We’ve released a new ConeColor ink system called ConeColor Pro. ConeColor Pro is our newest formulation and it improves on what is already considered to be the most trouble-free 3rd party ink on the market. The first of the new ConeColor Pro ink systems is designed for the Epson Stylus Photo R3000. You can buy the ConeColor Pro system for the Epson R3000 by clicking here. The printer itself is worth mentioning.
Epson Stylus Photo R3000
Epson really-finally-truly-wholeheartedly delivered a desktop printer that is built along the same level as their Professional printers. The Epson R3000 uses what looks very much like an Epson 3880 print head. It uses a print head carriage chassis that looks very much like that of the Epson 3880. The dampers which are used for it’s print heads even look similar to that of the 3880 Pro printer. The use of ink tanks with ink lines mimics the 3880 as does the paper feed mechanism that looks to be lifted directly from the Epson 3880 printer. This printer feeds paper from the top quite well. It has a fine art paper, straight-through-feed paper tray, too. Epson designed this desktop printer for fine art use. We can call that a first.
So, it looks like a Pro printer. It even sounds like a Pro printer. It nearly functions like a Pro printer, but without the Pro printer’s on board service menu. Many of the functions of the Service Menu are now in the Epson utility software and the LCD menu controls of the R3000. This printer is expected to be operated by a knowledgeable end-user in order to get the best out of it. But, Epson also has a cool way of showing these instructions using their color LCD panel. Still we wish that functions like Power Clean were not omitted from a printer that uses ink lines.
Power Clean is an operation that is critical for those using printers which have remote ink tanks and ink lines – so that they can maintain their printers when they intend to leave them sitting for a month or more. While this printer has immediate appeal to those running education programs, the omission by Epson of a purging method will mean that the printers being left unattended for a Summer or a long Winter break may have some maintenance issues when starting back up. It is never a good idea to allow pigment ink to remain in ink lines over a long break. All pigment ink (including Epson) settles over time. Power Cleans are essential to restoring fresh ink to the print heads.
Windows users can easily get around this issue because the Service Adjustment software is readily available. Mac Users will need either to run Windows on their machines to utilize purging and ink counter resets, etc via the Windows based software – or make friends with a sympathetic Windows user. Craigslist is filled with cheap used Windows machines, so a small investment will allow any institution that is Mac based, do post-Summer break or post-Winter break maintenance on these machines. The only way to get flush fluid to the heads of these printers to allow them to sit dormant for months will be with the Service Adjustment software. I can see dozens of these printers sitting in University photo labs with that in mind. 13×19 paper size or 13 inch rolls is more than adequate for many education programs.
Rather than fit ink cartridges directly above the print head, Epson outfitted this printer with remote small ink tanks that hold 25ml of ink. These tanks sit higher than the print heads and feed ink to the print head through a series of ink lines that are about 20 inches long. The lines hold a lot of ink. In fact, combine the ink lines with the ink dampers and an initial charge uses up abot 1/3 of the 25ml ink that comes in a standard Epson cartridge.
The use of carts above the print head and ink lines with dampers helps feed the print heads smoothly through the magic of gravity. This is one of the best performing heads I’ve put ink into lately. I ran it like crazy on Epson inks and found that it never required a head cleaning other than perhaps the first thing in the morning (which is not unusual with any printer).
Switching to ConeColor Pro (a new formulation) was effortless. The new InkjetMall R3000 refillable carts hold 30ml of ink but behave just like the OEM carts with one exception. The OEM carts are designed to be nearly impossible to refill or reuse. The InkjetMall R3000 carts are actually designed to be reused and refilled. We’ll post a video on how to do fill these carts. You can fill them with Epson ink, or ConeColor ink, or Piezography ink, or PiezoFlush ink, or the new InkThrift® encapsulated dye ink (I let that slip…). The idea behind the InkjetMall refillable carts is to allow you to replace the consumables in this printer with materials that better serve your needs.
