February 2018 - Digital Group - Inks for Epson & ColorMunki

Meeting Notes March 2009 to 2018.
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February 2018 - Digital Group - Inks for Epson & ColorMunki

Post by spb » Sat Feb 03, 2018 5:18 pm

Computational Photography is a name for the combination of image capture and post-processing that cameras and especially smartphones are doing to overcome shortcomings in sensors and lenses. For example the so-called Portrait Mode in smartphones attempts to determine the background in order to render it out of focus as a larger sensor and larger lens aperture would naturally do. Whilst not perfect (edges can be muddy and bokeh is crude) it’s getting better and is already good enough for most people’s throw-away social photography. Another nail in the coffin of ‘proper’ cameras.

Unsplash is a website that goes against the trend. Since 2013 it has been a site to host high resolution images that may be downloaded freely by anyone and used for any purpose (including commercial) without restriction or attribution (although that is welcomed). Why would anyone give away the copyright to their images like this? The idea is that aspiring photographers get their images out in the marketplace and attract interest and hopefully commissions. Or maybe authors just want to see their images being used by someone. There are currently over 400k images loaded. The average image is viewed 600k times and downloaded 4k times. Needless to say there are many who see this as an unspeakable sin - devaluing professional photography.

I have described my love+hate relationship with Epson printers many times. I love their image quality, appreciate the depth of knowledge on the internet about them and the availability of third party inks. I hate the tendency to blocked nozzles, shockingly poor support from Epson, cost of Epson ink, the matte/gloss black ink swapping design and the R3000 series black ink solenoid fault (see the April 2017 notes).

I have recently purchased a second Epson Stylus Photo R3000 and now have one with internal Marrutt refillable cartridges and ink (actually by Lyson) which is set up for matte papers and one with external Permajet Eco-Flo ink bottles set up for gloss papers. A third reputable supplier of similar systems is Fotospeed. By implementing these solutions, ink costs are reduced to around 20% of Epson ink costs. I have overcome several hurdles to arrive at this situation and learnt several things along the way. Read on.

It’s important to understand that Epson printers do not measure the level of ink in each cartridge. They deduce it from the number of ink dots of each colour printed since the cartridge was new. This information is stored in an electronic chip attached to each cartridge. No one has yet succeeded in re-programming these chips. When the printer decides that the cartridge has about 20% ink remaining, the chip is marked ‘empty’ and no Epson printer will be able to use it again. This has been the subject of a class action on planned obsolescence in the US which Epson lost. They are now updating their printers with sensors and ‘EcoTanks’. Third party ink suppliers get around this problem by fitting their cartridges with ARC (automatic reset) chips which can be reset when the printer thinks they are empty. As a result there is no correlation between the indicated ink level and the actual amount of ink available in these systems.

Marrutt Refillable Cartridges. A limitation of my 26ml Marrutt cartridges is that the actual ink level can only be seen through the wall of the cartridge by lifting it out. However, it’s important to keep the actual ink level above the indicated ink level as running out of ink will introduce air into the system which can be a problem to purge. The cartridges are refilled with a syringe and if done with care, this need not be messy (but often is). Marrutt claim that their Lyson-sourced ink is so close in colour to Epson ink that no custom profiling is usually necessary. My experience bears this out.

Permajet Eco-Flo. This system uses large (125ml) bottles of ink alongside the printer, piped to thinner chipped injectors which replace the cartridges. Although slightly more elaborate to setup and prime, this system has the potential to be maintenance-free for many hundred of prints. The actual ink level is also readily visible through the side of the bottle. As with the refillable cartridges, resetting the indicated ink level is simply a matter of pulling out the injector and putting it back.

A sudden and total loss of my Permajet Vivid Magenta ink was eventually traced to a blockage in the junction between the pipe and the injector – the narrowest point in the plumbing. I traced this by finding that I could not suck any ink through the injector with the syringe – which is the initial priming method. Permajet sell spares. An empty cartridge with ARC chip is £12.

I found that Permajet ink was slightly more yellow than the Epson ink but this was readily fixed with a custom profile (see Calibration below).

So far, all chips have reset in both printers, as advertised, with the exception of a Permajet Cyan chip that has failed to reset in both printers. I overcame this with a new chip purchased as part of a full set from Marrutt (£40). I have not yet proved that Epson block third party inks via firmware updates, as rumoured. Fotospeed and Marrutt have both told me that they have no knowledge of any firmware problems in any printers fitted with their inks in the UK. Permajet are a little more circumspect. There are certainly faulty chips around but they will be replaced free of charge.

