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Sublimation Troubleshooting Part 1: The Printer

Many customers have heard me say this about sublimation, “It takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.” Now, I cannot be 100% sure that it takes a lifetime to master because I’ve not yet reached the end of my life, thankfully. To be sure, when I do get to the end, I won’t be worrying whether that statement rings true or not. By “lifetime to master,” I simply mean that sublimation, as a digital heat transfer process, continues to evolve. As printer technologies advance, there will be lessons to be learned.

Sublimation Troubleshooting—Part I: The Printer

By Shon Roti, JDS Industries

(Originally printed in the October 2016 issue of Insights.)

Many customers have heard me say this about sublimation, “It takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.” Now, I cannot be 100% sure that it takes a lifetime to master because I’ve not yet reached the end of my life, thankfully. To be sure, when I do get to the end, I won’t be worrying whether that statement rings true or not. By “lifetime to master,” I simply mean that sublimation, as a digital heat transfer process, continues to evolve. As printer technologies advance, there will be lessons to be learned.

In this article, I will share some common scenarios that I have encountered with the industry-dominating sublimation printers and explain how the problems were resolved.

Banding

Mostly the result of dry environmental conditions or from lack of use, banding (because of a head clog) has become less of an issue as more people migrate away from desktop printers. However, if banding does occur, the first step is to identify which channel color is causing the issue. Particularly in a photograph (Figure A), that can be difficult to identify.

The first step is to print a nozzle check. Figure B is an example of both a good nozzle check and one that has missing lines (nozzles). Each channel color can have 200 or more nozzles. If any one of these is not printing, there will be white lines through the print. Another measure is to print the channel colors using the Print Primaries option in the PowerDriver (Figure C). Figure D shows a graphic representation of what banding could look like when using the Print Primaries option. Printing a full page of the identified color or executing a few simple head-cleanings from the Utilities option of the PowerDriver usually are enough to resolve this. There is another more powerful cleaning option in the Ricoh or Sawgrass driver called head-flushing. Although the Ricohs and Sawgrass printers do recycle some of the ink in the print head in this procedure, this is an extreme measure that uses a significant amount of ink. A quick call to your distributor for assistance before performing this is advised.

Paper Feed Adjustment and Print-Head Alignment

Some might refer to the problem seen in Figure E as banding, as well, but these lines are not caused by a clogged nozzle. Easier to identify on a solid background, these lines are the result of a paper-feeding issue. The darker lines indicate that the paper is not feeding far enough to accommodate the printing, causing slight overlapping on the transfer, hence the darker line.

The adjustment for this is located in the Utilities of the Ricoh or Sawgrass driver (Figure F). Click on the Adjust Paper Feed option and click Next until a test pattern prints. Locate the straightest horizontal line on the sheet and identify the number next to that line (Figure G). Enter that number in the next Utilities window (Figure H) and print another test pattern. The straightest line should be next to the number 0. If not, perform this procedure one more time. Usually within two attempts, the printer is adjusted correctly.

Hint: Loading the paper tray with regular office paper instead of sublimation paper prior to this procedure will save a few nickels.

Figure I and Figure J represent examples of a print head misalignment. Notice that the parts of the letters appear bent or jagged (Figure I) or have what appears to be an adjacent shadow of itself in another color (Figure J). The adjustment procedure for this again can be found in the Utilities menu (Figure K). Plain copy paper can be used for this procedure. Click on Adjust Print-head Positions. Click Next until a test pattern prints (Figure L). Locate the straightest vertical lines in the test pattern for rows A, B, and C. Identify the number next to those lines and enter those values in the next window (Figure M). Print another test pattern to see if the straightest lines are now under the number 0. As with other adjustments, it may require two attempts to get to this to the correct position.

Envelope Lever

If the printed transfer appears a bit fuzzy along the edges (Figure N) when using a legacy Ricoh printer like the 3300, 7000, or 7700, the print head may be out of focus. One of the options with these printers is the ability to print on an envelope. A lever on top of the printer (Figure O) in its envelope position would raise the print head to accommodate the thickness needed to print an envelope. This option, not at all useful for sublimation, would put the print head out of focus for standard transfer paper. The simple fix: lower the lever down to its proper position for transfer paper. FYI: the newer Ricoh and Sawgrass printers do not have an envelope printing option.

Dots

I’ll admit, the problem shown in Figure P took me some time to figure out. The first time I encountered these dots, I realized I was not asking the right questions for the eventual solution. The question that led me to the resolution was, “What kind of paper is being used?” Let me explain. Some sublimation papers have releasing agents that are specific to a brand of printer. Sublimation ink for the Epson printer and the more gelatinous ink for the Ricoh and Sawgrass printers absorb differently on a transfer. If you see these unwanted dots appear on the transfer or product, there is a good chance the wrong paper is in the printer. If the printed transfers are not drying fast enough as they move through the printer, the teeth of the guide wheels become wet with ink from the oversaturated print. The teeth, now coated with wet ink, reapply that ink onto a subsequent transfer. The simple fix: replace the paper with the appropriate transfer paper for the printer.

And So…

Ricoh and Sawgrass printers have proven to be efficient, fast, reliable printers that can output a good-quality print. But like all equipment, they require care. As a preventive maintenance measure, the printer should be left on at all times to allow it to maintain itself—and do make sure to print with some regularity. The life span of the printer can be shortened from both underuse and overuse, but it’s better to lose it from overuse. If you experience long stretches in between projects, create sublimation samples as a way to combat an idle printer.

Finding solutions for a particular issue is easier once the culprit is properly identified, and resolutions may come by a process of elimination. Recognizing what is working often can point to what is not working.

Shon Roti is a sublimation specialist at JDS Industries, Inc. He has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Sioux Falls with an emphasis in graphic design. He can be contacted at shonr@jdsindustries.com. JDS Industries is a leading supplier in the recognition and sublimation markets. For more on JDS Industries, visit www.jdsindustries.com

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