In printing 100s and 100s of letter size sheets with the ConeColor Pro formula, I haven’t encountered any issues. This is a little dream printer; a desktop printer that behaves like a Pro printer. I put papers through this printer all the way up to 350gsm. I was even able to load those by hand through the top feed. I did clean the paper feed mechanism after printing a large quantity of fine art inkjet papers. And I was able to easily blow out the accumulated paper lint that I found inside the printer. All in all, I found this printer adapts beautifully to thick fine art paper. And it also adapts perfectly to the new ConeColor Pro inks.
New ConeColor Pro inks
On the other hand, ConeColor Pro is a brand new ink developed for the new Epson print heads found in the Epson Pro X880s, X890s, and X900s. We’ve reformulated to improve on a number of things such as foaming in our magenta (not that you would have noticed it), better dMax, and also improved glossiness. The dMax and glossiness you may have noticed was just under that of the OEM in our ConeColor K3 and K3 Vivid inks. We improved this initially with the ConeColor HDR. Then we took that knowledge and reformulated the entire color range.
ConeColor K3 and K3 Vivid inks are widely considered to be the best performing 3rd party ink. We’ve been honest in that we wished we had a little better dMax and a touch better glossiness. Therefore, much of our recent work was directed towards increasing dMax and glossiness to meet that of the OEM. I believe that ConeColor Pro will up the bar again for a 3rd party ink. While we can produce a better black and white solution than can the OEM, we’re still chasing after the hat trick with a better color ink. Hat trick implies 3 goals…I may have mentioned our other surprise somewhere in this posting.
Overall, the R3000 printer likes the new ConeColor Pro formula. No head cleanings necessary other than the occasional first print of a day. But, that’s rather routine even with the OEM inks. Also, with the Epson carts installed it performed as many head cleanings as it does with the InkjetMall carts installed. The same can not be said with some of the other Epson printers which when the printer detects an non-OEM cart it performs more head cleaning operations. I believe that Epson does this in the belief that 3rd party inks may be more clog prone than their own. Probably that is true with the plethora of China inks now entering into the marketplace again, but it hasn’t been the case with ConeColor. We’ve prided ourselves on the fact that our encapsulated ink formulation performs similarly to Epson’s encapsulated ink formulation. Encapsulation is our golden buddah.
As I mentioned, the R3000 printer does not have a service mode, so it’s not possible to perform power cleanings in order to completely bring new fresh inks to the print heads in 2-3 power cleans. I think it may take as many 20 regular head cleanings to do the same. Possibly more? Using a Mac/PC RIP like the $50 QuadTone RIP it is actually quite easy to purge out individual channels or all channels at once. I will perhaps detail that soon as a method for Mac users who wish to avoid Windows. I’m comfortable with both platforms.
I decided to do a fresh initialization of the inking system to change over from Epson inks to ConeColor Pro inks. The feature however, is only available through the R3000 Service Adjustment Program. This is the same software used to reset the ink counters and prevent the desktop printers from freezing up when the ink pads are full. As I mentioned it is readily available on the internet. And as I mentioned it is possible to perform an initialization type procedure using QuadTone RIP if you are a Mac user. Although QuadTone RIP is not designed for color inks, it does allow control over each print head and therefore purging.
However, it is not necessary to flush out Epson inks before installing ConeColor inks. The two ink formulations are compatible with each other. Epson inks are encapsulated pigment. ConeColor inks (and Piezography inks) are also encapsulated pigment. Epson uses a polyester micro-encapsulation layer around each pigment particle. Vermont PhotoInkjet which produces ConeColor and Piezography inks uses a micro-encapsulation layer of an acrylic co-polymer. The vehicle (ink base) which this pigment is suspended in is compatible between Epson and Vermont PhotoInkjet. So, it is not necessary to flush.
But, I wanted to produce an extensive ICC profile library for 3rd party papers. So, I wanted a fresh start. As a result, I would need to push out both the matte and photo blacks and head cleanings only occur with one or the other. So, I performed a new initialization of the inking system and about 90ml of waste ink was pushed through the system in order to bring ConeColor to the print heads.
We took the liberty of installing a waste bottle setup on this printer prior to the initialization of the new ConeColor Pro ink. With so many waste pads at the bottom of the printer, it will not be fun retrieving out all that ink waste when ours comes due. Epson expects you to return your printer to the factory. I recommend you install our waste bottle setup on your printer. We include instructions and you do not have to modify your printer body at all.
