Epson Stylus C64 Printer Do-It-Yourself
Maintenance Tips

Please note: This information is accurate to the best of my knowledge, but I'm providing it with no warranty or guarantee. I'm not responsible for any damages or losses you might experience from its use. Use it at your own risk.

Much of this information applies to all Epson printers which use Durabrite (pigmented) ink, though I have experience only with the Stylus C64.

The site Fix Your Own Printer is very helpful, especially the forums.

A great way to use inexpensive ink is to convert your printer to use external ink tanks with tubes running to the print head. There are kits you can buy.

Everything I know about the C64 printer is on this page, so please don't ask me questions. But, if you have suggestions or comments, feel free to E-mail me.

Refilling the Cartridges

Refilling the cartridges is more difficult than with other printers, but well worth it. Quality, pigmented refill ink is about one eighth as expensive as retail Epson cartridges. Printer ink is a total scam. The only reason Epson gets away with it is because they own the patent on the piezoelectric ink jet print head.

You'll need a cartridge chip re-programmer to make the printer read the refilled cartridges as full. They're available from Atlantic Inkjet for ten dollars US. You just press the little device to the chip on the back of the cartridge and it resets it in a few seconds.

The pigmented ink from Atlantic Inkjet works very well and does not clog the head. I've run several black and color cartridge-fulls through my printer now with no problems. (I'm not being paid to make this endorsement.) It costs about two dollars to refill one cartridge. There is cheaper ink available, but one cheap type clogged my head, which is how I figured out how to clean it. Pigmented ink is colored by microscopic particles rather than soluble chemicals. The tiny specks of pigment produce rich color more easily, don't fade as quickly in sunlight, and are more water resistant.

You can buy a set of refillable cartridges from the ink suppliers, but I've figured out how to refill the original Epson cartridges. The cartridges use internal siphons, so you must remove all the air from the cartridge in order for the ink to flow out. The trick is to fill the cartridge up-side-down.

You'll need some flexible tubing and a couple of barbed hose connectors which fit snugly into the outlet of the cartridge. Both are available from many hardware stores. You'll also need a large, plastic syringe, at least 4 inches long and 3/4 inch in diameter. You can buy them from ink suppliers, but I've found that a cooking syringe from the grocery store works just fine. You'll also need distilled water to clean your equipment, also available from the grocery store.

Look at the bottom of the cartridge. You'll see three circles to the rear of the cartridge behind the raised outlet. The one at the back, nearest the chip, is a valve which opens a vent when the cartridge is installed in the printer. Be very careful to not damage it. The two other circles cover holes into the cartridge. Cut the grey plastic out of the front-most hole (the one closest to the outlet) with a razor blade or X-Acto knife.

Use waterproof "2 ton" epoxy to glue a barbed hose connector to a bar of scrap plastic or metal with a hole drilled in it. Buy (or cut from a wide rubber band) a rubber washer to fit between this bar and the cartridge. Use a rubber band to hold the bar tightly against the cartridge over the hole you cut. You will inject the ink into the bottom of the up-side-down cartridge through this connector.

Put a hose barb onto the end of another tube and press it into the outlet of the cartridge. Cut a couple of notches into the end of the barb so ink can flow out sideways when it's pressed against the valve. If it's snug, it'll hold the valve open. You can hold it in with your hand during filling if necessary. Put the other end of the tube into your ink bottle. The air and ink will flow out of the cartridge through this tube into your ink bottle so you don't waste any ink.

The photo shows a magenta cartridge hooked up and ready to be filled.

Fill your syringe with ink, hold it above the cartridge with the tip down, and slowly inject it into the cartridge. Rock the cartridge from side to side and tap it on the table to help get all the air to flow out. Inject the whole syringe through the cartridge to be sure all the air has been flushed out.

When you disconnect the tube from the outlet of the cartridge, lift it up so the ink will flow out of the tube by gravity into your ink bottle rather than out onto the cartridge.

