Tips to keep your Latex printer operating in tip-top shape

Latex application specialist, Timothy Mitchell, is a print industry veteran. He’s spent 25 years in the field and called HP home for the last decade.

But he’s never seen a year like this one.

In these budget conscious times, businesses are spending strategically, which is why Latex Printer options are so in demand. Their capacity for energy conservation and tolerance for downtime, comparatively low-cost replacement parts, and exceptional ease of use, make them an economical powerhouse. Though they’re some of the most low maintenance machines on the market, there are a few best practices you can follow to keep them running smoothly – whether you’re in the office or not.We sat down with him to get his take.

What are some of the most common uses/jobs for the Latex printer series?

They’re primarily used as outdoor durable signage and display printers. That includes things like adhesive vinyl, posters, banners, canvas, wallcovering, window graphics and T-shirt transfers etc.

Can you tell us about some of the most interesting or unique finished products you’ve seen?

Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of high-end, durable natural fiber fabrics, cottons, linens, cotton-linen blends, tapestries and home decor fabric prints. Some have built-in sunblock allowing the linen window films to diffuse the light without obscuring the view from inside. We can print images like a company logo on the material, so they’re a popular edition to many conference rooms.

We’re also seeing more demand for digital décor like wall coverings, canvas prints, window graphics, drop down blinds, and display fabrics. Some are used to reinforce brand identify, and others have a double purpose. We helped one high-end hotel conceal acoustic paneling with digitally printed fabric that stretched over a frame of sound deadening material. It transformed the acoustic tiles into something closer to fine art.

What’s the maintenance like for a Latex Printer?

With most Latex Printers, maintenance is almost nothing. They’re sort of like a cactus. It’s when you do too much and overwater that there’s a problem. Better to just plug it in and let it sit. Latex Printers can sit for months unattended and be ready to go. Just press a button to “clean” and “print” like no time has passed.

Outside that, once a year you may need to lubricate the carriage rail where the printhead slides across, but that’s a five-minute operation.

What about cleaning?

There’s built in maintenance cycles, so if the power goes out or you’re away from the office too long, they can easily self-sustain. We saw this after the last round of hurricanes in the Virgin Islands. The latex were the only working printers when things came back online.

Basically, there’s a huge advantage in not having to attend to them. They just go into an energy star hibernation mode when they’re not in use, and when you need them, they are ready to go.

How will Latex Printers do while we’re working remotely?

I have a high level of confidence that latex printers will be fine while we’re working from home. Latex Printers have software that monitors everything internally. And that can all be tracked remotely through our Print OS. Owners can see any printer in any location using a tablet or phone. They can see error messages, too.

When the shutdown ends, and solvent folks go back in to get other printers up to spec, I imagine many will need print heads, ink lines, etc. But not the Latex printers. I didn’t lose a single printhead in two months of sitting idle. And Latex print heads are relatively inexpensive – about $125 – and it’s a user replace operation in all cases. It can usually be done in half an hour. That’s compared to the $3,000 cost for some other printer heads and the two weeks of downtime they require while the head is replaced.

Are there times a Latex Printer may require a more robust maintenance or cleaning schedule?

There is a built-in printhead cleaning that is just a push of a button. It takes a couple minutes to clean the heads. And it can be targeted to an individual head as needed. Beyond that, you can take distilled water and lint-free cloth to clean if you’re still not getting results; sometimes something might get stuck to a head, a fiber or similar thing. Otherwise, you need to do nothing. Just print. Worst case scenario you replace a printhead, but that is only about a half hour—mostly automatic. But since Latex print heads are so inexpensive, many owners just put a new one in. Some set print heads aside, clean when they have more time, and reuse them in another printer since they’re all universal.

We call it the Businessman’s printer. You can wear your suit and cufflinks while changing the print head, but never have to worry about ink spillage.

What about tactics for a longer than usual shutdown?

We have a one-sheet that tells folks what to do during a long-term shut down. It’s things like putting the orange rubber caps back on the printer heads. But most folks don’t even have those. So with that knowledge, we usually recommend simply leaving the printer alone, letting it be there, and if you can, going in once a week to hit clean and print a test print using all six colors.

Owners might consider taking ink cartridges out, and turning them upside down in case the ink has settled.

It’s really a five-minute cleaning process – tops. It may make recovery a little faster, but most will print as they did before they were left even if you do nothing. Worst case, you may need a new print head, but I just reclaimed all 7 on my machines and I had them all up and running with no printheads replaced in under 2 hours.

What are some early warning signs there’s a potential issue?

Banding means one of two print heads, depending on color, is likely to be out. There’s a tool on our printers called the Optical Drop Detector. It’s a unique HP technology that routinely monitors nozzles on the print head. Every 5th print it activates and checks to make sure there’s no banding. So you’ll always be notified of an image quality problem in advance.

And you can have those notifications sent directly to you. No competitors have anything functioning like that.

Which issues can be solved in-house (like watching an online tutorial) and which require a professional technician?

It’d take some real willful human refusal before there would be a serious issue. But you’d want to throw up white flag if you saw any error messages with a diagnostic code. At that point you’d call the HP support line, tell them what error message you’re getting, and they’d give guidance.

Otherwise, if you’re just rotating the ink box, replacing a printhead, or cleaning the nozzles, you shouldn’t ever really need a tech.

What should you do if you need to move or store your Latex printer?

Depends on the knowledge level of those doing the moving and the space itself.

I’d say at minimum, get two to four strong people. If you’re going down stairs you may need to remove print heads or ink, and clamp off hoses. That could require a service person.

Or, if you’re one of the few who actually saved the printer crate, you can put it back and ship no worries. But your best bet is to get a truck with a lift or ramp then secure your machine to the wall with truck ties and plenty of bubble wrap.

If moving down stairs you may need to defer to a service tech. That’s a different procedure than if you’re securing it in a trailer. Either way, you don’t want much in the way of vibration. It can disrupt the wiring.

Does weather (hot, cold, humidity) impact a latex printer?

Any normal environment is fine. Sub-freezing is less than desirable because of the water-based ink. We’ve seen that in places like Minnesota, when power outages can cause the inks to freeze. Extremes of any cold or heat may impact your printer, but otherwise, no. They’re super resilient.

Is it better to turn your printer off at the end of the day?
Or can turning it on + off have a negative impact?

These are Energy Star printers with a solid-state hard drive that’s resilient to power cycles. After one hour they go into an automatic hibernation state. They waste virtually nothing, so best to leave it the way it is.

Seems clear. Latex Printers are sure to come out of this shut down formidably. There’s an enormous advantage to these little-to-no maintenance machines, especially while so many are working remotely. Or as Tim says, “It’s reassuring to know that when we go back to the office, our Latex Printers will be guns blazing.”

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