Eddie's El-Cheapo CIS (Continuous Inking System)

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Stylus 760 version

Part-2 (stylus 1160)

February 2002,
It beats me why CIS systems are so expensive, the ozi exchange doesn't help but even so.... I was quoted AU$875.00 INC GST for a CIS kit (this includes some ink that I don't want anyway). I could probably have imported a kit myself for half this amount but even this is expensive.
It took me a week and 5 versions of the prototype to figure it out but I've now printed a dozen perfect prints using a CIS which costs under $20 in parts and under 2 hours to build. The proof of concept prototype is not pretty but it works. My house now looks even more like a war zone, I look like I've been finger painting and people keep laughing at my creation - but it is all worth it.

The story goes like this.

Over a year ago I bought a epson stylus 760 (it is now feb 2002) . The prints are amazing they look as good as professional quality photographic prints (photographic color enlarging was my profession for 5 years). It only took one night to empty the supplied ink cartridges and then the drama began. I re-inked the carts and spent most of the night going thru cleaning cycles until I gave up convinced I'd wrecked the print head. Next day it worked again but since then there has been much frustration surrounding ink carts. I was/am using calidad ink kits. Much ink is wasted cleaning and most annoying is you can't clean just one head. If you have a blocked black jet all the inks are depleted during cleaning.

One question I asked early was "will this ink fade?". I now know the answer is a deafening "YES" and quickly too. The prints last ok if kept in the dark but I want prints that can be displayed in bright light for years on end – so I have to change to archival inks. Epson claims their inks are archival. They are better than calidad but they fall far short of the 100 year rating of the "generations" ink I've ordered. Standard epson ink is rated at 3 and epson 1270 ink last 10 years on gloss 25 on matte) kodak photo prints have 14 or so years of life. Buying 100 years ink may sound like overkill but a prints in a sunny room will fade faster than under the standard test conditions. Hundred year ink is only last about a year in sunlight.

Changing carts is to a bad thing. Once you remove the cart air gets into the system. The carts should be either refilled in-situ or a continuous ink feed employed. It shouldn't be too difficult should it?

There is an obvious risk of killing the printer while trying to re-invent a CIS system but printers are cheap particularly old ones...

Enter the stylus 1160 - my new 13 inch printer. I chose it because it used the same carts and because is does not used chipped ink carts (boo hiss). My 760 was now redundant. Do I sell it? Give it away? Keep it as a spare? Use it for running different ink?
No - first I used to the try CIS, at worst I have wrecked an old printer at best I end up with 2 CIS equipped printers and a saving of $1900 – well worth some inky fingers.

Part 1 - the print head reservoir.

Version 1 failed.
The first version was a failure. I wanted to see if a "positive pressure" system would work – basically this meant replacing the ink carts with reservoirs which were vented to the air. The idea was to trickle (gravity) feed them from external tanks with some device to maintain the extend tank level just above the level of the ink feed nipple on the head assembly. I used cut-down syringes with tube puttied in with epoxy putty (knead it). Air vents were poked into the putty as it set.
I got a few OK prints but had intermittent leaking of black ink. After installing the color feed lines and topping up the external reservoirs (also syringes) I went to bed. I got up at 2:30 and found the ink had leaked out somehow.

Version 2 worked.
Converting V1 to V2 took 10 minutes. To change to a negative pressure system the external ink supply had to be lowered below the level of the print head, some air was suck out of the vents in the putty and the hole were sealed with putty. This worked but I continued to experiment seeking a design which was both easier to build (this was) and easy to maintain (this wasn't).

Version 3 Failed.
I tried a similar setup but using silicone sealant instead of putty and a thicker feed tube with a piece of silicone tube embedded to provide plug-able hole for priming the ink. Perhaps I wasn't patient enough but this pretty much fell apart.

Version 4 worked.
Version 4 was the same as V1/V2 expect I embedded a hollow needle for priming. This worked but in order for it to fit the case the needle had to be bend over and sealing it reliably was difficult.

Version 5 worked and is quite useable.
Version 5 is a little more elaborate but not hard to make. A syringe is cut down and the rubber bung is removed from the plunger. Two holes are punched into the bung to allow glass tube to pass thru but with an airtight seal. The tubes are bend at 90 degrees (angle not temperature) using a gas flame. The feed tube reaches almost to the tip of the syringe and the priming tube just pokes thru the rubber a short distance. I used super-glue to fix everything is place. Silicone tube is used to join the syringe(s) to the ink nipple. The nipple is thinner than the syringe tip so some small diameter tube is needed. I made little plugs for the air tubes using the same glass tube with the end fused shut.

This works pretty well but I'm worried I'll break a glass tube off if I have to re-prime.

Also in this photo the V4 style setup on the black ink nipple is visible on lower left along with the bleed needle and cap. The color ink nipples are visible at the bottom of the photo.

Once attached to the nipple and feed tube the gizmo is primed by sucking air out of air tube. If the feed tube is small the ink level falls quite slowly once the suction is removed, this allows time to insert a plug. If a large feed tube is used it may be necessary to clamp the feed tube or raise the ink tank to allow plugging before the ink drains out. Having some air above the ink is OK and may even be a good thing.


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