Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Problems With My Canon ImagePrograf 2000 Large Format Printer


Just under two years ago, after going through three print heads in about four years on my two Epson 7900 large format (24 inch) printers, I said that I had had it with Epson and their quite clearly faulty 7900 print head design (there were hundreds, if not thousands, who were having similar print head problems and at that time there was even a class action suit brewing). So I purchased a Canon ImagePrograf 2000 24 inch printer. The Canon has a print head that is easily replaceable by the user, and with the print head being the part most likely to develop problems (and also among the most expensive of parts), I thought that even if the print head went bad it would be easy to swap out (albeit at $650 a pop). I was looking forward to years of printing with the new machine.

I do need to say that the print quality, both color and black and white, with the ImagePrograf 2000 is fantastic. Every bit as good as the Epson (to my eye anyway) and I have no complaints about the quality of the output. Early on (while still under warranty) the print head did develop a clog that would simply not resolve in the yellow channel (part of the nozzle check pattern was fine, but part refused to print no matter how much I cleaned the head). I use the printer essentially daily, so remaining idle was not the problem (these big printers are meant to be used and if the ink stops flowing for a week or two it is very easy to develop clogs). Canon cheerfully sent me a brand new print head which I was able to easily pop into place.....problem resolved and to this date has not come back.

Unfortunately however, a new and seemingly 'terminal' problem has developed. All of a sudden, completely out of the blue, the magenta ink cart registered as empty. I changed the cart ($173 a pop for a 300 ml cartridge!) thinking I probably had simply missed the 'empty soon' warning. It registered as a full cart until the next day, when it suddenly went from being read as full to empty in a split second. That's 300ml of magenta ink that usually lasts me at least 6 months!

Canon tech support was very willing to spend a good deal of time with me on the phone, I will give them that....which is more than I can say about Epson support once your machine is out of warranty. They had me print out an error log from the printer, photograph it using my cell phone and send it to them.....there were no errors noted by the machine. They then had me update to the latest firmware. Another fresh cart of ink went in and registered as looked fixed! For a day. The next day the exact same thing happened (oddly without the maintenance cartridge filling up significantly with discarded ink as best one could tell) and another 300 ml cartridge was emptied and registered as needing to be replaced. In fact, whenever I lifted the cartridge out of the machine it did feel totally empty based on weight. But it was still printing and gave a perfect nozzle check. I was happy to keep printing since there was about a years worth of magenta ink that had been put in there somewhere, and as long as the nozzle check was OK I could ignore the 'cartridge empty' warning sound. 

That was until it developed it's 'terminal' problem. It wouldn't print anymore because it apparently finally 'thought' the magenta cart was empty. If I turned the printer on and off it sometimes bizarrely indicated full but usually indicated empty and, in either instance, the machine wouldn't print because of the empty ink cart (which by weight seem to be the case). If I tried to print I would get an error message saying that there was no magenta ink and printing couldn't continue.

Why do these things only happen when the device is just a couple months out of warranty? The machine is not even two years old. Canon USA wants $1200 pre-paid to come out and fix it (even though they say they have no idea what is wrong at this point)! Instead I called a local Canon authorized repair and maintenance company that actually has been a pleasure to deal with, but they had never heard of this happening before and couldn't guarantee what it would cost to fix. Nonetheless, the tech thought that it was possible that it could be fixed with a $27 part (print head management sensor) but the trip over and subsequent work was $180/hr. If that didn't work his next guess would be to replace the purge unit, a $300 part and $180/hr labor (the functional word here being guess), but that he couldn't be 100% certain that would fix it either. In addition, as I explained to him, there would need to be a wait between tries because I could just put a new magenta ink cart into the machine and it would register as full and work perfectly....for a day or it would initially appear that whatever they did would work, but that the test would be with time. They did note that if they got it working (for even a day) that I could put it on service contract so that if it broke again a few days later it would be repaired. Great idea, but the cost of that would be $1200 for a single year of coverage! The machine itself was barely twice that brand new.

I decided to roll the dice and thought it would be worth giving them one chance with the best guess $27 part. I spent what was required to have them replace the print head management sensor and all was well. For a day and a half anyway, after which the machine emptied (presumably into the maintenance 'discard' cartridge) yet another $173 magenta ink cart....the third one since the saga began! However, I do have to say that the repair technician was honest and up front from the start and really did put in a good deal of time and effort before coming to my home to try to figure out what the problem was likely to be.

It was clearly time to cut my losses and not throw good money after bad. Between my experience with Epson, and now Canon, it does make me wonder if any of these large format printers are designed to really last more than a year or two. The extended warranties are expensive and seem necessary because, at least in my experience, it seems like the companies know the machines won't last. I could have gotten a 'lemon' once, but not all these times. To me, the whole thing just feels contrived. The problem is that I love making prints and enjoy making large ones. So I may be looking at yet another printer. 

It seems like the more electronic and 'better' printers get, the more likely they are to fail. The last printer I had which was replaced electively and only because I wanted to 'upgrade' was an Epson 7600. It has been downhill after that :(

At this point I am considering a return to Epson even though the  Surecolor 7000, which is the replacement for their 'ill-fated' 7900, uses the same print head the 7900 did, albeit with some minor revisions I am told. That, and the ink has been reformulated. I am a bit uncertain where this will lead me, but I am certainly very disappointed with Canon! 

I will post an update as to where this leads.