Preventive maintenance for inkjet printers

Mechanical maintenance
As mentioned, there is less to worry about in terms of preventive maintenance when it comes to the non-ink-related mechanics of the system. The owner’s manual should be checked for specific details, materials and intervals.

The media transport and take-up system commonly features a media holder, pinch rollers and a heater platen. A blade should never be used to cut along the platen or it could become scratched.

All components should turn freely, without binding. Non-drying lubricants are preferable to gooey oils. The rollers should be cleaned to prevent clogs. And the belts need to be changed before they wear out.

The rail—usually aluminum—where the printhead carriage traverses back and forth will need to be kept free of contamination and lubricated occasionally with the manufacturer’s recommended product. The encoder strip—generally a clear plastic ‘ruler’ that helps the printer determine its position as it traverses across the substrate—should periodically be cleaned gently with isopropyl alcohol or a mix of soap and water, much like washing a car. If the strip’s ‘eye’ sensor were to become clouded or otherwise damaged, it would cause errors in printing.

A printer’s control panels are often membrane switches sensitive to human touch. If compromised, they may not work properly. Both multi-function and dedicated circuit boards need to be protected against static or voltage spikes at external cable junctions. Some systems are extremely delicate, requiring careful control of humidity levels.

Printing a ‘confidence stripe’ along the edge of every graphic is a good way to ensure all colours are being used all of the time.

Printing a ‘confidence stripe’ along the edge of every graphic is a good way to ensure all colours are being used all of the time.

Cosmetic care
While mechanical maintenance is more crucial in ensuring a printer continues to make money for its owner, cosmetic care is also important. After all, no one wants a scratched-up or scarred printer, even a used one, so proper care will help optimize the machine’s resale value.

Solvent-soaked cloths, syringes, pipettes, bottles or other maintenance items should never be placed on the printer. Plastic can melt and paint can become mottled.

If ink is splashed onto the printer, it should be wiped off quickly.

While specialized technicians will still occasionally be needed for deeper access to a printer’s mechanical and electronic workings, there is much that sign shop owners can do by themselves in terms of periodic maintenance and just taking care of their printers.

Preventive maintenance calibrations will help ensure faster, sharper printing and stave off expensive repairs. The price of printer failure, on the other hand, includes everything from wasted ink and materials to overtime for employees and downtime when customers cannot be served.

Bob Flipse is a partner at Grafx Network, which services wide-format printing equipment. This article is based on a seminar he recently presented on behalf of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA). For more information, contact him via e-mail at and visit

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