Prevent Printer Head Cleaning with Automation (Podcast 448)

Prevent Printer Head Cleaning with Automation (Podcast 448)

Today we’re going to take a look at how to create a fully automated scheduled printer workout to prevent printer head cleaning, after periods when the printer was not used, to avoid having the printer throw away large amounts of ink.

When I first bought my Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6350 24″ wide large format printer, I was really impressed with how seldom it had to clean its print heads. At least until Canon did some maintenance on the printer, and changed the main board, essentially upgrading it to a newer version. Since then, whenever I print after not printing for more than 7 days, my printer insists on running at least one, but often more than one print head cleaning jobs, throwing ink away, which can be an expensive deal.

Printer Head Cleaning Message

Printer Head Cleaning Message

To stop it from doing this, I created an image that when printed gives the print heads a workout, and I found that if I printed that file at least once a week, before the 7 day count was up, the printer would not clean its heads anywhere near as often. The problem remained though, that if I was away on a tour, or simply so busy that I forgot to print the workout image, I would still be faced with the head cleans.

So, I set about the task of automating the process. I have an iMac in my studio that is always on, so I initially tried to use the built in Automator application in the Mac OS, but it was really difficult to create something that would work without issues, and I was never able to figure out how to make the job run automatically at scheduled times.

Eventually, I bought Keyboard Maestro, and in less than an hour was able to figure out how to schedule my print job to run at 8:30am every Tuesday and Friday morning, and it’s been running flawlessly, so I’m going to share what I did with you today, in the hope that it will help if you need to do something similar.

Unfortunately, Keyboard Maestro is only available for the Mac, so if you are a Windows user, please just use this information to help build something similar, but I don’t have any recommendations on tools etc. Similar, if you don’t use Lightroom, this might not be as useful, but hopefully provide you with ideas.

The Printer Workout Image

First, let’s take a look at how I built my printer workout image, and my thinking behind it. In Photoshop, I created a file that is almost 24″ wide, so that it fills the width of my roll paper. I added both a Gamut Chart and a Granger Chart, and also flipped both charts in a second copy.

My thinking behind this is that I wanted to force every nozzle on the two print heads in my printer to actually spit out some ink. This is why I tried to use every colour, and created an image slightly larger than the height of my print heads. I don’t know exactly how this works in the printer, so I might be missing something, but it’s working for me so far.

MBP Daily Print - Workout Image

MBP Daily Print – Workout Image (Click to download Photoshop PSD (27 MB)

You can download my printer workout image file by clicking on the image (above) and I left each element on their own layer, so you can use this to move them around or create a smaller version for A4 or Letter page size for example. The charts themselves can be easily generated in Photoshop. For information on how to create a Gamut chart and a Granger chart, see this excellent tutorial over on the Luminous Landscape web site.

Create a New Lightroom Catalog

Once you have your printer workout image, you’ll want to create a new Lightroom Catalog that contains only this image. I’ll also share my Keyboard Maestro macro in this post too (below) so if you use the same naming conventions that I state here, it might just work for you straight out of the box.

Go to the Lightroom File menu, and select New Catalog… To make my backups easier, I actually created my catalog inside my Lightroom catalog folder, in a subfolder called “Daily Print”. The Lightroom catalog is usually in your Pictures folder on your Mac. The path would be something like “/Users/YOUR NAME/Pictures/Lightroom/Daily Print”. Call your new Catalog “Daily Print”.

You can see that I started this project thinking that I’d run the print every day, but I later found that this isn’t necessary, and left my file names as they were, so bear with me on this. Once you have your new catalog created, import the Daily Print.psd file or your file if you created your own. You want this catalog to only contain this one file. This is important, because we need to ensure that this image is selected when we use this catalog for the automation.

Set Up Your Print

To make the automation process easier, we’re going to ensure that all of the parameters necessary to print our workout image are set and saved as a print job. Your workout image should be selected in your Daily Print catalog, so go to the Print Module, and set up your paper size. This will vary depending on the size of paper you’ll print to, and the settings will also vary from printer to printer, so you’ll have to figure out a lot of this part on your own.

