Cleaning Printheads on the HP DesignJet  Z3100 - Z3200 PRINTER

Repairing Z3200 Printers - Notes on Tools, Materials, and Procedures
How to do basic things with Z3200ps printers 
Mark Lindquist 12/10/2014 - updated --1-10-2017

Cleaning Printheads on the HP DesignJet  Z3100 - Z3200 PRINTER

By Mark Lindquist  |  August-December 2014-1/5/2017
2017 Lindquist Studios All Rights Reserved


CLEANING HP Z3100 - Z3200  Printheads, manually and internally

(Above), each HP Z Series printhead comes in it's own tub and has orange protective caps that keep the printheads moist and free of dust.

(Above), the "business end" up - the section of each printhead (nozzles) that ink squirts through.  Note the electrical contacts on the left.

(Above), closeup of HP 70 printhead showing the two sides, or double heads with two colors.  Each printhead has a trough of ink and as it becomes used, over time the heads become clogged and ink builds up.  If the printer sits idle for too long, this is what results - commonly referred to as "clogged printhead", or "clogged nozzles".  Sometimes, through the head printer cleaning routine, a printhead can be unclogged, but more often than not, more drastic measures are required to make a printhead become unclogged and fully functional.

If it takes too much cleaning to bring a printhead back to life, then to me, it's just not worth it.  Since printheads cost less than half the price of a new 130 ml ink cartridge, it becomes expedient to simply replace the printhead with a new one.  Clogged printheads can become a real pain, and sometimes it is just not worth the time to mess with them. 

Still, in all, if some are frugal, or in a jam, there are methods to make them work.

I prefer to use a combination of internal printer head cleaning and manual cleaning and wiping.  HP is careful in their instructions, recommending that little to no wiping be done on a print head, but I have had success in certain cases, as have many on the web who advocate printhead cleaning.

Here are HP's instruction about cleaning:

Gather the appropriate cleaning materials:

Any clean, soft, lint-free material that will not come apart or leave fibers behind when wet (coffee filters work well)

Enough distilled, filtered, or bottled water to moisten the cloth. Avoid using tap water, which could contain damaging contaminants

Paper towels, or sheets of paper to rest the printheads on during cleaning

Gently wipe the printhead contacts with a dry, clean, soft, lint-free cloth.

If some residue remains, slightly moisten the cloth with distilled, filtered, or bottled water and continue wiping until the contacts are clean.

The most successful method I have used time after time is this:

Put just the bottom of the offending printhead in a small tray of warm water under the sink.
Continue soaking the bottom of the print head, occasionally cleaning the bottom with a lint free cotton cloth.

After 15 or 30 minutes, dry off the print head and "stamp" a folded over paper towel.

Look carefully at the pattern. If the print head is working right, a consistent line of blue and green (if it is a BG head) will show up perfectly. If there is a clog, only part of the line will show. Compare the lines side by side, looking carefully. These line patterns will correspond exactly with a diagnostic image. Keep soaking and cleaning until the printhead shows a clean stamp pattern. 

I worked for an entire day on the printhead above and could not get a perfect stamp.  Of course one could keep going and keep trying and maybe, perhaps, possibly, get there, but I broke down and just ordered a new printhead.  It's easy to think that "maybe the next trick will work", but not necessarily.

Windex as a next step sometimes works, but be aware, isopropyl alcohol, nail polish remover, etc., will likely get you into trouble.

A youtube video explains how to clean printheads seven different ways:



The key to cleaning print heads on HP Z Series printers is to be able to know what is actually wrong with the printheads at any given time.  The only way to accomplish this is to be able to view a graphic representation illustrating what each printheads is doing and how it is performing.

HP has created a utility program to enable internal cleaning of the printheads from the front panel of the printer and an option to print out a diagnostic chart.  Below, is a diagnostic chart that clearly indicates problem areas with several printheads.  Each print head uses two colors, for example Blue and Green,  Magenta and yellow, etc.  One print color can be printing perfectly and the other might be totally inoperable.  Each HP 70 ink printhead has two compartments for ink and corresponding print heads beneath that the ink is squirted through.

Notice in the chart how the horizontal lines and washed out colors clearly illustrate the areas where ink is not passing through the printhead.  In the color patches on top, the colors should be solid and filled fully.  In the linear diagrams beneath the color patches, notice how the lines should be solid on the left, and in the horizontal lines to the right of the vertical lines they should also be solid and well defined.  Each area of the chart is designed to correspond directly with where the printhead is malfunctioning.

When I first started with a 24" Z series printer that was given to me, barely any colors were showing at all on the diagnostic chart.  It took several weeks of printhead cleaning, manually and internally, and in a several cases replacing the printheads until the colors came back fully on the printhead diagnostic image.  The chart below shows gradual progress, but indicated areas of malfunction - arrows in red point out clogged areas. Notice that entire areas of color are missing.

Each time a printhead is seated or reseated from the panel install, with prompts, a printhead calibration chart (printhead alignment chart) is automatically generated.  Notice the green areas which show areas of non-function.  These charts can be made with just about any paper, but glossy papers show the areas best, and the charts become easier to read.

