Fixing an Epsom SC-P600 with air in the print-head damper

I’ve decided to share this purely because it helped me resolve a tricky problem that took me some time to figure out. If you are in the same position, I hope that it helps you too.

THE PROBLEM
Printer (an Epson SC-P600) exhibits green hue when printing B&W prints using various software. In addition, the nozzle check exhibited degradation in various colours (seen as broken lines in the print) and indeed, in the case of Light Cyan and Yellow, no lines whatsoever.

THE PERCEIVED REASON
I assumed that since the printer had been printing perfectly previously that the problem was associated with blocked print head nozzles. This led to trying to clean the print head using the techniques discussed broadly on the internet and in videos on YouTube. This was to use one of several head cleaning products such as W5 (Lidl) through to Magic Bullet or variations thereof from other suppliers. The technique is to power-up the print head caddy so that it undocks and moves into the centre, then quickly pull out the power cable so that the caddy remains free to move by hand. Once you can do this, cut a thin strip of J-cloth about 40mm wide x 250mm long (three ply is about the right thickness), lay this in the track below the print head caddy and then soak in an appropriate solvent, for example Magic Bullet. Once soaked, position the caddy above this strip and allow the fumes to work on the hard ink overnight. This process, together with a number of head cleans and print nozzle tests does waste a lot of ink so be aware of this. Did this solve the problem? No, it didn’t and I’ll explain why next.

THE ACTUAL REASON
When I bought the printer it was second-hand, in great condition but nonetheless, second-hand. It came complete with both the original Epson OEM ink cartridges plus a full set of Permajet 9 x 125ml inks and associated cartridges and syringes. It did not however contain the all important instructions on how to use the cartridges or an associated DVD with additional instructions / software. I only found this out when I spoke with Permajet later about my problems. More on this later. Without instructions but with what looked very much like “like for like” cartridges (when comparing the original Epson cartridges to the new Permajet ones), I proceeded to fill and fit the cartridges as each original Epson cartridge became empty. This is error number 1.

The second and much more important error was that I had no idea that each of the replacement cartridges need to be primed before fitting. Priming is a simple but fiddly process that ensures that ink is pushed into a special chamber in the cartridge so that no air is sucked into the supply lines from the cartridge to the printhead dampers. By not priming the cartridges properly, effectively I was allowing the printer to suck air into the supply lines rather than ink, something I had no idea about. This was error number 2.

The effect of sucking air into the supply lines and printhead damper is basically to stop any ink reaching the printhead for that particular cartridge. This manifests itself worse case as loss of most of the lines if not the complete block of colour for a particular cartridge in the nozzle print test, or at best some lines but very patchy. If you don’t understand what’s happening, this will lead to repeating the head clean and nozzle checks many times without any improvement whatsoever.

CARTRIDGE PRIMING IS THEREFORE THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT TASK WHEN CHANGING FROM OEM INKS TO 3RD PARTY INKS.

RESOLVING THE ACTUAL PROBLEM
Not realising that this was the real problem I did the only thing possible at this stage and phoned Permajet as I was using their cartridges and inks. Now, when you have a new kit of inks and cartridges from a particular supplier there is an expectation that that supplier will help you resolve any problems. Not so Permajet. The moment that the customer support guy, I won’t name names, heard that the kit was purchased by someone else he really couldn’t have been less helpful. True he outlined the correct approach to using the replacement cartridges, i.e that the cartridge must first be filled and then primed prior to use, but he offered zero help or advice to help resolve my problems other than recommend that I call a specialist engineer (John at Repro Repairs on 01494 882363) who might be able to help. He actually made it sound like I had killed my mother and needed to be locked up. Even when I mentioned that two of the cartridges appeared to be leaking ink he only pointed me at the place on their website where I could buy new ones. No offer of we’ll ship out a couple to you FOC as a good will gesture from Permajet it seems. These BTW were £20+VAT per cartridge so with 2 cartridges needed, plus one I had accidently filled with the wrong colour ink (I know, what a dickhead), that was a potential outlay of £60+VAT for just 3. Ouch!!

Undeterred at this setback, and despite the piss poor support I’d received from Permajet, I decided to look for alternatives. I looked at Fotospeed, Specialised Inks and Marrutt and noticed that a full set of 9 cartridges from Specialised Inks (which are actually Marrutt cartridges), were only marginally more expensive than the 3 from Permajet. Having recently been in touch wth John Reed at Marrutt about paper I thought I’d ask John if he could help and he kindly agreed to sell me a complete set of cartridges for just £30+ VAT (down from £80) which was very generous. I have subsequently found out that you can buy similar if not identical cartridges on Ebay for even less BUT I value help and support and Marrutt have a good name in the printing industry. They also have some great educational videos and documentation relating to printing techniques and some fairly priced consumables such as paper and ink on their website so well worth a look.

Moving on, I now had a set of new cartridges from Marrutt plus some of the original inks from Parmajet so I started to explore how I could purge the air from the supply lines and get the printer working again. In amongst the research I did I found several software tools which provide firmware level operation on various printers, the Epson SC-P600 included. Two of these, WIC Reset, which means Waste Ink Counters Reset Utility.) and the Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program are two very useful utilities to help solve a variety of problems with printers such as the Epson SC-P600.

In my case, the Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program was what I needed as research had indicated that to clear the air from the supply lines I needed to do an INK CHARGE which is something the printer does when you turn it on for the 1st time after purchase. Effectively, the INK CHARGE draws ink from the cartridges dispelling any air in the supply lines as it goes and charging the dampers with ink ready for use. Once the process has run, any air in the supply lines has been purged and the dampers in the printhead are fully primed. The software is required because the printer only ink charges once, the day you turn it on from brand new so it needs to be forced to repeat this operation.

