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Fine art paper and print head strikes

by
Jon Cone
published on 12/20/2010 19:00:00

One of the most significant contributors to shortened print head life is the use of fine art paper. Use these preventative maintenance techniques to prolong the life of your print head.

Most of InkjetMall’s customers use archival fine art papers made of 100% cotton. An archival paper is potentially more important to longevity of the artwork than the actual use of pigment inks. If a customer wishes to use inks with a low tolerance to illumination, the artwork can be enjoyed for decades in museum lighting or reduced interior lighting. But, if the customer uses the most lightfast inks available and prints on acidic or chemically sensitive papers, the artwork can self-destruct in just a few years when exposed to light.

Acid-free 100% cotton papers typically do not deteriorate as do tree-pulp papers. There was a controversy many years ago when Epson’s “Archival” Matte Paper was found to deteriorate badly when exposed to light. Wilhelm had rated this paper with an Epson ink for decades and decades before noticeable fade. However, it was discovered that the paper yellows badly within two years of exposure to typical room illumination. The acidic content of the paper was anything but “archival”, and the paper was renamed to Enhanced Matte. Now it is Premium Presentation Matte.

The majority of artists and photographers who use inkjet printing prefer to use archival cotton fine art papers that have a special inkjet receptor coating. Most of these papers are known under the brands Hahnemuhle, Canson, JonCone Studio, and others. But, how to properly feed fine art paper into a printer is not something that many people understand.

Fine art paper is generally thicker than inkjet paper – sometimes as much as four to five times thicker. The potential for the print head to strike its surface or collide with the edge of the paper as it feeds through the printer is significantly higher than when using thin inkjet paper. When the print head strikes the surface of the paper, it can actually cause instant irreparable harm to the ink jets, or shorten the life of the ink jets. These jets are tiny (nearly porous) sized orifices that form a line across the print head. There are usually 64 or 128 per each ink head (per color). Highest quality printing cannot be attempted with one single jet missing. Banding would result.

When you are installing a new print head into a printer, it is obvious that you should not touch the thin membrane of the print head with your fingers or hands, nor accidentally make contact with any surface of the printer while installing. So, you would never think about taking the print head and rubbing it against a 44″ width of paper for a few seconds. But, that can happen easily in a printer when using thick fine art papers.

If a jet is not instantly damaged, fibrous material can be embedded within the orifice that is too difficult for the printer’s cleaning mechanism to eliminate. A tiny fiber can cause intermittent nozzle gaps. The number one culprit for this type of collision is sheet paper that is slightly curled. EPSON material is always designed to lie perfectly flat. Their paper packaging encourages flat paper. The third-party paper companies usually have inexpensive packaging, and the paper is usually less protected. So, while it significantly less expensive that EPSON fine art materials, the customer should spend a little more time prepping each sheet before feeding it into the printer.

An upwards curling cornerWe could not have printed on this paper in this condition…I bent it to show what a paper curl looks like!

Typically, paper curls towards the coating. All inkjet paper is top coated. Some premium papers will also be bottom coated with a material that will prevent the paper from curling upwards. But, this greatly increases the cost of manufacture and does not directly improve the print quality. It is simply an expense added to make the paper more compatible with the printer. Therefore, if you notice that your fine art paper has a tendency to curl upwards slightly and is prone to head strikes – here is our advice:

The paper corners can be carefully bent downwards so as not to actually harm the paper surface. At our own studio (Cone Editions Press) we will take several sheets from a box and using clean hands and often a thin layer of slip-sheeting to protect the surface, we will gently manipulate the four corners by bending then towards the verso (back of the sheet). Sometimes the palms of the hand are less likely to actually dog-ear the corners. Dog-ears ruin the paper. But, bending is a risk and it should not be attempted without patience. The idea is not to damage the sheet but to prevent the sheet from interfering with the travel of the print head. The word bend does not imply bent!

Some of the third party paper rolls are excessively stiff on the rolls. They seem to unwind themselves (literally). The paper can have a tendency to not lie flat when it travels through the printer. It is almost as if this paper wants to rise up off the platen and make contact with the print head. Our own remedy for this is to either sheet cut the paper and flatten it using archival quality paper weights – or to reverse roll the paper and then cut it into sheets. We will not feed rolls of paper through our printers because it is convenient, not if there is the slightest chance that the paper will collide with the print head.

Swiffer

The other benefit of sheeting thick roll paper is that the paper can be brushed to remove the lint with a drafting brush or a Swiffer. Rolls are notorious for being very linty. The drafting brush can actually scratch the surface of the inkjet receptor coating. The Swiffer is quite gentle on the paper surface and picks up lint like a magnet. I do admit to being partial to Swiffers and Bounty paper towels.

Drafting brush