The waste bottle install went well. The printer purged out nearly 3 ounces of ink into the waste bottle. This accounted for 1/3 the life of the printer’s waste ink counter. So we know we can do one more purge before having to reset the ink counter. I am not recommending that you move back and forth between ink sets. This is a printer that you dedicate to one ink set. But, there certainly exists a way to convert a color printer to Piezography or visa-versa using the R3000 Service Adjustment Program.
Our first new cartridge redesign
We’ve been busy designing new ink cartridges. We are working directly with a cartridge factory and we like them very much. We spent some time with them recently at their factory. We discussed what our dream products would be. They’ve agreed to make new moulds for our suggestions. Some of the changes we need are small, but still require new cartridge moulds. We will soon be releasing new refillable ink cart products across many models. The first thing we did is redesign the R3000 product. While refillable R3000 carts have been on the market for some time, many are difficult to prime and the chip design has been proving problematic. The number of chip makers in China is vast, and each copies the other’s design.
Most cartridge suppliers cheapen as much as possible the components they use as well as the manufacturing methods. They license moulds and buy components – and in the end everything is “exactly the same but different”. So a trip to China and a week sorting out the real from the fake turned up an incredibly sweet factory owner with a talented staff. The owner is the chief engineer (like me in my company). Some of the things we are redesigning will no-doubt become the new standard from other China cart suppliers. But, we will be happy to have them first.
We’re also sourcing very high-standard ARC chips. It may not seem like much, but the failure rate of a semi-conductor company we found and tested is well below 1%. Standard China made carts have failure rates due to chips well above 4%. The added expense on our part will allow us to reduce our technical support due to chip failure. We will begin offering this same quality chip on larger format products in just a few weeks. The chip for the R3000 allows the Epson Status monitor to display the ink levels on the color panel and in the software utility. It’s a very good solution: a sturdy reliable cart with a chip that rivals the OEM in quality.
A new ICC profile library
Profiling was a non-stop adventure. I’ve produced lots of them. First, I evaluated three different professional profiling applications with this printer. What can I say? We own a lot of Pro gear. They all make professional quality profiles, but each has its own idiosyncrasies. I settled on a color engine that can produce profiles that meet or exceed those made by Epson. Epson ICCs have been getting better and better.
This combination of ink and profiling method makes for a happy condition. I believe that this is going to be one our best offerings. For example, Piezography Special Edition inks on the Epson 1400 is an incredible product. It also became one of our best selling products ever. ConeColor Pro on the R3000 is similar. Just everything coming together in a way that produces a very happy feeling.
I’ve made a profile library of 56 ICCs covering most of the offerings from Canson, Epson and Hahnemuhle, and a number of media from Firefly, Inkpress, JonCone Studio, Legion Moab and Museo. Customs will be available for those who use other media. And if you use media from a Paper Supplier we do not offer in our library, let them know they should supply us with media for profiling. We’re open to profiling all 3rd party paper suppliers.
So when do we release? Cartridges are on the way. We’re bottling inks. Surely we will be ready for the Black Friday Sale! Yes, we should be ready then and at a good price! We may only have 70 sets to sell that week. We already have more than 30 requests from our website. If you have not emailed to request that you be notified first upon release – click here to send me an email .
“But, I loved the old ConeColor!”
We understand that no one likes to see an ink discontinued and we have no plans to discontinue it. We will sell ConeColor K3, K3 Vivd, and HDR along side the new ConeColor Pro inks. You can upgrade or not. We understand that some shops once they have a workflow down, will hold onto that workflow for evermore. But, if you loved the old ConeColor you’ll just love the new ConeColor Pro even more. So, if you wish to upgrade the formulations are compatible and you can simply chase out the older formulation with the newer one. We will make new ICC profile libraries for the X900s and X880s.
…and what about Piezography in the R3000?
Oh yeah! Piezography… I’ve actually started that phase of development. It looks terrific on this printer. But, this blog post has been long enough! I’ll save that report for the Piezography Blog and make mention of it here soon.