You may not realize it, but keeping your inkjet printer clean is very important. Dust, dirt, debris of any kind can ruin a print or series of prints. Here are some things you can do to protect your printer and your prints.

1) Turn your printer off when not in use. Typically, this “parks” the heads and caps them shut so dirt and air can’t get into the lines.

2) Cover your printer when it’s not in use. Dust from the ceiling, in the air and your workspace can get in and muck things up.

3) Use compressed air to blow out debris once per month. Be careful to keep the can upright and discharge some of air away from the printer to make sure the liquid propellant doesn’t get into the printer.

4) Run the printer’s ink cleaning or power cleaning routine after prolonged periods of non use. Even though in theory, the printer being turned off should keep problems to a minimum, users of the most sophisticated printers like the Epson photo printers, will find that air bubbles and nozzle dirt can still be a problem. While it costs you ink/money to run the cleaning utility, it’s worth it. It only takes one speck on a large art print to make it worthless.

5) Keep the work area around the printer clean and neat. Don’t set boxes, coffee cups, snacks on the printer.

These are all easy, common sense things you can do to prolong the life of your inkjet printer, improve the quality of your prints and get the most out of your investment. Got any other tips?

This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. Scott,

    Some good tips here. However, it’s not always a good idea to shut the printer off. Canon recommends with their pro printers (I have the iPF5000, for instance) that they be left on. The printer will park the heads and enter a low power mode after some set period of time (5 minutes by default). The printer will then periodically run a maintenance check that would not happen if you turn the printer off.

    I can only speak for the Canon’s but my understanding is that this is mostly an issue with pigment based printers. I’ve never had a clogging problem the Canon and I think this is partly due to maintenance routines. My advise, check the manufacturers recommendation. If you’re a Canon iPF owner, check out this awesome wiki:

  2. @Jason – Hence the word “typically” in my explanation about parking the heads. It is indeed a good idea to consult your manual – but I have never heard of a printer that recommends you leave the unit turned on. If that’s the case – it’s good to know because it’s an unusual exception most people wouldn’t be aware of.

  3. Scott,

    My understanding is that most modern printers will park the heads when they enter power saving mode. I agree that if your printer doesn’t then it would be best to turn it off to ensure it does park the heads.

    You indicated elsewhere that you use the Epson 3800. It’s been about 18 months since I researched printers and didn’t keep up once I bought mine. When researching, the most common complaint I read about Epson’s was clogging issues (this was regard to the 2400 & 4800, the 3800 was too new and there wasn’t info at the time). A Canon representative told me that one of the reasons for leaving the printer on was that the cleaning cycles would ensure that the ink would not clog the heads. Is this true for Epsons?

    I can’t find the Canon manual online but here is the page form the wiki about leaving the printer on:

    Oh, I should mention that clogging issues are generally only an issue with pigment based printers (e.g. Epson’s 1800, 2400, 3800, 4800, etc.; Canon’s 5000, 5100, etc.; and HP’s 5180).

    Keep up the great work!!!

  4. I’d love to hear a future episode or more blog posts on printers. As photographers, in the past, color printing has largely been out of our hands. This has left a good number of us, myself included, fairly clueless about home printing.

  5. Thanks Scott for these great tips. Every printer is different, and as noted above, for the most part the Canon and HP pigment-based pro-level models are designed to stay in a sleep mode so that they can run ink through the lines periodically. As you mentioned Scott, covering a printer is something I always recommend (without sealing it from the outside air) and after periods of non-use (about every month), it’s a good idea to pull out the cartridges and gently shake them a few times to distribute the pigments. I would not do this for printers that have the cartridges that travel on the print head, such as the Epson Stylus Color 2200 and 2400. However, there is always a small chance of damaging a cart when you pull out and replace cartridges repeatedly over time, so proceed at your own risk. Also, pet hair can really cause problems with delicate print heads, so covering a printer becomes even more important if you have cats or dogs.

    One of the best ways I’ve found to see if your inks and printer are behaving nicely is to print a standard target image (before doing a cleaning cycle). What’s good about that is that it uses a very small amount of ink (if you keep the image small), and you can quickly judge whether you have a color cast, banding or poor output quality, which is not really possible by just looking at a nozzle check pattern. To really know if the color is staying consistent, it’s important to keep a proof print nearby that was printed on the same paper under ideal conditions, using the same profile and print settings as your new prints. Pigment inks won’t shift in color much right after printing, but dye-based inks tend to shift in the first few hours, so keep this in mind. With some older printers, like the Epson 2200, 4000, 7600 and 9600, I generally do a quick cleaning cycle if I haven’t used the printer for more than a few days because they usually will benefit from it.

    You can find a standard image here on my site: . Right click and download the link target on the sRGB or AdobeRGB version. Or, for a larger target, you can go to Link 2.2 on this page: to directly download a 4mb JPG of the PhotoDisc target (left column). There are links to a number of other targets there as well.

    Asking other people what their long-term experiences are with specific printer models should help you to determine how often cleaning cycles will be necessary. Humid conditions over 40% RH are generally better than dry conditions with regard to clogging.

    All the best!

    Andrew Darlow
    Author, 301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques:
    An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers –

  6. thanks for the tips Scott. At the moment I’m looking to upgrade to either an A3 or A2 Epson printer. I know that there are several bottled ink system kits available, do you have any recommendations?

  7. The Epson 3800 should be turned off if it’s not going to be used for 24 hours or more. I know that some Canon and HP printers are to be left on for self-maintenance (their User Manuals recommend that).

    Also, Epson have a bit of reputation for clogging, but I have not had any problems with the last three generations of Epson printers, even my old, old 1290, which was left disconnected and switched off under my desk for over 4 years. Two cleaning cycles later, and it’s printing like a champ again!

    One other thing to remember is that some other manufacturers get around the clogging “issue” by having printheads that automatically map out clogged nozzles, so the printer works around the problem. While that works great, it only works until all nozzles of the same colour get clogged, then you still end up with a clogged printer!

  8. Scott and Rudy, I don’t know if you just feel the need to be heard or what but your information is inaccurate and could lead to others who would take someones word, printer issues. Please stop spreading your rubbish and if you feel the need to do so in the future, do it in the shower.

    The correct information can be found from the owners manual addressed below.

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