The Black Blobs of Death

Blobs of Ink on Epson 3880 print
Blobs of Ink on Epson 3880 print

I purchased my Epson 3880 Wide Format printer in the early Summer of 2011.  I didn’t remember this until I had to look up the records, as I needed to see how long this printer had been in service in my studio. Wow, this printer has been running faithfully in the studio for seven and a half years. The only time it’s been down has been when I ran out of paper and/or ink and had to wait for replacement supplies.

The 3880 Stylus Pro printer was first released by Epson in 2010. At the time it sold for about $2,200 new. I bought mine a year later after downsizing from a 44inch HP Z3100. It was all about economics at the time. The HP Z3100 was a fantastic printer, but filling it with ink cost about $,1000. When the printer sat idle, it would run a brief daily maintenance routine that pumped a little ink through the heads to keep the print head and ink lines from clogging. Day after day.

The original idea behind the Z3100 was to be able to provide large format printing services to my clients, and to that end it was successful. For a few years anyway. I could make high quality prints up to 44 inches wide and by the time I retired it, I calculate it made me over $30,000 in profit over the years. But, by 2011, more and more, my clients weren’t interested in making prints, and my own local print sales were declining as well. The printer was using more ink doing nothing and I was spending money just to keep it available for business that wasn’t materializing.  Ultimately, I made the decision to sell the Z3100 and replace it with a smaller Epson 3880.

I restructured the business to do my main commercial print sales via online printing services. Customers could order online, the printing service did the print work and shipped the prints directly to my customers, I collected the profit from the sale. Low maintenance.

Thus, the Epson 3880 was placed in to service and it was mainly for my own use here in the studio and occasional local sale to people who wanted to buy my prints.

The other day as I was making archive prints, a problem appeared. Large blobs of black ink were showing up on the edges of my prints and in some cases were also in the image area of the prints.

No problem, these things happen from time to time. The printer had been idle for about 2 months and before I began my latest batch of prints I decided to run the printers head cleaning routine. I assumed the blobs were left over from the cleaning routine, which pumps ink through the heads onto a maintenance cartridge.

As it turns out, the problem wouldn’t go away, no matter what I did.  It was time to do some research and see if others were experiencing this issue with their 3880.

The 3880 was discontinued by Epson several years ago but I discovered that many folks like me were still using their 3880 and many of those old printers were failing for the same problem I was seeing. Black Blobs of Death.

The problem it turns out, is related to a switch valve in the print head assembly that switches from Matte Black Ink to Photo Black Ink, depending on the type of paper being printed on. The valve eventually fails and the black ink leaks from the print head. This is one of the most common points of long term failure on this printer it turns out.

That leaves me with a choice of options. Buy the parts and fix the printer myself, which I have the technical skill to do, but I’m not really anxious to tear the thing apart. Another option is to send the printer to Epson and have them fix it, which I’m guessing will cost me around $1,000. The last option is to just sell it for parts and buy another printer.

The problem with buying another printer is that buying another model that will do what this printer does will cost me $2,000 – $3,000 dollars. That begs the question. What is the payback time for that new print? Can the printer pay for itself within a few years? I doubt it. Since I won’t be using it for anything more than the occasional archive print of my own work and since all of my commercial print orders are going through outside labs, well, it’s pretty obvious that any new printer is just going to be a financial liability from a business standpoint.

I’ve opted to just sell it for parts. This choice won’t impact my commercial sales, and I can pick up a smaller inkjet for around $300 that will handle sheet paper up to 13 x 19 inches, which is what most of my archive prints are anyway.

It’s still a bit of a bummer though. I hate to lose the old guy, it’s been reliable for over 7 years and the convenience it offered me will be missed. The other bummer is that I just put 3 new ink cartridges in the darn thing.

So, if you know anyone looking for a well maintained, used Epson 3880 that needs a new print head, send them my way.