For example, under Page Setup in the Print Module, I created a custom page size of 8 x 24 inches. I actually don’t need this to be eight inches high, but that’s the smallest page size I can specify, but we’ll work around this later by telling the printer not to print the white space.

8 x 20 inch Custom Paper Size

8 x 20 inch Custom Paper Size

Next, under the Print Settings… I set the paper. In my case, I use very thin Canon Semi-Gloss Photo Paper HG170. I use this very thin media because it has to stay in the printer all the time. If you use thicker media, leaving it in the printer causes it to bend to the shape that it’s fed through the printer at, and then when you start printing, you can get a head strike on the edge of the paper, which can seriously damage your printer. I know this, because it’s happened to me, and I had to have both print heads replaced.

Printer Dialog - Main

Printer Dialog – Main

Note from this dialog (above) that I print at highest print quality, because I always do, and because I want to give the printer a good workout. I also usually turn on Print Preview in this dialog, so that I can check the print before it goes to the printer, but this will be printing while we aren’t even around, so it just makes the automation more difficult, and so I just turn it off.

In the Page Setup dialog, I selected my 24 inch roll paper, and turned on the “No Spaces at Top or Bottom” option. This way, only the areas of the page that have anything to print will actually print. The result is that my printer only uses 2 inches of paper to print this out. This is how we work around the minimum 8 inch page height that we looked at earlier.

Printer Page Setup Dialog

Printer Page Setup Dialog

Back in Lightroom, you’ll need to set your margins and other layout settings, and if you will be printing with an ICC profile, ensure that this is selected, and any other print settings, to match your media etc. and then hit the + button at the top of the Collections panel in the left sidebar of the Lightroom Print Module, and save a Print called “Daily Print”. Don’t put it in a collection or anything.

I actually save a preset with all of these settings in my printer driver, as you can see it’s called “SGP HG170 No Space or Preview”. I don’t think this is necessary, and the name doesn’t matter here. The important thing is that the Print we just saved in Lightroom contains all of this information, including page size and print settings, so whenever we open your Daily Print catalog and go to the print module, then send the shortcut for the print job to actually print the image, it will just work.

Finally, ensure that your print job is selected under the Collections menu, and close Lightroom. If you are going to create your Keyboard Maestro macro from scratch, I recommend that you switch back to your main Lightroom catalog before closing Lightroom, because that’s how you’ll usually be using Lightroom, and we need to cater for that in our macro.

The Keyboard Maestro Macro

I tried a few options to automate this process, but by far the most stable and easy to use is Keyboard Maestro. This is a paid product, current retailing for $36, but in my opinion it’s worth every penny. Not only for this purpose, but you can automate so much else with Keyboard Maestro too. Note that there is currently an issue if you are using Mac OS X Yosemite, and you’ll need to do a bit of a workaround to add Accessibility control to Keyboard Maestro, but easy to follow instructions are available in their forum, and this will hopefully be solved soon anyway, so this may not affect you.

Note too that as far as I can see, the trial version of Keyboard Maestro that you can download is pretty much fully functional. I created my macro entirely using an unlicensed version, and then bought a license once I was sure I could make this work.

Once you have Keyboard Maestro installed, I recommend that you watch the short tutorial to get an idea of how to build a simple macro, but then let’s take a look at how to build our Daily Print macro. I created a Group called MBP Macros to put this in, and then hit the + button at the bottom of the Macros sidebar as we see here (below).

Give your new Macro a name, and hit the + button at the bottom of the right pane, and you’ll basically go through and add each Action from the various groups of Actions on the left. I’ve created this simple breakdown of what I added. I’ll quick run through this (in the audio) but it will be easier to follow these instructions with the below screenshot and instructions.