Domestic Epson printers have no sensors to detect ink problems so it is interesting that they can print happily for months and then go through phases of intensive (and unnecessary and expensive) cleaning cycles – sometimes before every print for days. A firmware update can reduce this temporarily but it can reappear. There is a consensus that firmware updates when using third party inks are risky. My gut feeling is that the printer detects unusual activity relating to the cartridges and goes into a ‘better safe than sorry’ intensive cleaning response. This may be detected when the printer is dormant (plugged-in but switched off). Certainly resetting the ARC chips should be done with the print switched on so that it can satisfy itself about the status of the ‘new’ cartridge immediately. The intensive cleaning does settle down eventually but it’s very frustrating.

So, my experiences with two printers, two ink suppliers and two delivery methods has been a continuation of the general fussiness of Epson printer ownership. Today everything is running well and I am certainly liking the immediacy of having gloss and matte inks and papers both available simultaneously. Gloss papers are best for strong colours and contrast, whereas matt papers can be good for artistic prints and also for text documents on copy paper. Incidentally I tried printing on Gloss paper with Matte black ink and the results were poor – very saturated with excessively dense blacks.

If you are interested in trying third party inks in Epson printers, Marrutt, Permajet and Fotospeed support about 15 printer models with both refillable cartridges and tubed bottles. I think that they ARE worth the slightly greater hassle and result in massively reduced running costs. Special offers at photo shows can provide the hardware free of charge with a set of inks. If you buy a complete set of genuine inks more than once a year I would recommend the tubed system with external bottles, rather than smaller refillable cartridges.

If your screen matches your print and both match the club’s projector you are very lucky. It won’t last. APS has a ColorMunki Photo available for free loan to members. This can profile screens, printers and projectors.

All screens will benefit from profiling because they are set too saturated and too bright in the factory. Most printers can produce a good result without profiling. If not, the options are to try a generic profile from the paper manufacturer, obtain a custom profile, usually available from the same source, or use the ColorMunki to produce your own. Using third party inks increases the chance that a profile will be required. The Marrutt inks seem very close to the Epson inks in colour. Permajet slightly less so. My second R3000 acquisition produced very magenta prints whether I used Epson, Marrutt or Permajet ink. Apparently it has always been this way since new and probably should have been rejected. Nevertheless it has been fully corrected with a profile.

Before profiling, install the X-Rite Photo software supplied and plug in the ColorMunki.

Screen Profiling. If possible set the screen to default settings with its physical buttons and also to sRGB colour space. This may reduce the amount of correction that the profile is required to do (but may not be possible with a laptop screen). The software has Easy and Advanced options. Choose the Advanced option and set the white point to D65. The only other option is to choose the display brightness. This depends upon the amount of illumination in your room and for prints. 120 cd/m2 is a good starting point (or 100 would be less bright). Next self-calibrate the device as explained and then hang it in the centre of the screen by its weighted strap. A series of colours will then flash onto the screen to be measured. Early in the process it will pause for you to adjust the screen brightness to match the value chosen at the start. Finally a name for the profile is required and you’re done.

Whenever the computer starts up, the profile will be applied automatically. You can check this, for example in Windows 10, right-click Desktop>Display Settings>Display Adapter Properties> Colour Management where the active profile should be displayed. It’s a good idea to re-profile occasionally (probably not as often as in CRT days) and especially if the graphics card or driver is updated. In my experience, a small tweak to the screen brightness won’t spoil the profile significantly.

Printer Profiling. This is done for each paper/ink/printer combination. The important thing is to set the appropriate Photoshop and Printer Driver settings and always use them. Printer drivers only know about paper from the printer manufacturer so third party paper suppliers will tell you which is the closest match. This is important because each paper requires a specific amount of ink and the print head height is set according to the roughness of the surface. Gloss or matte black may also be specified (if available for your printer) depending upon the paper type. This is important because ink soaks into matt papers whereas it sits on the surface of gloss papers.

Having chosen the above settings, X-Rite Photo proceeds to print a test chart and counts-down a 10 minute drying phase. The five strips of colours are next scanned with the ColorMunki whilst pressing the side button. If a scan is poor you can re-scan it. It’s important to start and finish the scan in the white border and scan smoothly. This process is repeated with a second test print and the resulting profile is named.

To use the profile, set the Print dialogue to manage colour itself and choose the above profile. All of the other setting in this screen and also in the printer driver MUST BE CORRECT or the results will be inconsistent. It’s particularly important to switch off colour management in the printer driver or the two will conflict. See my Print to Screen Matching paper on the Digital Group page of the APS website for detailed instructions. Epson software in particular is notorious for not reliably remembering settings each time you print so always check them.

This topic has been covered several times before. See the Photoshop/Elements tutorial 7. Using Layers in Photoshop Elements on the Digital Group page of the APS Website.

Cheers, Steve

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