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Troubleshooting Continuous Ink Systems

Updated on September 1, 2012

Why CISS?

The benefits of using continuous ink systems (CISS) have been well documented - not only does it allow you to visualize the amount of ink available for your cartridges by means of external ink tanks, but it is also usually far less expensive than more conventional printing options. For large printing operations, CISS may also allow you to expend more ink than an ordinary cartridge would allow for (assuming your CISS cartridge isn't the kind that requires you to reinsert ostensibly "expended" cartridges from time-to-time).

Newcomers to home printing are often shocked when they realize that the actual printing costs incurred over a short period of time can easily eclipse the initial cost of the printer itself. Companies usually sell printers are at extremely cheap prices only to recover this cost by means of exorbitantly priced ink cartridges. CISS may allow you to save your printing costs by freeing you up from the need to rely on expensive original manufacturer cartridges. However note that using CISS or certain types of ink may void your printer's warranty.

As there are several articles on the internet explaining the installation working of CIS systems, in this article we will focus on troubleshooting techniques for certain less widely covered problems.




Warning:

If your CISS uses two-tiered tanks like this with only one air-vent AND if you apply air pressure through the cartridge's ink port the results will not be pretty!
If your CISS uses two-tiered tanks like this with only one air-vent AND if you apply air pressure through the cartridge's ink port the results will not be pretty!
Gaining access to the print carriage may allow you to clean your printhead with cleaning fluid. Remember to seat paper towels beneath the carriage.
Gaining access to the print carriage may allow you to clean your printhead with cleaning fluid. Remember to seat paper towels beneath the carriage.

Issue #1 - Your printer prints blank pages after installing CISS

So you've installed your CISS with high hopes only to find that your printer prints blank pages. Or maybe your CISS worked fine for the first few prints before vertical lines slowly started to appear, eventually culminating in the blank pages. What do you do?

Is your CISS primed?

The first thing to do here is to ensure that your CISS system has been primed. Is ink flowing smoothly in one continuous band from the ink tanks to the cartridges or do you air bubbles in between? Unless your CISS is properly primed, ink will not be conveyed from your tanks to cartridges to eventually the printerhead in an efficient manner.

Your CISS kit may have come with instructions on how to prime it. if not, there are instructional videos on the internet such as this one that you may refer to.

Note that in certain two-tiered CISS tanks with only a single vent, it may be necessary to force air bubbles out through the cartridge's ink exist port as opposed to the tank itself. You may have to gently employ a syringe needle to force the air bubbles out through the cartridge. In such systems remember to never force air in from the cartridge-end out through the air tank. Because there is just a single vent you will only end up either forcing the ink out of the tank (if the tank's vent is open) or even worse, generate enormous pressure within the tank (if the vent is closed) that will roar out like a fountain when you naively open the tank's vent.

It is a good idea to prepare your workarea with plenty of paper towels and even to wear protective glasses for your eye in the event that you mess up and the ink squirts out of the tank in fast jets.

Is your printhead clogged?

If you're convinced that your CISS is primed correctly, it may be possible that your printhead is clogged resulting in either poor print quality or in extreme cases blank pages. When dealing with CISS systems however, your first port of call should be to install a set of genuine OEM cartridges and be absolutely sure that your problem doesn't lie with the printhead. You could be barking up the wrong tree by cleaning your printheads when the problem actually lies with your CISS kit.

Back on the topic of extremely clogged printheads, you may want to either open the printer and apply a cleaning solution on the ink ports inside the cartridge (such as MagicBullet) with a paper towel seated beneath the carriage or in extreme cases extract the printhead from the cartridge carriage and clean it thoroughly once outside.The cleaning process itself may help indicate whether your printheads are in fact clogged.

In certain printer models such as Epson's TX121 you may find it difficult to extract the printhead from the carriage. In such cases your best bet may be to insert a paper towel below the printer carriage and convey the cleaning fluid through the ink ports by means of a syringe or the like.

Again, there are instructional videos of cleaning clogged printheads on the internet so it is a good idea to look at some of these videos youtube to understand the process. Also note that if you need to open your printer up (you likely will) try getting your hands on the service manual for your printer model. Comprehensive service manuals with detailed instructions are available on various printer forums for several brands including Epson/HP/Canon etc.

Is your purge tank tube disconnected?

On older Epson models such as CX5400, there have been widespread instances of printers printing blank pages as a result of an ink purge tube getting disconnected. For many people connecting the tube with a pair of needle nose pilers appears to have done the trick. Articles such as this one cover this in great dept. There is a rather exhaustive thread on fixyourprinter.com that deals with several variations of this issue.

Note that if your printer is a newer Epson model chances are this isn't your issue. You may have to open your printer up to get a good look at this component as it might not be easily visible from the voids around the paper outlet.