Seal the hole with a small screw or a rubber plug held in by cellophane tape. Or you can put a ring of hot melt glue around the hole and press a thin piece of plastic onto it, then tape the plastic down. It breaks off easily. There isn't much clearance inside the print head, so be sure your plug doesn't stick out too much. I don't think it's a good idea to simply tape over the hole because the glue on the tape might dissolve into the ink and clog the head.

When you're done, use tap water to rinse all the ink out of the syringe, tubes, and connectors. Then use distilled water (available from any grocery store) in a final rinse to get rid of the tap water. It's important to use distilled water because the minerals dissolved in tap water and regular bottled water will clog the head. Remove the plunger from the syringe. Blow the water out of the tubes without putting your mouth on them. (You don't want any saliva in them.) Let everything air dry.

Keeping the Jets Unclogged

To keep the jets unclogged when you don't use the printer much, you should turn it on at least once a week and print a jet test pattern. If some jets are clogged, print the pattern every day until it clears up or the printer runs an automatic cleaning cycle. If you need to use the printer, you can just run a manual cleaning cycle, obviously.

You should never print with clogged jets. You'll get bands in the printout of course, but you can also damage the head. The piezoelectric print head of the Epson printers isn't as susceptible to damage from dry printing as the thermal ink jet (a.k.a. bubble jet) heads of other printer brands, but it still isn't a good idea. If you haven't used the printer for more than a day, you should print a jet test pattern before doing any printing to be sure no jets have become clogged.

Sideways Shooting Jets

Even if you keep the jets unclogged, if the printer isn't used much, the jets can start shooting sideways. This also causes bands in the printout. Even though all the jets are firing, you can see that the lines in the jet test pattern aren't exactly straight, both the diagonal line and the shorter, straight line. It can get so bad that one jet's line will be in the same place as its neighbor. If you print in "normal" mode, the bands are most obvious. I've found that neither cleaning cycles nor manual cleaning will help with this problem. But I've gotten the jets to straighten out by printing a few solid pages of the color with the problem using the "best photo" mode. You can use a paint program to make an image with just the troublesome color, and print it full page. (Yellow is maximum red and green with zero blue, magenta is maximum red and blue with zero green, and cyan is maximum blue and green with zero red.) Two or three pages printed like this use less ink than a cleaning cycle, and only use up the color of ink which has the problem. Only do this to clear up crooked jets, never clogged jets.

The little black squeegee on the left side of the cleaning carriage should be wiped clean periodically with ammonia on a Q-tip. If it gets gummed up with dried ink, the jets won't be wiped off properly. I suspect this contributes to the sideways shooting jet problem.

Manually Cleaning the Print Head

Poor quality refill ink can clog up the print head and no amount of cleaning cycles will clear it. But it isn't difficult to manually flush out the print head. The trick is to suck the bad ink out backwards with a syringe.

First, be sure that your problem really is clogged jets. An improperly refilled cartridge which isn't delivering any ink to the head will cause similar symptoms. If cleaning cycles make it worse, it's probably a cartridge problem.

Mix up a cleaning solution of about one part ammonia to five parts distilled water (both available at any grocery store). It's important to use distilled water because the minerals dissolved in tap water and regular bottled water will clog the head.

Some people recommend pulling the power cord out of the printer while the head is in motion so it will be unlocked and moveable by hand. If you do this, the printer will automatically run a fairly heavy cleaning cycle the next time it's powered up. This wastes ink.

The locked print head can be unlocked easily with a flat blade screwdriver. There's a little white plastic catch at the back of the head on the left which can be pushed toward the back of the printer to release the head. When you're ready to power the printer back up, push the head all the way to the right and pull the catch forward again with your screwdriver. Move the head left again to be sure the catch is positioned properly and stops it. Position the head in the middle of its range of movement to prevent the cleaning cycle. The printer will not detect that it's been tampered with.

