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Epson Stylus Color 480 SXU Q&A

I love my Epson Stylus Color 480 SXU printer. It's low-cost and quite efficient. Yet it yields some problems on the long term and I had to learn what's written down in this text to go on using it.

What means that silly message "Unknown error. Please shut down the printer and contact your local retailer or service center."?

Your printer did too much print head cleaning. Either you asked for those cleanings or the printer did them by itself. Print head cleaning means a little vacum pump sucks a noticeable quantity of ink from the print head. Like a cow milk machine. The ink pumped away is disposed on a tissue pad on the bottom of the printer. If you clean the heads too much, the ink pad will overflow and ink will start to spill out of the printer. So there is a software counter inside the printer that increases each time you ask for a print head cleaning (or whatever event that leads ink towards the pad). Once the counter reaches its maximum, which means the ink pad may be soaked up, the printer stops working, yields that "unknown error" and asks for servicing.

The printer simply stopped printing. I tried to understand the problem, look for the ink levels, check the wires... The printer seems simply broken. What's happening?

Maybe your printer is broken. But most probably you have the problem listed in previous question. Yet without the silly error message.

I opened the printer. But where is that ink pad?

It's on the bottom of the printer. Since the pad is soaked in ink it's black just like the printer bottom. That makes it difficult to notice. If you're in front of the printer, with the paper output towards you, the ink pad is on the right side of the printer, on the bottom, surrounded by thin plastic walls.

I did replace the ink pad. But the printer is still stuck.

You need to reset the software ink pad counter inside the printer. You can do that with the appropriate Epson software. for USB printers (thanks to Gaby for pointing this out). Using Windows, install and start the program. (By the way, don't use the pop-up window that appears, it is bugged. Use the program's main menus.) Please note this program is for Windows 98. It doesn't operate with Windows 2000 or XP. A reader reported it did the job on Windows Me and I confirm. Possibly go to a friend who still operates Windows 98. (This program seems to be OK too for USB Epson 580 printers.) for parallel printers (many thanks to Sônia for this one). Kevin send me the address of a program that should work with Windows XP: . This is the procedure to use the software epson10281.exe (under Windows 98 or Me):

I'm willing to replace the ink pad but how do I open the printer?

You just need to remove two honest little screws. One is located on the backside of the printer just aside of the power plug. To get the other one you must open the print cover. It is screwed in vertically, near the front of the printer, on the side of the print head rest array. No other screws need to be removed and that could be dangerous.

I don't have a replacement ink pad. What then?

Personally I didn't remove it. I just soaked the ink away by pressing lots of kitchen paper against the pad. I'm carefully soaking up the ink since years now, everytime I reset the printer counter. No problem. Once the ink is well soaked up the pad becomes a little lighter colored. Julie sent in this advice: "Instead of trying to clean the ink pads, I removed them and replaced them with felt which I cut to size using the original ink pads as a template.  The original pads are made of felt.  I had the exact same thickness at home so there wasn't a problem. Felt can be bought in most craft shops. If it's not possible to find the exact thickness of felt, one could use several layers to make up the thickness or simply replace the pads more often. Thick blotting paper should also work.".

Hey! I put back the cover on the printer and switch it on. I heard awfull noises and shocks.

Probably you didn't put the cover back correctly. It's hard to adjust neatly. Make an effort. If you can screw the two screws back in it should be OK. I leave my printer unscrewed but I carefully check I put the cover correctly back above the printer.

I went to the retailer or sent a mail to Epson. They responded my printer is broken, repairing it would cost $60 and it's less expensive I buy a new printer.

They're lying. Most probable is the printer has the ink pad counter reset problem. I don't know if the technician you talked to knows the printer is very easy to restore. I don't know if he knows he's lying to you or if he just echoes Epson's lies. Anyway that's not a cool situation.

I poured distilated water into old cartridges to test all this out without spending the price of a new printer buying ink cartridges. But I get no printing. Is my printer broken?

