No Excuses for Ugly Output – Part I: Imagewriter Innards

By Bill Carver

II Alive Volume 1 Number 0
January/February 1993

If your printouts don’t look quite as good as you’d like them to, do something about it! Simple things like a printer cleanup or a good ribbon can help immensely, and there are also software solutions that can make your printing look its best. In the end, you may decide you need a new printer to replace your ImageWriter- today’s latest mode ls make laser-quality output surprisingly affordable. This is the first in a series of articles that will help you get the most out of your current printer and let you know what to look for in a new printer.

If you have an Image Writer II, here are a few simple tips that will keep it running at its peak. Some of the tips will also apply to other printers, although the instructions for removing and cleaning the print head will probably be different for your printer.

Tie A Printer Ribbon …

When your ImageWriter printouts smeared, streaky, or light, try the obvious first: put in a new ribbon. Be sure you’re using good quality ribbons, either Apple’s own brand or a reliable replacement. The reason? Cheap ribbons don’ t have lubricated ink, and these can eventually cause the pins in your print head to stick. Also, good lmageWriter ribbons have a Mobius twist to make sure both sides of the ribbon gets used, but cheaper ones only use one side.

If you re-ink your ribbons, be sure to check the physical condition of the ribbon before each re-inking. Some ribbons can be rein ked dozens of times; the cheaper ones fall apart after only one or two re-inkings. Again, make sure you’re using lubricated ink. If you don’t have a re-inker, you can often extend the life of a dying ribbon by spraying it with WD- 40. Let the ribbon stand for a day or so before trying to use it. Naturally, this also takes care of the lubrication problem.

Use one ribbon for everyday printing and set one aside for “Sunday best.” That way, you always have a virtually unused ribbon handy. When the “best” ribbon begins to get light, start using it as your everyday ribbon and rotate a new or reinked ribbon into service as your “best” ribbon.

Routine Maintenance

Here are a few things you can check frequently to keep your printer in top condition. Take the top off the printer and look inside. Are there any foreign objects in it? Many printers accumulate little paper circles from paper in which the tractor-feed holes aren’ t completely punched. (You can avoid this by getting better paper.) If there’s a lot of dirt or dust, use a small vacuum to suck it out, or a can of air to blow it out.

Next, check the paper thickness lever- the black lever inside the printer on the right side of the platen (the big rubber roller). When you’re using only a single sheet of paper in your printer, the lever should be all the way up. Otherwise, you may get light or streaked output. (By the way, you can use this lever to intentionally create “pastel” printing with a color ribbon. Just push it all the way down for lighter colors.)

If you notice light streaks of ink at the edges of your page, you may need a new paper guide. The paper guide is the small piece of clear plastic with an oval cut through the middle just in front of the print head. It keeps just the right amount of tension on the ribbon so the ribbon touches the paper only when the pins are extended. Over time, the guide may become torn. This will eventually prevent the ribbon from being pulled away from the paper and will cause streaks to appear wherever the print head moves. You can probably get a new paper guide from your Apple dealer- but you’ll have to remove the print head to get it out. Read on for instructions on removing the print head.

Check Your Print Head

If you notice thin horizontal white lines through your printouts, one of the pins in your print head may be stuck. Cleaning the print head is a fairly easy operation, but a mistake can be costly – new print heads cost about $150. If you’re not confident about your abi lity to perform this operation, take your ImageWriter to an Apple dealer for repair. With that warning, here’s how to do it.

First, remove the top from the printer. Take out the ribbon so you have free access to the print head. Gently slide the carriage all the way to the right side of the printer. Find the white plastic lever to the right of the print head. With your left hand, grasp the print head by its base-the large cylinder toward the front of the printer-and bend the plastic lever to the right just enough to free the print head. You’ ll need to pull on the print head with a good amount of force to get it out, but it should be no harder than removing an interface card from one of the slots in your computer. Do not rock the print head, and be very cautious not to break off the curved plastic piece that’s attached to the front of the head.

Now that the print head is out of the printer, it’s time to clean and lube it. Look at the front of the head and find the print wires- a small square with nine smaller squares in a vertical line. Spray the wires with WD40 at close range. (Make sure you have a piece of newspaper ready to catch the drips!) If the print head is still badly encrusted with debris, dip the pins in rubbing alcohol for a couple of minutes, let them dry for a few moments, then spray them again. Do not rub or brush the pins; they are very easily bent.

Now remove the paper guide. Usi ng a small magnetized screwdriver, remove the two gold screws that hold the guide in place. If you drop the screws into the printer, you’ll have to go to an Apple dealer to get them back out, so be careful!

Hold the guide in front of a piece of white paper. Is the oval perfect, or do you see tears around the edges? if it’s torn, take it to your local Apple dealer. While Apple dealers generally don’ t give out service parts, many will sell you a paper guide, figuring that if you got the print head out, you can probably get it back in too. The guide should only cost a couple of dollars.

Now it’s time to re-install the paper guide (the old one if it’s not damaged, or the new one if you had to replace it). Screw it back into place, but don’t tighten the screws yet. Pull the paper thickness lever all the way down, then push the paper guide forward as far as it’ll go, and then push the paper thickness lever all the way back up. This makes sure the guide is in the right place. Now tighten the screws-they should be snug, but not so tight that the guide is cracked.

Finally, replace the print head itself. This step is tricky, so be careful. The carriage should still be on the right side of the printer. Align the print head circuit board with the socket which holds it and push the print head to the right to bend the white lever. When it’s all lined up, gently push down and jiggle the print head into place. When it’s fully seated, the white lever will spring back into place.

Don’ t put your ribbon back yet. Load some paper into the printer and run the self test without the ribbon. Press the form feed button and turn on the power. After the carriage has moved to the center of the platen, release the form feed button and the self-test will begin. Run the self-test until the printer no longer leaves any ink on the paper, then turn off the printer. This makes sure any leftover gunk ends up on the paper instead of in your ribbon.

Now replace the ribbon and run the self test again. The letters should be clearly formed, without any white horizontal streaks. If you still see streaks, try another ribbon; if the problem persists, you may need a new print head. New and used print heads are available from a number of companies, so you can do the replacement yourself, or you can let your Apple dealer do it.

If everything is running smoothly, be proud of the wonderful work you’ve done and the money you’ve saved!

Coming Up

In the next installment of this series, I’ II explain how the Apple Ilgs printer drivers interact with your fonts. This knowledge will help you format your documents to take full advantage of your printer’s maximum resolution. We’ll also investigate how scalable fonts can improve your printouts and save disk space. See you then!

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