Keyboard Maestro Screenshot

Keyboard Maestro Screenshot

The only thing that caught me out as I got used to using Keyboard Maestro was selecting the days on which I wanted to macro to run. I tried setting a time a few minutes into the future and what I thought was selecting the day, but the macro wasn’t running. I started looking through the documentation and couldn’t find anything, and then I realised that every day is selected by default. When you click a day you are actually deselecting it. This makes the day paler than the selected days, so you can see that I have set this macro up to run at 8:30am on Tuesdays and Fridays.

I’m running it twice a week, because once a week is right on the limit of 7 days which forces my printer to run the head cleaning process. I have this run before I’m generally in my studio, so that I’m unlikely to be actually using Lightroom when it runs, and because we set our catalog back to our main catalog after printing our workout image, it doesn’t require any action when we start to work on the computer again later in the day.

A few other things to note are that I left “with” pulldown when I open the Lightroom catalogs as “Default Application” because Lightroom catalogs will usually be automatically set to open in Lightroom, so this will help to reduce the amount of tweaking that our macro will need whenever a new version of Lightroom is released.

Rename Your Main Lightroom Catalog

Similarly, it’s a good idea to name your main Lightroom catalog something more generic too. Usually Lightroom creates a catalog with the version number included, like “Lightroom 5 Catalog”, but you can name this anything you want, even an existing catalog.

Just go to the folder where your Lightroom catalog is saved, and rename the “Lightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat” file (or whatever version we’re at when you read this) and also ensure that you rename your “Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata” file to the same filename, but with “Previews” on the end. I have my catalog just named “Lightroom Catalog.lrcat” and my previews file is called “Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata”.

Because we don’t actually call Lightroom 5 by name, unless the functionality changes greatly in a future version, we should have a relatively future proofed macro here as well.

My Macro

If you would like to just download my Macro and give that a try, click here, and let me know how it goes. I will not be supporting this as such, but if my macro helps you to get started with this, that’s great. The only thing that you will definitely have to change is the path to your Lightroom catalogs. Other than this, it might just work, and I’d be grateful if you’d let me know how you get on in the comments below this post.

If you do have any questions, enter then as comments too, but again, I am not committing to provide any support for my macro or Keyboard Maestro. I’ll help if I can, as time allows, and for general Keyboard Maestro help, you’ll need to visit their web site.

Leaving Your Printer Turned On

Before we finish I should also say that this is possible because I leave my printer turned all the time. In fact, with many large format printers, you are supposed to leave them turned on, and they go into standby mode after a predetermined time. You leave them on, because they wake themselves up periodically to agitate the inks, to stop them from clogging. Because of this, when my macro sends the print job to the printer, it automatically wakes up, then an hour after it’s workout, goes back to sleep again until I use it, or until the next workout job is sent.

And it hopefully goes without saying, but unless you are having problems with your printer cleaning its heads too often, you probably don’t need to do this, and if your printer doesn’t have the ability to be left in standby mode etc. then you may not be able to use this method anyway. Please check all of these things out before spending too much time, or any money, trying to make this work.

In Closing

OK, so there you have it. I was very impressed with Keyboard Maestro, and the ease of use. If this helps you out, that’s great. If you are on Windows or don’t use Lightroom, then I hope this has at least given you some ideas if you need to do something similar. Good luck!

Namibia 2015 Date Change

Before we close, I’d also like to let you know that my Namibia Full Circle Tour next year with Jeremy Woodhouse has had a slight date change, but is going ahead, from August 10 to 26, and there are now only a few places left. If you’d like to join Jeremy and I in that magical corner of Africa, visit for details, and if you book your spot, please let Jeremy know that you heard about the tour from me. Or drop me a line if you have any questions or concerns.

Namibia Full Circle Tour Aug 10-26 2015

Show Notes

Click here to download my Printer Workout Image

Download my Keyboard Maestro Macro:

Keyboard Maestro:

Gamut and Granger Chart Tutorial on Luminous Landscape:

Music by Martin Bailey


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