A good old piece of rubber may help bring your cartridge back to life when all else fails.
A good old piece of rubber may help bring your cartridge back to life when all else fails.

Issue #2 - CISS Ink Cartridges not recognized

Often CISS cartridges won't be recognized the first time you try to install your kit. In other cases your cartridges may have worked fine for a period of time before acting up after a couple of months of service.

We'll start by examining the most common problem. Are you absolutely sure that the cartridge is lodged in placed and was seated with a perceptible click? Often your cartridge may be placed firmly inside convincing you that it's in but unless the you hear the cartridge locking in place it's not through.

Furthermore it is absolutely essential that the chipset on your cartridge is clean and free of surface contaminants for it to be read (and recognized). Using a piece of rubber to clean the chip is a simple method that is incredibly effective in magically restoring cartridges that were once seemingly useless. Take a clean piece of rubber or eraser and run it slowly across the surface of the chip. You will be able to notice dirt coming off clinging to little strands of rubber if you're doing it right. This method is also used on a number of other chipsets such as graphics cards for computers and so on.

Once the cleaning process is done you may even notice that the cartridge clicks into place more securely than before.

If ink seeps into the part highlighted in red, the gears of your scanning unit (running across the middle of the picture) will vibrate vigorously on startup and result in a printer 'Fatal Error'
If ink seeps into the part highlighted in red, the gears of your scanning unit (running across the middle of the picture) will vibrate vigorously on startup and result in a printer 'Fatal Error'
To clean the posterior surface of the scanning glass you'll need to open up the scanner unit, on the topmost portion of this image. This should involve removing a series of screws and dislodging a set of hinges.
To clean the posterior surface of the scanning glass you'll need to open up the scanner unit, on the topmost portion of this image. This should involve removing a series of screws and dislodging a set of hinges.

Issue #3 - Fallout of ink splattering inside your printer

Okay, so you goofed up. You managed to spill ink from your CISS tank all over your printer. Whether you applied pressure through a syringe from the wrong end of the tube or whether your cartridge leaked through the exit hole is irrelevant. The bad news is that several components of your printer may have been be rendered dysfunctional; the good news is that there's nothing a clean piece of cloth, some paper towels and a bowl of clean water can't fix.

Symptom 1 - Scanner gears buzzing wildly on startup. Printer claims 'Fatal Error'

A printer's scanning component includes of a piece of glass that has to be kept super-clean and free of obstructions/contaminants on the surface. On Epson printers, this issue can be caused if you accidentally spill ink from the cartridges while the scanning lid is open. While any ink on the posterior surface of the glass can be easily cleaned, any ink that manages to ooze into the anterior surface of the glass is guaranteed to cause fatal error on startup and needs a more involved cleanup approach.

Solution:- Open your printer up relying either on service manuals or for those mechanically minded, your sense of intuition. Once you get the printer's lid off you may will also need to open the scanner unit itself and gain access to the glass in question. On printers such as Epson TX121 this glass is held in place with a simple strand of of scotch tape on the underside.

Your objective is to carefully extract the glass and clean it with a piece of cloth, also cleaning the strip of paper at the scanning rod's home position if it has been stained. In the Epson TX121 model It is possible to do this without actually disconnecting the ribbon wires attaching the scanner to the rest of the body, although you will obviously still need to disassemble both the printer cover and the scanner unit's cover and dislodge the scotch tape momentarily while you work on cleaning the glass.

While doing any disassembly work ensure that you have not only turned off the power supply but also disconnected all power cables before getting to work.

Symptom 2 - Cartridge carriage stuck on the left side of your printer.

This can be observed on Epson printers when you've managed to spill ink over the chipset. The carriage goes into a certain zombie like state almost as though the printer can read the cartridges, but isn't able to fully validate them and return the carriage back to home position as it would have normally done.

There is a 'timeout' associated with this phenomena. While the less patient among you might be tempted to unplug your printer, push the carriage to home and start from scratch, if you wait long enough past the timeout (appx 60 seconds), the carriage will slowly lumber back to home and then comlain that the cartridges could not be recognized.

Solution:- The obvious fix here works. Simply take your cartridge out, clean it with fresh paper towels and clean cloth, using just a wee bit of water to wash the ink off. Finally use a bit of rubber or eraser as mentioned earlier to finish the cleaning process. You'll find that this reliably fixes the issue.

Note that you if you find yourself spending too much time extracting the cartridges out of the carriage for cleaning (they're usually bundled together in CISS kits), you may want to carefully tear the tube for the cartridge that's causing trouble away from the rest of the tubes till you can comfortably pull it out independently for cleaning. Remember to secure the tubes back with a piece of wire (the kind used to tie bread covers) to make it secure.

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      jayprakash gandhi 3 years ago

      I want to know more on inkjet printer and its all problemb solwer