BARE IN MIND THAT AN INK CHARGE USES A LOT OF INK SO YOUR CARTRIDGES MUST BE AT LEAST 40% FULL BEFORE ATTEMPTING IT. IN FACT, YOUR PRINTER WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO DO AN INK CHARGE IF THE CARTRIDGES AREN’T AT LEAST 40% FULL.

With regards using the Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program, be aware that this is not freeware. You will find it readily in searches with a cost of between $10 – $20. Being tight, I bought my copy on EBAY for just $10 from a company in Bangladesh. To stop the software being transferred to anyone who wants it, it is encoded to your PC although it only runs on Windows, not a MAC so please be aware of this. Thereafter you can use it as often as you need to BUT it will only run on the PC it was purchased for. Of course, at just $10 a go it’s not exactly expensive and bearing in mind it does so much more than ink charge, it’s worth every penny. One other thing I should point out, this software is considered as MALWARE by anti-virus software and your computers firewall so if you want or need to use it, you are going to have to get around that. While it does worry me that my anti-virus tools highlighted the problem and indeed put it in quarantine every time I ran it, I had zero choice but to use it to do the ink charge. This meant putting the executable on a white list!! It’s a huge worry but my printer is working 100% now so I guess the result was worth the risk. The good news is that for those that know about it, it has a good reputation but as always, do your own research as I make no claims whatsoever about these applications or about the suppliers that sell them so you use them at your own risk.

OTHER PROBLEMS
One of the big problems of using 3rd party cartridges is that they don’t necessarily show how much ink is in them. This is a problem because the cartridge may be full yet the printer shows them as only partially full or even empty. Because the INK CHARGE process won’t run if the cartridges aren’t at least 40% full, this is a BIG problem.

There are two ways around this

Firstly, if your P600 printer is running the very latest firmware then it checks to see if you are using OEM ink and secondly it uses a chip to tell the system how much ink is in the cartridge. It’s not actually measuring the amount of ink in a cartridge, it’s working off the fact that the cartridge was full and since then, the printer has used so much ink during printing. It’s a best guess rather than an accurate measurement.

To overcome this problem you can downgrade your firmware to an earlier version where cartridge chips are not validated and therefore your printer thinks that there is 100% ink in the cartridge at all times. To do this you need to use the WIC Reset Utility which means buying a key to enable this at $20. Once you have downgraded the firmware you have to rely on visual checking of ink levels. It does however mean that you can run the ink charge routine without any further concerns other than to ensure you have at least 40% ink in each cartridges.

The second approach, and this is the one I used, is to put empty OEM cartridges in the printer and start it up and when it complains, take out the empty cartridge and put in the full cartridge. The printer will again complain, this time that you appear to be using non OEM ink but providing your firmware allows 3rd party ink, it’s just a warning. Repeat for all cartridges and after some time you should eventually see all your cartridges as showing full. At this point you can run the ink charge. The ink charge takes about 10 minutes to complete. Once initiated it is a fully automatic process and all you will hear is the printer going about it’s business. Time to go grab a tea of coffee. Once complete you should see a message on the screen that it has completed successfully. Close the application and run a nozzle printer check. If the ink charge has been successful, as it was in my case, you should see a perfect set of patterns for every nozzle. If not, run a clean print head followed by another nozzle check and this should hopefully do the trick.

WHAT ELSE IS THIS SOFTWARE USEFUL FOR
The primary function of the WIC Reset Utility is to check and reset the waste counters as this stops a printer, even though still perfectly usable, to continue to be used. It’s a kind of end of life situation. I used it to check mine and I’ve got plenty of free capacity left before I have to start worrying. Having access to this little utility will help me overcome this issue when and if it arises. This particular service within WIC Reset is free so you don’t need to buy a key to enable this option.

THE FINAL COMMENTS
As you can imagine, I am hugely relieved that I was able to recover my printer and to return it to fully working condition. Since recharging the dampers in the print head I have been able to print perfect prints. If there is one lesson learned, other than to prime any new cartridges before fitting and use, it’s not to give up. The internet is an amazing resource and everything I needed to know and do was there. I just had to find it.

THANKS TO
A big thank you to Mike Bond for his help, support and advice. It’s people like Mike that make photography such a wonderful pastime. A big thanks also to John Reed at Marrutt for helping me out with replacement cartridges at such a reasonable cost. I also found the educational vidoes on the Marrutt and Specialised Inks websites invaluable when researching the correct process to follow when priming the cartridges for 1st time use.

Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program functionality is as follows:

  • Initial setting
  • Head ID input
  • Head angular adjustment
  • PW / First dot position adjustment
  • Bi-D adjustment
  • PF / EJ adjustment
  • CR motor heat protection control
  • PF motor heat protection control
  • CR Encoder check
  • PF Encoder check
  • APG Function Check
  • CR Belt Check
  • Ink Selector Check
  • Mist Recovery Check
  • Shipping Setting
    Maintenance
  • Head cleaning
  • Ink charge
  • Initialize PF deterioration offset
  • Disable PF deterioration offset
  • Initialize front tray ink counter
  • Disable front tray ink counter
  • Final check pattern print
  • EEPROM dump
  • Printer information check
  • Paper feed test
    If you wish to share this document please feel free to do so but you must include this notice. No advice is given or implied, it purely outlines the process I adopted to make my Epson SC-P600 printer work again after inadvertently allowing air into the printhead damper system. It may work for you, it may not.
  • Dave Collerton, 2019