Plotter printers

How Often Should Plotter Printheads be Replaced?

Whether you're creating prints for personal or business use, poor print quality is frustrating. When images are faded or discoloured, it's easy to assume lack of ink is the culprit. However, this often isn't the case. Each large format plotter printhead has a significant impact on print quality.

One of the most important parts of a plotter is the printhead. However, to understand its significance, you need to know:

  • Exactly what a plotter printhead is
  • How it differs from an ink cartridge
  • How to know when printheads need to be replaced

Being able to replace a printhead is essential, but knowing when the printhead needs to be changed is the most important skill. Here are some tips and tricks to help you know when to change your plotter printhead.

How Often Should Printheads Be Replaced?

A plotter printhead is a component in a printer or plotter that helps transfer ink onto the page. It does this by firing tiny droplets of ink through various printer nozzles to develop a pattern that creates your desired print. There are two different types of printheads, and the type you have will depend on what kind of printer or plotter you own. One type of printhead is built into the printer cartridge (the container that holds the ink cartridge). The other is built into the printer.

While printheads and ink cartridges are both parts of the system that distributes ink onto the page, they are different parts with distinct jobs.

An ink cartridge contains the ink. Some printers contain ink cartridges that combine three colours into one cartridge. Other printers contain each colour in its own cartridge. Black is typically separate in either case. In some printers, if a cartridge is out of ink, the printer will not print. Some printers will still print, but the image will be discoloured.

A printhead transfers ink from the cartridge onto the print medium. Some printers contain two printheads, one for colour and one for black ink. Others contain a separate printhead for each colour of ink. Printheads must be in good working order for the printer to print properly.

How Do You Know When to Replace Plotter Printheads?

If your printer or plotter head is built into the printer cartridges, you change your printhead every time you change the ink. If the printheads are built into the printer or plotter, they're likely to require replacement after long-term use. Most often, if you have determined that your printing issue is not due to lack of ink and have cleaned the printheads, you likely need a printhead replacement.

How to Care For and Know When to Change Your Printhead

Printheads and the contacts they meet sometimes gather foreign materials like lint and dust that can cause continuity problems. The nozzles of a printhead can also become blocked with dried ink. For this reason, printheads must be occasionally cleaned. How often you clean your printheads will vary depending on your printer use. While you might think that using the printer occasionally will mean fewer cleanings, the opposite is more likely to be true. A printer or plotter that sits for long periods of time is more likely to gather dust or allow ink to dry in the nozzles.

Automated Cleaning

The best time to run a printhead cleaning is when you start to get poor printing results. Most printers and plotters have a built-in cleaning function that can be found on the display screen. Follow the instructions on the display panel to conduct the automatic cleaning process. When it is complete, print a test page. If the print quality doesn't immediately improve, you may want to attempt the process a couple more times.

Manual Cleaning

Printheads that are built into your plotter may occasionally need manual cleaning. To clean your printheads, consult your manual for instructions about cleaning and replacing printheads. Basic steps for manual cleaning will require you to remove all printheads and clean the electrical contacts on the carriage and printheads using a lint-free cloth. Allow the printheads to dry after cleaning, but don't leave them out of the plotter for more than 30 minutes.

Replacing Instead of Cleaning

So, how will you know when to replace your printheads?

Some plotters and printers show messages that indicate it's time for a change. More often, print quality is the reason to prompt a change. Unfortunately, cleaning your printheads won't always resolve print issues. Instead, you may have an ageing or damaged printhead. The signs of a failing plotter printhead are different from clogs or other printing issues.

While a clogged printhead has a distinctive pattern, an ageing printhead is likely to work sometimes but not all the time. Instead of uniform patterns, a dying plotter printhead is more likely to produce poor results partway through an image or seemingly random bands of faded or incorrect colour. The need for frequent cleanings is another sign you may need to change your printheads.

How Often Do You Replace the Printhead on an HP Large Format Plotter?

A printhead can become dirty after it has been sitting idle for a period of time. You should print at least a few pages each month to maintain print quality and avoid dried ink. If you haven't printed in some time and experienced poor print quality, it's time for a clean. But if you continue to have problems after cleaning the printheads multiple times, it's a good idea to replace the cartridges, even if they're not out of ink.

If there are still problems with your printer, you may need to replace the printhead. Since there are many variables in the way printheads are used and maintained, there isn't a specific number of prints or timeline for how often printheads must be replaced. The most important indicator of your plotter's health is your print quality.

A wide-format printer or plotter is a valuable investment that you shouldn't have to plan to replace frequently. While it's cheaper to replace some home printers than to have them repaired by a professional, this is unlikely to be true in the case of a large format plotter. If you are having issues with print quality or you're seeking a new printer or plotter for your business, the professionals at HP can help. Contact us today to discuss your printing needs.

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