No. The problem is clear water is not appropriate for the print heads. I suppose it needs to contain some chemical component that changes its fluid properties. Clear water seems OK to do print head cleaning, because it can be pumped away just like ink. But you cannot print. Maybe use low-cost replacement ink (I encountered problems doing this).

Is it best to use genuine Epson cartridges?

Bulk low-cost cartridges usually print with slightly less quality. But this is OK for most people and bulk cartridges are up to two times less expensive than Epson cartridges. If you use dedicated ink jet printer paper you will get an excellent result anyway. Such paper is just slightly more expensive than normal paper. The problem with some bulk cartridges is they may make you need to clean the print head more often. Which means soaking in the ink pads...

Then what about pouring low-cost replacement ink inside the cartridges?

I used an ink that was explicitely listed as adequate for my Epson 480 SXU printer. I printed lots of sheets with that ink. Yet I encountered a from once in a while: the ink stops flowing and I have to wait hours or even days till I can get back normal printings.  I know there are different kinds ok inks. I once almost destroyed a printer by pouring ink from another type of printer. Some stores sell one sole type of ink, they pretend to be suitable for every inkjet printer. I'm convinced that's false. Now, if you can get hold of an ink that is realy suited for your specific printer and you don't mind having your fingers colored, I think there is nothing wrong with that. Bear in mind the ink is a little toxic. The very problem with this technique is the printer has no way to check the ink level inside the cartridge. Each time you replace a cartridge the printer assumes that cartridge is full. Then the printer counts each time ink is pumped from the cartridge. When the printer tells you the cartridge is empty it simply calculated the cartridge should be empty by now. This means several things. First, the cartridge will not be completely empty. There is a margin. Second, should you refill the cartridges without removing the cartridges, by opening the printer, you must make a cartridge replacement sequence anyway. Just a fake one, without touching the cartridges. So the ink counter is reset and the printer considers the cartridge is full. Third and most important, if you don't pour the maximum quantity of ink inside a cartridge, the printer will be misleaded about the quantity of ink. So a while after you will get a half-printed paper. Because the printer thinks there is ink left although the cartridge is empty. This can cost you a lot of ink to clean the heads and get them print correctly back again. If you want to get a chance to have the cartridges refilled to their maximum, let the cartridge rest a while, upright, and try to add a little more ink.

Can I force the printer to use the ink of a cartridge up completely by making a fake cartridge replacement?

Indeed. Just tell the printer you want to replace the cartridge. Follow the whole procedure but don't tough the cartridge. The cartridge will be assumed to be full and the printer will go on printing. But this may be a bad practice. You will get an ugly half-printed page soon and ink will dry up on the print head if you don't put in a full cartridge back in. Besides you may need one or more print head cleanings to restore proper functioning and this will be expensive.

I *must* go on printing and I don't have a replacement cartridge.

A solution I used successfully is to fill the cartridge back up with distillated water. It will mix up with the remaining ink and still print and acceptable way. This can only be done once of course and is not guaranteed to work. Pouring in distillated water a second time will make the water too clear to allow the print heads to operate. The water won't even be projected on the paper.

The local store no more sells Epson 480 ink cartridges. What then?

I tried to fill old cartridges back up with the ink of bulk low cost cartridges for Epson 400 printer. It was OK but the print quality was not perfect. Currently I simply buy in refill bottles and I poor the ink inside the cartridge with a seringue. I don't even remove the cartridge from the printer. Just prick as deep as possible trough a whole situated near the center of the top face of the cartridge and gently push the seringue piston till ink starts flowing through the air inlet labyrinth. Then I remove the seringue needle, wipe the ink away and put a small piece of tape to close back the center whole. Beware no to close the entrance of the air inlet labyrinth, situated on the upper surface of the cartridge too, opposite to the paper tray. (I encountered problems with that ink: the printer stops projecting ink on the paper surface and I have to wait hours or days till it prints again. So I bought a bulk ink cartridge from "Pelikan". It seems to be fine I need more time to check this out.)

I didn't print much, neither did I make print head cleanings. Yet my cartridges are empty. What's that?

