Taking photographs is like writing music. Printing the image on paper is like performing it.

I have an Epson Stylus Photo R340 than drinks copious amounts of ink – well it needs new ink very often. I run until the printer refuses to print any more and then replace the cartridges. I was always angered that I could still hear ink sloshing around inside the ’empty’ cartridge. I recently learned that if the print heads ever run dry, they are ruined. This may be why they always ensure that some ink remains. A set of ink cartridges for this printer (six color) are around $80. The R340 has been discontinued and the replacement printer, the R280, only costs $80. I don’t print huge runs at home (I often use WinkFlash), but the cost of what printing I do at home really gets my goat!

I’ve been searching around for tips on lowering this cost and the idea of bulk ink systems really appeals to me, but I’m always brought up short by the question of ink quality. I just couldn’t find any objective data about ink. Then I came across THIS POST. The basic conclusion is that the inks from Image Specialists are good (used by Ink Republic and MIS Ink), especially the Black, but the ink with the best Gamut was from InkJetFly. Both of these are slightly less glossy than the OEM inks. The best results are from the InkJetFly colors with the Image Specialist Black. The InkJetFly site also has some decent comparisons. The guy who runs IJF was so receptive to these results that they now offer this exact combination. The initial cost for the IJF system is around $120 – thats 10x the ink for 1.5x the cost.

OK – I’m sold (waiting for existing ink to run out)…… to be continued

I finally gave up on my Epson OEM ink cartridges today. The nozzles needed cleaning, but because the ink had just gone low on one of the carts it wouldn’t perform a cleaning. This really stinks – if you want a clean nozzle you must buy a new cartridge. I pulled all six Epson cartridges out and installed my InkJetFly Continuous Inking system. Here is my installation review –

The instructions that came with my system didn’t match exactly. I had a few questions and Leo Chang from InJetFly answered them almost immediately. The pictures in the instructions show a different cartridge and the printer model is very different. There is no way to attach the hose support clip on the inside of my Epson Stylus R340. Leo told me to just use tape. He sent some R340 specific instructions which still differed from my kit, but at least it showed how to support the hoses. The printed instructions also showed the ink bottles with screw on squirt caps that weren’t included in my kit. Instead there were hypodermic syringes and blunt needles. Leo told me that the squirt caps leaked all over the place and I was supposed to use the syringes.

Cover your work area with newspaper, have a supply of paper towels handy, wear some old clothes (dark colored), and wear gloves if ink stained fingers aren’t in your plans. The syringes are 10ml and the bottles contain over 100ml, so there are loads of opportunities to drip and splatter. You also use the syringe without the needle to prime the cartridges by pumping air into the tanks (imagine ink spraying around). Filling the tanks and priming the cartridges take about 45 minutes. You could possibly do it faster with practice, but trying to be neat will slow you down. I disassembled the cartridge clip in the printer to allow the hoses to have a smoother access path by threading them out through the top of the clip instead of having to fit under it and get pinched. You may need to improvise slightly from the instructions to create the optimal path for the hoses. You don’t need to be a mechanical genius, but some abilities in this area and a lack of fear are helpful.

Once everything was assembled and attached, I marked the lid on the printer where the hoses exited to the outside world. I then removed the lid and cut a notch in it with my table saw. I rounded and angled the edge with a file so that the hoses pass neatly out of the printer and the lid closes without pinching them. A few nozzle checks and cleanings later I was good to go! Everything works as advertised. The hardest part is the initial priming. The good news is that this doesn’t ever need to be repeated. Future refills should be quick and easy, but I’ll still cover everything near my printer with paper towels before proceeding (the tanks are now attached to the printer). The tanks are clear plastic so you can easily see when a refill is needed.

I’ll never again dread running out of ink. The refill bottles contain 114ml. This is ten times the ink that comes in the OEM cartridges and they run around $48 for a set of six colors. The OEM cartridges are around $80 for a set. That is ten times the ink for 40% less money. My fears about the ink quality were allayed by the data in the post mentioned above. I’d recommend this to anyone who is frustrated over the high cost of ink.

The one side effect I’ve noticed it that my printer recognizes that I’m not using Epson cartridges. It throws a warning up on the screen when you first power up or when you flush the nozzles and requires you to acknowledge your ‘dangerous’ choice before you can proceed.

I almost forgot to mention… the prints look great!

Well, they look great until you start to compare them to the OEM prints and the screen. I’m not talking about the lower gloss – they are way off on exposure and color balance. I have pretty low standards and I didn’t like the way they looked. I started to dig into this business of printing photographs and soon felt I was in over my head. My Epson printer is profiled for Epson Ink and Epson Paper. If you change anything, the profile will be off and the prints won’t look right. This is basically true for every printer brand. From my own experience, just changing the paper has a much less drastic effect than changing the ink as I did. What I now needed to do was to re-profile my printer with the InkJetFly ink and the paper I was using (whatever was on sale). It also dawned on me that I should find a good paper and then stick with that. With paper now being my biggest expense, I naturally wanted to choose something that was cheaper than the retail packages I see at Staples (available in bulk). I’ve been looking at Red River’s Artic Polar papers.

How do you adjust the way your printer prints? Profiles! I tried the one that IJF supplies for my Epson, but it was poor. Each combination of ink and paper needs to be profiled to keep everything the same. I just ordered Profile Prism from DDI Software. This is from the same guy who wrote Qimage. It took over a week for the kit to arrive (calibrated color card and software) via snailmail. It’s fairly easy to do – you start out by printing an image with a zillion color samples on it. You then scan your printed image along with the calibrated card. The software then figures out how to profile your printer, ink, and paper. You load the profile into Qimage and voila! My prints are now passing muster.

I’d still go with the bulk ink, but you need to include the profiling software in the total cost if you want decent looking prints.

PS – as I was reading about color calibration and printer profiling I found that most monitors are calibrated at the factory to an acceptable level (for me) so I decided to skip this extra level of complexity in my quest for better prints.

Final update

I’ve finally given up on my bulk ink system. I have tried making it work for over a year now. When it works, it’s fine. The ink isn’t as glossy as the OEM inks, but it’s fine. My problems are that there are leaks in the system that allow air to enter and keep it from delivering the ink to every nozzle. I’ve replaced (at no cost to me) the ink cartridges several times. I even got a completely new system (tanks, hoses and cartridges). The customer support from InkJetFly is really good, but it always fails after briefly working. I have been able to mess with it (cleaning and verifying ink flow, flushing) and it will eventually work for a few prints. As soon as I stop printing – it’s back to crap. I’ve wasted dozens of hours, several hundred mls of ink and lots of paper. It’s just so frustrating. I have created a custom ICC profile that looks great, but the system just won’t reliably deliver ink. It seems like such a great solution and I really wanted it to work. I just can’t waste hours every time I want to print trying to get it to work. I GIVE UP. You broke my will to continue trying.

I just ordered an Epson R1900. The set of ink is around $90 for 70 or so 8x10s.

I may eventually put OEM inks back into the R340, but that is somewhat iffy as I’m not sure if the printer itself is worth it.

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