Place a strip of folded paper towel at the bottom of the space where the print head moves and slide the print head onto it. Get a syringe from an ink supplier or the grocery store and put a clear, flexible tube on it which fits snugly on the little spikes in the base of the print head which pierce the cartridges. Remove the cartridges and slip the end of the tube over the little nipple of the clogged color. Suck as much ink out of the head as you can until you see bubbles in the tube. Draw the plunger out only enough to get the ink flowing out of the head. You don't want to use any more pressure than necessary or you could damage the print head. Remove the tube from the head and flush it and the syringe with distilled water.

Suck about an inch of air into the syringe and then fill the rest with cleaning solution. Inject the solution into the head slowly and gently by pressurizing the air in the syringe to about 2/3 its original volume. Take your time. Get a couple of cubic centimeters of solution through the head and then suck it back out again until you see bubbles in the tube. Repeat this a couple of times with the same solution, then repeat it with clean solution and a new strip of paper towel several times until no more ink comes out.

Finally, suck all the cleaning solution out of the head and do an injection and sucking with pure distilled water to remove all the ammonia. Laundry ammonia probably isn't very pure, so it's best to get it all out.

Remove the paper towel, re-install the ink cartridges, lock the head, power up the printer, and run a cleaning cycle or two. All the jets should be clear again. If they're not, then they may be permanently burned out.

I used this method successfully when about a third of my black jets were clogged by cheap refill ink.

General Error

When the printer driver reports a "general error" and the two red lights on the printer start flashing, it usually means there's something wrong with the movement of the print head. It's most often caused by a paper jam. But it can also be caused by the white lever on the front of the cleaning carriage getting gummed up with sticky ink. This will prevent it from dropping down fully. It's outlined in red in the photo.

The problem is easily fixed by cleaning the lever with ammonia on a Q-tip. Ammonia is available at any grocery store in the laundry section. Keep cleaning the sides and grooves on and around the lever until it drops down properly. You can test the movement as you clean it. Press toward the right side of the printer at the red X with a screwdriver to move the carriage to the right and up into the locked position. The white lever will come up and lock. You can then release the carriage by pressing the tip of the lever to the left. When the lever drops all the way down by gravity alone, and can't be pushed any lower, it's clean.

Waste Ink Pad Counter

After as little as 2 years of normal use, or sooner if you have to run lots of cleaning cycles, the C64 will stop working and the driver will say "service required" and "Parts inside your printer are at the end of their service life." This is the dreaded "protection counter" or "waste ink counter" error. There's an absorbent pad at the bottom of the printer which soaks up the ink which is sucked out of the print head during cleaning. This pad will eventually get full, and ink will start leaking out of the bottom of the printer. The counter prevents this. (Of course, since it shuts the printer down without any warning, and can not be overridden, it will also prevent you from printing your term paper which is due in 15 minutes.)

When you get this error, the printer is essentially worthless because it doesn't make economic sense to pay to have it serviced. It's better to just buy a new printer. I'm not the only one who believes that this is yet another scam by Epson to sell more printers.

It's possible to replace or clean the pad yourself, but you'll need the service utility to reset the waste ink counter in the printer. It's now available for free. The C63/C64/C83/C84 service manual is available for free in PDF format, and contains detailed disassembly instructions with lots of photos, though the translation could be better. (How much could it possibly cost to have a native English speaker edit these things?)

You can reset the counter and keep running the printer without replacing the pad. Just make sure that nothing will be damaged if it starts leaking. Sitting the printer in a shallow pan or on some newspapers is a lot less expensive than buying a new one.

You can see the waste ink pad and get an idea of its condition. Move the print head to the right as far as it goes and look straight down into the deepest part of the printer. Beyond a kind of black, plastic cage you'll see some black felt. You can poke at it a bit with a long, thin tool to see how stiff or saturated it is.

It may be possible to wet the pad and then suck the ink out of it with a syringe and tube without having to disassemble the printer, but I haven't tried this yet. It may be easier than disassembling the printer, and it's certainly less likely to damage it.

The waste ink runs to the pad through a tube. I'm sure it's possible to re-route and extend this tube outside the printer to a container. If you're going to take the printer apart to clean the pad, it might make more sense to do this instead so you only have to take it apart once.

Copyright 2007, R. Allen Gilliam, all rights reserved
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