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InkRepublic.com - Review of Epson C86 Ink System

 It seemed like such a good idea. Hook up your inkjet printer cartridges to bottles of ink with tubes, they said, and never change the cartridge again. For someone like me who goes through 100 or so prints a week the idea of a low maintenance, high volume printing contraption was pretty appealing. So I bought it. It was a little over three years ago when I purchased my first Continuous Inking System (or CIS) from one of the pioneers in the field and for a while it worked pretty well. There were no worries of running out of ink in the middle of a big printing session. There was none of the annoying maintenance of getting the print head nozzles to fire after changing a cartridge. There was just what I can only describe as - blissful printing.

But then came what I later learned was a somewhat common occurrence with these units - what I call the foam factor. The foam factor is a result of the design of the conventional CIS - which is primarily a retrofitted inkjet cartridge. Over time the sponge in the cartridge gains more and more air in place of the ink that it is supposed to have. This combination of less ink and more air creates foam and the result is that your nozzles start dropping off. If you aren’t aware of the foam factor (as I wasn’t at first) you start running cleaning cycles which just makes it worse and then you run more cleaning cycles and before you know it you think you’ve got a plugged printhead so you toss the printer out the second floor window and it hits your neighbor’s truck and he’s plenty ticked off anyway because your cat is using his perfect lawn as a personal dumping site - and you can probably see where it goes from there.

There are any number of tales of woe regarding CIS units that suddenly stopped printing correctly that can be found in any number of printer, digital art and photography forums on the web. There is also help available on overcoming the foam factor in the support sections of some of the CIS suppliers. The ultimate solution offered by my supplier was for me to buy a new unit because after all, the CIS units can last only so long. So I bought a new unit, thinking that by more carefully monitoring the situation I could avoid repeating my disaster. I was able to avoid disaster, but it did require a commitment of medium to high maintenance to prepare for the foam factor and to deal with it when it did occur. All of which is quite the opposite of low maintenance, high volume, blissful printing.

When my second CIS unit died I decided to go back to my old method of refilling cartridges. Not exactly low maintenance, but reliable. About this time I ran across a reference in a forum to a damper-based CIS from InkRepublic. The only place I could find any good information about their CIS was on their own website and that was a problem because you know they aren’t going to say anything negative about themselves. After careful consideration I decided to take a chance and if this did not work out I would never ever again look at a CIS.

The verdict? This is a great unit. The InkRepublic damper system is a well-thought out and well-made design. Instead of retrofitting the existing inkjet cartridge design as was done with conventional CIS units, the InkRepublic unit has been designed from the ground up. The damper is a slim, matchbook-sized plastic box that replaces the ink cartridge. Instead of the cartridge carrying the ink supply while traveling back and forth with the printhead, the damper acts as an ink charger that travels back and forth drawing ink as it needs it from the ink bottles. The damper interior consists of a chamber where the ink first arrives, an almost hair-thin conduit through which the ink travels from the chamber, and a bladder that passes ink through a screen to the printhead. And best of all, there is no sponge to breed foam. The whole damper probably holds enough ink for just a few prints, but its purpose is to consistently deliver the ink, not hold it, and the damper performs this task very well. How it performs this task I do not know. It is a minor miracle.

Installation is mostly straightforward and easy and InkRepublic even provides latex gloves to keep you tidy. The chipset unit has small arrows embossed on it so that you can easily avoid putting it in upside down. The damper is charged with ink by using a small bottle that creates a vacuum with a single squeeze. The damper o-rings fit snugly on the printhead posts. I found the printed instructions a little hard to follow, but by carefully studying the installation photographs on the InkRepublic website I was able to figure out how to do it. The one part that I did have to spend some time on was the routing of the ink tubes. It can be quite easy for them to get jammed inside the printer as the printhead moves back and forth. Using a hairdryer to soften the tubes as suggested in the InkRepublic support pages helped here. This is one part of the InkRepublic CIS that I think could be improved on, as I never had this problem with my older CIS units.

Once I figured out the ink tube routing for my printer I haven’t looked back. The printer was printing great after just one cleaning cycle and in the two months since installation I have not had to run the cleaning utility at all. The ink is consistently and evenly deposited and the prints look great. Because of the damper design I am not anticipating any problems with the foam factor. Whether there is anything else that crops up in the future - well, I am keeping my fingers crossed. But things so far have been so trouble free that I am beginning to think once again about blissful printing.

 

© J.A. Boyd 2005



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