in one go, in the middle of printing. To give you an example, I recently printed ten 10" black–and–white photographs. Nozzles were clean before I started printing and by the eighth print I could see that they were already slightly clogged. After finishing the printing job I ran nozzle check in auto mode and, as I suspected, nozzles were indeed clogged. It took six (!) cleaning cycles and 35.7ml of ink to clean them. In short, nozzle clogging still largely remains an area for improvement for Epson.

Update—February 2015

A kind reader recently wrote to suggest an ingenious solution to the Epson 4880 printer head clogging. It is very simple: all you have to do is pour about one cup of plain tap water into the maintenance tank every four months or so. Evidently, the print head parks over the maintenance tank and the key to stop clogging is to keep it from drying out. Waste ink was supposed to do that, but in dry environments or with infrequent printing it is insufficient, and clogging quickly becomes a major issue. Adding water into the maintenance tank provides sufficient liquid to continue evaporating over a longer period of time. According to the reader, this was advised by an Epson engineer.

The life of the maintenance tank is not shortened by adding water because the chip/computer does not know you did so; also, the water evaporates over time, which is what keeps the print head moist and clog free. Naturally, you need to use judgment when adding water, i.e. you should not overflow it. The worst that can happen, though, is that you create a bit of a mess.

I first poured tap water into the maintenance tank in early November 2014, thinking that I would observe how this would work over a longer period of time. Frankly, I was somewhat skeptical at first and did not see any noticeable changes right away; with hindsight, it apparently took some time for the water to evaporate and start providing a more humid micro environment. After a couple of weeks and a number of head cleaning cycles, however, things decidedly turned for the better: I mostly have not experienced head clogging since then, largely regardless of how often I print and how much printing I do in one go.

This may not necessarily work for other printer models, nor may it be a panacea for print head clogging, but the approach is definitely worth exploring.

Part one: why Epson?

Part two: Epson 3800 vs. Epson 4880

Part three: unexpected surprises

Part four: swapping photo and matte black inks

Part five: printer driver

Part six: 8–bit vs. 16–bit printing

Part seven: print head clogging

Part eight: final thoughts