The green areas on the charts above and below, correspond directly with the "stamped" pattern of the actual printhead (below).  You can take any printhead, and stamp it on a folded over piece of paper to diagnose directly where the printhead is malfunctioning.

In the last chart, below, almost all problems have been cleared up and the printheadsw appear to be printing well and as normal.  Scroll back to the top chart, then back here, and it clearly illustrates how far the cleaning and replacement process journeyed to get back to normal.

Here is a tried and true technique that I use when I have issues with a printhead and need to get back printing ASAP (before a new one is delivered):

Take all the heads out, (by opening the cover, and when the printhead carriage is in the correct position, turn the back main power toggle switch off, then unplug the unit).  Squeeze and vigorously shake each printhead, and one by one, blot, then replace, until all printheads are reinstalled.  It helps to clean up the interior of the printhead carriage and to clean the contacts, etc.  Close the window, plug the cord back in, then run a printhead alignment, then a full head clean for all printheads, then print out a diagnostic image.  This method works well up to a point in bringing it the printheads back to life.  If there is just one troublesome printhead, no need to pull them all.  If you pull them all, it is likely to improve overall.  The diagnostic charts are your friend  - learn to read and understand them.

Once a chart looks like the one above, further tweaking can help, but afterwards, getting that last few percent is difficult, and could perhaps only be achieved by replacing all the printheads with new  ones.  This is the goal, however; to have a clean diagnostic chart, a clean printhead alignment chart, and the assurance that the printheads are working as designed.

Bear in mind, according to HP:

The Nozzle Print Test test is designed to check if the Printhead nozzles print correctly.
The diagnostics test prints out every single nozzle of each Printhead without applying an error hiding or alignment algorithm.

For each Printhead, you can see both the adjacent and the consecutive nozzles.
If any nozzles are not printing correctly they will be shown on the right of each Printhead Nozzle test.

There is a series of numbered stepped diagonal lines. If one or more of the nozzles are clogged, malfunctioning or mis- positioned, you will see that the stepped lines are broken or misdirected in one or more places.

(For example), [if]... the stepped lines highlighted in yellow are broken. When the line is completely broken, this means the nozzle is out.
(For example), [if]..., the stepped lines highlighted in yellow are misdirected. When the line is misdirected, this means the nozzle is malfunctioning or out of position.
Print Quality

On the left of each Printhead Nozzle test, there is a series of horizontal straight lines. If one or more nozzles are misdirected there will be unequal spaces between the corresponding lines.

Corrective Action

If the printer has nozzle defects, you can still get perfect print quality results. The printer can automatically compensate for nozzle defects, so there is no need to replace the Printhead.
The method of improving Nozzle Defects is to:
1 Recover the Printheads, using the Front Panel Main Menu/Image Quality Maintenance/Clean Printheads option.
2 Reprint the Printhead Nozzles Test Plot to verify that the defective nozzles have been corrected.
3 If the problem continues, replace the defective Printhead

Corrective action, of course varies, and particularly depending on your schedule and availability of a new printhead.  If you want to play it totally safe - just go buy a new printhead and follow instructions.  Keep in mind that just changing the printheads out is not always the answer.  Other problems such as clogged ink tubes, and other "cans of worms" can be the culprit. 

Usually, however, just doing thorough cleaning and judicious printhead cleaning and/or replacement, and most of all, keeping the machine ON 24/7/365, does the trick.

If any of the ink cartridges are low on ink when replacing the printheads, the printer may think the new printhead is faulty when actually it is that the ink cartridge is too low to fill the new printhead.  Always have cartidges that are mostly (at least 1/2) full when replacing a printhead or you might get the error message to replace the printhead.



Perhaps the gold standard of test images is what photographers and printers commonly refer to as:

"The Atkinson Printer Profile Test Image"

What made this chart so successful (which is still used by hundreds of thousands of photographers today) beyond its intended use, is that it presented a wide array of colors and tonal ranges.  What made it most valuable is that it organized and quantified color in a coherent, readable print.  If the images looked right, then your profile and color workflow was probably right.

A similar chart can be made from your own photos.  If you know them well, you can organize them similarly and you'll be able to tell if they look right to you when the whole page is printed out.

Search the internet for test images made by photographers.  They frequently post them to download and print.

*The Atkinson image above is copyright Bill Atkinson.  It is being used in an educational capacity in this context. 
Search the web for more information and a larger chart.

Printer exercise images

Certain images can be used to exercise your printheads. If a printer is left sitting for prolonged periods of time, it's a good idea to run a printhead exercise print once a week.

Below is my printhead exercise print, free for download.

Click image above for larger print image

(These are my own personal notes from repairs I have made. 
I have made this web page for my own benefit, so I have a record of what I have done. 
If you use this information, do so at your own risk - I assume no responsibility for errors.)




All Images Copyright Mark Lindquist Photography 2000-2017 - All Rights Reserved