Each time you turn the computer off or the printer on, the printer will start a park sequences that spills a little ink. People who print a lot will hardly notice it. But if you print a sheet of paper in a while and you switch the power on and off often most of the ink will be lost that way. I don't print a lot so I simply unplug the USB cable from the printer. That way the printer no more can know the computer is switched off. I plug it back in next time I need to print. My current computer motherboard has two different sets of USB ports. One of them keeps delivering power when the computer is shut down (but the mains still plugged in). So I plugged the printer on one of those ports.

I did thorough print head cleanings and nozzle checks. Yet nozzles keep inactive. Is my print head broken?

Maybe. But most probably the problem arises because ink is dripping underneath the print head. Or because air bubbles are present inside the ink ducts. I don't understand this problem very well. Just wait. I once had to wait half a day. The nozzles will reactivate slowly, the one after the other. Printing or cleaning won't help, just spill ink. Simply wait.

Did Epson design the Epson 480 printer in order to make it spill a lot of ink and tend to force me buy genuine Epson cartridges?

I don't know. That's what would make me go out buy a HP printer. But the Epson 480 really is a good printer. And it can be refilled more easily with low-cost ink. So I use the tricks mentioned on this page and everything's fine.

Did Epson put a software timebomb inside the printer to force people to buy another printer one month after the warranty voids?

That undocumented ink pad problem and the associated software ink counter clearly looks like a timebomb. Sort of a legal timebomb. Clever design. Some users go back to their retailer once every few months to have the problem fixed and pay quite a money. Well, if you can handle these problems yourself, like people who repair their old car themselves, go on using your Epson 480 printer. Otherwise maybe better buy a more expensive Epson printer. Or a HP printer. And give your Epson 480 printer to me.

Can I use my Epson 480 printer with Linux?

Yes. Basically there are two ways to do so. All recent major Linux releases propose you to use the CUPS printing system and that system is capable of driving the 480 printer. On some Linux releases like Mandrake, the printer can be configured using the standard printers management tools. Debian Sarge forced me use the "foomatic" print tools. The results are quite good. The other way round is to install the good old LPR (or LPRng) printing system instead of CUPS and to install the genuine Linux printer drives from Epson Japan This needs a little Linux knowledge but the result is great. You get maximum print speed and full printer control. On a Fedora Core 1 I used CUPS to print. Standard speed is acceptable, the result is perfect for text and good for pictures. To get pictures at their best I need the high quality setting but then the printing is utterly slow. I had the Epson Japan drivers installed but just to use the pips-sc480 software to control the ink levels and ink replacement. Recent Mandrake Linux releases contain a software to control Epson printers ink levels, make nozzle checks, clean the print heads... The SuSE 9.1 release prints neatly provided I use only the SuSE and KDE interfaces towards CUPS. The default print mode is fast but coarse so I tuned in a quality mode. Some releases, like recent Mandrake or Mandriva, provide tools to change the ink cartridges, print test patterns and the like.

Hey, I suddenly got a massive paper jam!

The paper feed technology of the Epson 480 printer seems fine to me. I never got a paper jam or even just two sheets of paper taken together. Except once, when I hadn't print for a few months. The paper in the vertical paper tray had slowly curved away to perfectly match the tray curvature. Then I got into trouble: often two sheets taken at the same time. I tried to separate the paper sheets like you do when loading copier paper but it didn't help. Turning the paper pack upside down or reverse just resulted in difficulties for the printer to load the paper sheets. Then one day the whole load of ten sheets was loaded at once by the printer. That time it really made awful noises. I had to tear away the paper block and pull out the printer mains. I feared the printer was broken or that I should repair it like I used to do with the paper load system of old HP deskjet printers. But I simply put new fresh sheets of paper in the tray and everything was OK. The conclusion is you shouldn't leave paper sheets for months in the paper tray. Put them aside the printer or replace them with new paper sheets.


Eric Brasseur  -  February 26 2003  till  October 30 2005