Seven Points to Perfect Printing

Written by Scott Burgess

I hate struggling with output. It is hard enough in this economy just keeping ourselves above water. Often we are working in more streamlined environments and wearing many hats in order to stay profitable. The last thing we need to do is struggle with our sign making equipment to make a decent sign or banner. Wouldn’t it be great to get consistent, predictable and high quality output from our large format printers each and every time we hit the print button? Well, the following points are designed to help you achieve and maintain a job quality that will make you the envy of your competitors. These points are primarily designed for use with Roland printers, but can be used for many different printers.

Point 1: Wipers.

How many remember what the wipers are? Wipers are the single greatest asset you have for clean print heads. Too often we hear complaints of print head “failures” or print quality issues, only to find that the wipers on the printer have never been changed. Cleaning your print heads with a wiper that is covered in dried ink, dog hair, and carpet fibers is like cleaning the windshield of your car with a greasy squeegee. Change your wipers early and often.

Point 2: Cleaning solution.

Get yourself a bottle of the appropriate cleaning solution for whatever ink you are using in your printer. Once a week, inspect your print heads and clean them with a foam swab soaked in cleaning solution. You can see ink buildup disappear and your heads return to pristine condition. Please remember never to use a swab to rub the bottoms of your print heads, only the sides where the ink has built up. Let the wipers clean the surface of the head (see above).

Point 3: Scheduled maintenance.

Regular inspection and cleaning of your printer will ensure consistent top notch print quality. Clean the heads (see above), wipers, and captops (the small assembly that supports the head when it is not active). Wipe any excess ink off the platen and make sure there is nothing impeding the path of the media. I recommend that Roland printers be maintained once a week. So spend 10 minutes a week cleaning your printer.

Point 4: Calibrate.

Each media you use on your printer has unique properties. For example, a 2mil cast vinyl has a different thickness than a 15oz scrim banner material. The distance from the surface of the head to the surface of the media is different as is the way each media feeds through the printer. So it is critical that you recalibrate your printer for each type of media you use. The two basic calibrations are feed calibration (Calibration on Roland models) and BiDirectional Calibration. Feed calibration adjusts the distance the media travels through the printer after each print pass and Bidirectional calibration ensures that the print heads are placing dots in the exact same spot in both travel directions of the head carriage.

Point 5: Presets.

A little known feature on Roland printers is the ability to set default characteristics for each media you use in the form of Presets. So for each media you use, you can calibrate your printer for that media’s specific characteristics, then save those calibration settings as a Preset. Then the next time you switch to that media, you need only load that Preset and the printer will adjust its calibration settings to that media. Newer Roland printers will even allow you to name the Presets for easy identification (Banner, Cast, Clear, etc). This can be a great time saver and allows less experienced users to operate the printer without having to rerun calibrations.

Point 6: Ink.

Use OEM inks! I know that in this tough economy the temptation is strong to save money wherever possible. Ink is not the place to economize! Regardless of what the manufacturers tell you, 3rd party inks will change the color output of your prints, which will force you to find or create new profiles. Issues like density, dry times and potential damage to sensitive components of your printer (print heads cost as much as $2,500 to replace) will ultimately affect your ability to create consistent prints and may end up being much more expensive than the savings you realize by purchasing these inks over the manufacturer brand inks.

Point 7: Distributor.

Develop a strong relationship with your distributor.  Building a good relationship with your distributor will provide you with a valuable resource for sourcing out new media, answering technical questions about your software/hardware, and repairing your printer should that become necessary.

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