In August, I ordered a brand new HP Z3200 Designjet printer. I had spent a considerable amount of time researching this purchase (and comparing it with other options such as the Epson 7900) so I was very excited to receive the printer and take advantage of its many features.
The printer didn’t take long to set up and I immediately started making color prints. At first, I didn’t notice anything amiss, but about a week later I noticed some odd defects occuring in the light blues and earthy midtones. Initially, I thought it was posterization caused by the colors being out of gamut but the issue also appeared in black and white images. Figure 1 shows an example of the problem and you can see the odd streaks or bands in the sky which should have a smooth transition from light to dark.
After I noticed the problem, I ran the image diagnostic test which is supposed to print out a solid patch for every color. In the test print, I saw that the light cyan (LC) and light gray (LG) had broad horizontal regions that were lighter in color as shown in Figure 2 and 3.
- The bands of lighter color are completely horizontal and match exactly in the LC and LG patches. I printed the diagnostic over a dozen times and the bands always started and stopped at the exact same locations.
- Running the clean print head routine helped for about 1 diagnostic print and then when I went to print an actual image the banding effect returned.
- The bands appear at different locations on the patches from print to print.
The most puzzling thing about the problem was the matching in the LC and LG patches. The print heads in the Z3200 come in pairs (i.e., one cartridge contains the heads for two colors) but the LC is matched with LM (light magenta) and LG with PK (photo black). At this point I realized there must have been a hardware error and I decided to contact HP Support.
Through HP support, I eventually got my printer fixed. Below, I’ve outlined the basic timeline of my interactions with them.
- 8/21 – I received the printer from Atlex and set it up. I happily printed a dozen or so pictures from my trip to Korea.
- 8/28 – I noticed a problem in the light blues and grays in a few of my prints. After trying to debug the issue myself, submitted an email to HP support
- 8/31 – I hadn’t yet received an email response so I called HP support directly. This was much more helpful and I talked directly with a support staff member. He opened a case number and told me he was going to send a new set of print heads to make sure that wasn’t the problem.
- 9/2 – The new set of print heads arrived. I changed them all but it did not fix the problem.
- 9/3 – I received a response to the email I sent on 8/28. Unfortunately, the answer was not very helpful as it basically said to make sure I was using the right profile and supported paper.
- 9/8 – I spoke again with HP support over the phone. At this time, since they could rule out a problem with the print heads, they thought the issue might be caused by the print carriage. They had one sent by next day delivery to my house.
- 9/11 – First visit by the technician. He had never seen this issue before but thought it unlikely that the problem was caused by the print carriage. He decided to update the firmware, to eliminate it as a possible cause, but unfortunately the printer hung during the process and was not rebootable.
- 9/14 – Second visit by the technician. He replaced the formatter board (which stores the firmware) and got the printer to boot up. This was very quick and was done in a few minutes. However, this did not fix the printing problem and the tech then ran a number of diagnostic tests with a second level support engineer on the phone. They thought the problem might be in the “print mech” or the “main pca board”. I’m not sure of their exact function but they are essentially circuit boards that control the printer.
- 9/18 – The technician changed the print-mech with a new unit. However, this did not solve the problem and the image diagnostic print still had the different bands in the LC and LG patches. He then changed the pca board and thankfully this fixed the problem.
In general, I thought the service provided by HP was reasonably good. Everybody I spoke with was courteous and helpful. However, the entire process took about three weeks, which was much longer than I expected. In the time that my printer was down, I had to send my print orders out to commercial labs instead of handling it myself. While I am happy with the outcome, I think the process could have been faster if (a) HP kept the replacement parts on hand for the technician instead of having them shipped to my house for the next day necessitating another visit and (b) if I had more availability, I could have scheduled the technician to come out sooner and on consecutive days.
The printer is now working and the quality of the prints is terrific. My recommendation if you have a problem is to call HP support directly (emailing was a dud). It was also really helpful to have pictures of the test prints showing the problem when talking to the support staff over the phone.