There I was minding my own business, a few weeks back, printing out chapbooks for my True Fans. (Both the chapbooks and the True Fan experiment will be the subjects of upcoming columns, so please hold any questions). I was giving my Epson R2400 printer a thorough workout, with eight pages of printing in each chapbook and many dozens of books to print. Consequently, I was monitoring ink usage closely, working to figure out how many cartridges of each color I'd need to be buying.
I was used to seeing the Epson print monitor utility's normal warning about some ink cartridge getting low. They're always getting low. Then it threw me a new one: "Parts are nearing the end of their normal service life."
That's really not something you want to see, now is it?
Off to my friendly, neighborhood Google. A key phrase search quickly turned up many messages in Epson printer user groups that informed me the odds were very high that message was telling me that the waste ink reservoir was nearly full and needed replacement.
What? You've never heard of a waste ink reservoir, let alone imagined your printer might have one? Well, where did you think all the expensive ink your printer dumped whenever you did a head cleaning or a cartridge change went? That's a lot of lost dollars, um, milliliters of ink that's going somewhere, and it isn't sitting in the sugar-cubed size sponge the printhead parks over. Not unless it's some kind of Doctor Whovian sponge that's a lot bigger on the inside than the outside. Those are just the wicks that lead to feed lines that send the waste ink elsewhere.
That elsewhere is a waste ink reservoir, and eventually it gets full. Well, that should be no big deal; it's a replaceable component. On one of the Epson pro-level printers, 38XX and higher series, it's just a $40 user-changeable cartridge, requiring no more work than swapping an ink cartridge.
The lesser printers, 2XXX series and down, are another matter. The reservoir's inside the printer. Deep inside. In the 2400 and the 2880 it's in the base, and you have to do a full stripdown of the machine to get to it. Even I won't attempt that. An Epson repair shop can do it. It costs so much that a lot of folks wind up using that as the excuse to buy a new printer, and they discard their old one. I'm not kidding. To me it looks like built-in planned obsolescence by Epson, and y'know, that's kinda obscene. In my always-so-humble opinion, of course.
You could ignore that warning, but if you do, one of two things will happen. If you're lucky, when the printer's internal counter hits zero, the printer will simply stop dead and flash a set of red warning lights at you. If you're unlucky, it'll keep printing until the reservoir overflows and leaks black gunk into your printer and out any gaps in the case onto your desk and floor.
Maybe it was time to succumb to Epson's economic manipulations and buy the 3880 I've been considering (there's currently a $300 mail-in rebate deal). Instead I did a little more reading in those user groups. Know what? There are a bunch of folks out there who'll happily sell you an external waste ink bottle for about $10. The reservoirs may be hard to get to, but the feed lines to it are often routed just inside the case and accessible by popping a few side panels. That's not hard.
How bad could it be to risk a ten-spot? I ordered an InkRepublic Waste Ink Kit (left; photo courtesy InkRepublic.com). Good thing, as a few days after it arrived my printer stopped dead, red lights a-flashin'.
Takes about half an hour to open the case (below), drill a hole for the feed lines, get the bottle's lines hooked up, and get it all back together. It proved to be a weak design. The lines were just barely long enough and the vent holes in the bottle cap were too close to the ink lines, so stray ink bubbled out of them. I covered them with tape and drilled a small vent hole near the top of the bottle away from the lines. No more stray ink. It worked. It didn't cost me a substantial fraction of the price of a replacement printer.
One still must deal with the evil red lights.
I'll give Epson a small credit; they've posted for download the Epson Reset Utility, which zeroes out the printer's ink counter. Clearly, someone there understands what a lot of folks are doing, even if it ain't by-the-book. The software runs under Windows only, but it worked fine for me with Windows running under Parallels on my Mac (a little web searching will find third-party reset utilities for just about any platform).
So, no more ink warnings, no more red lights, and when the waste bottle fills up, I can unscrew it and empty it.
I may still buy a 3880 come the fall (my reserve cash ain't there yet). I'm getting bored with having to swap ink cartridges whenever I change media, and having to pop in fresh ink cartridges every time I turn around (well, it feels like that). But, if I do trade up, it'll be my choice, not something imposed on me by a greedy design.
P.S. Still in Montreal, folks; back Monday.
Ctein's regular weekly column appears every Thursday morning on TOP.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.