Epson 3800 print head problem

Note: If you arrive at this page directly from a web search, please see also my more recent adventure with the Epson 3880, which has given me the same exact problems.


I just found out that my Epson 3800 printhead is likely dead, once again, and I will need to get it repaired (not cheap, but still ~1/2 price from getting a new printer). Frankly, at this point buying a new machine is probably a better idea: it costs $650 for repair at Epson, versus $1300 for a new 3880. However, the repair doesn’t give a whole new set of ink cartridges, which run at about $550 by themselves…

Epson says that my printer problem is unusual, and that they have seen it only on a single other 3800 machine so far: my black ink (PK) tank emptys itself in less than a week, even without any printing. Not recognizing this problem right away, I went through several PK cartridges… To compound the problem, this issue is not showing up in the ink counter, which shows the cartridge to be nearly full!  I went through 3 PK ink tanks before really understanding the problem. There was no apparent leak anywhere in the printer or around it. In fact, the maintenance tank eventually also became full, demonstrating that the ink was somehow getting leaking through the nozzles (Epson said this is very odd and very unlikely). Thankfully, Epson replaced the “summarily” emptied ink tanks since I had luckily kept them: Epson was able to verify that the tanks are showing full with the electronic ink counters. In any case, prints coming out with this printer issue are too dark and have excess black ink drops depositing on the paper. Not good!!!

UPDATE:  The printer ended up going to an electronics recycling company. Thanks to the $400 Epson in effect last September, I was able to get a new Epson 3880 for $750. It has been printing like a champ since then, and I make sure to run at least a weekly printout through it to keep the heads clean and the cartridge tanks shaken to avoid settling in of the pigmented inks.


30 thoughts on “Epson 3800 print head problem

    • I hope that you can resolve it! With the Epson 3880 that I purchased right after, I have had no issue whatsoever (for the past 3 years). I have read somewhere that Epson addressed a number of issues with that latest iteration.

      • Well, look at my update below… My Epson 3880 printer head died a similar death this past April 2014. So the printhead issue must be common, usually with the PK ink cartridge starting to empty suddenly over a few days without showing it through the cartridge’s electronic chip. In fact, I was recently told that this is not a rare occurrence for these printers. However, the Epson 3880 seems much more reliable than other current and past Epson large format printers. I have read online horror stories about the 4900, so the choices are pretty limited. Canon’s printers offer the advantage that their heads can be changed, but they are also expensive, and their printers have other issues.

  1. I have just found this blog. I am hoping you can help me . I have the Epson 3800 and I am having the same problem with pk. Just Bought my 4th cartridge for over 63 dollars each. This one lasted less than a week. I just don’t know what to do. Same exact thing. The printer is reading the cartridge as full. So printer screws up in the middle of production with no warning. I don’t think it is worth paying to fix-
    Any info is appreciated

    • Hi Susan, as it happens, I just had this problem once again with the Epson 3880 that I purchased after my Epson 3800 had that problem. It lasted a little more than 4 years, but recently started having the same issue with the PK ink. This time, I have decided to have the print head replaced, which will cost about $500 plus labor. In my case, however, the labor cost will not be charged because the repair outfit did an initial repair by replacing the pump, but that wasn’t enough. I lost 4 tanks of inks altogether, and after calling Epson, they agreed to send me one free tank (they were reluctant to even do this…)

      I have been told by the repair shop, as well as a sales rep for Atlex, that these printers are very sturdy, but some of them do have that issue. It may be a combination of not using them often enough and/or not have enough moisture in the air for long periods. I have used the printer at least once a week by printing a simple colored sheet of paper to make sure that the nozzles don’t clog (see link in post above). Having these printers leak was the least expected issue, but it’s obviously my main problem with them.

      A new Epson 3880 is about $1200 right now, and the $200 mail-in rebate that Epson had until the end of May has just expired. This is why I chose to repair the printer, which while being very expensive, is still less than purchasing a new printer.

      Hope this helps! If you are in Los Angeles, I recommend bringing it to Ashton Electronics for repair. They are better than the previous outfit I brought the Epson 3800 to…

  2. i’ve heard that there’s a problem with the 3800 regarding the valve that switches back and forth between PK and matte black. the PK cartridge empties but it reads full. i’ve also heard that epson is aware of the problem and is required to fix it, even if the guarantee is expired.

    • Thank you very much Tom for your info. Unfortunately, Epson’s tech support seemed to know nothing about this (not surprising), and the printer has already been repaired. However, I will let the repair company in Los Angeles know about this, hopefully this info could be useful to others in the future.

    • i’ve heard that your problem is one that epson reluctantly has to deal with themselves. i remember reading something about it…maybe on this page? in the case that you do have to purchase a new one there is a replacement now for the 3800.

      • Tom, it was not on this page, but if would be great to find out where this information is available. Epson techs have been less than willing to help, I think that they have hired a bunch of non-tech tech people that wouldn’t care less about dealing with the core of the issues, and simply repeat a script they were provided.

      • yes, now i remember. i got that information from a highly trusted photo dealer in paris, where i live.
        according to them the problem is a design flaw. sorry i can’t be of more help, but if it is indeed so you should be able to get to the bottom of it at epson. best! tom

  3. EXACTLY the same situation here. Photo Black cart is dumping ink, the ink quantity indicator on the printer and the Epson Utility show it to be full, and the yellow output is contaminated with black ink. Ink is pumping into the capping station under the print head, resulting in a continuously fouled print head which means ink globs on the print. This problem started after switching from matt to photo black, as many people have reported.Printer is 4.5 years old. Very discouraging. Up until this point, the printer has been a sterling performer with no problems.

  4. I’m experiencing the same problem with my Epson 3800 – the PK cartridge drains in less than a week and the utility and printer thinks it is full.

    • I’ve written off the PK cartridge. From what i can gather, to repair that problem is a major undertaking, or very expensive to have done.
      The good news is that the MK-Matt Black- seems to work just fine. I cleaned the printhead, the pads, etc., gave all the carts a little shake, ran a couple of regular cleanings, and wow, it’s printing beautifully for several weeks now: no clogs, no ink smears, and wonder of wonders the yellow channel came back strong. MK prints as good as ever. I’ll miss using UltraPrem Luster, but I can live with that.

  5. Pingback: Epson 3880 print head dead again! | The smiling gecko

  6. Same problem here, started a few months ago and took me 2 PK cartridges (and a lot of the other inks in test printing) to spot the problem since the status monitor says the PK cartrigde is nearly full. Hoped to find an easy solution online but reading this blog it seems like there is no such thing.
    I really like the output and small footprint of this printer, what to buy next as nothing seems to compare?

    • I believe that both Epson’s and Canon’s latest printers (as of December 2015) are engineered to address this problem.

      It would be great to hear from anyone visiting this blog whether that is really the case.

      • Well, I have ordered a surecolor p800 right away, should arrive this afternoon. My 3800 is 9 years old and as much as I like it, a costly repair is too much.
        But it will take at least a couple of years to see wether this leaking of ink is also a problem in the p800. AFAK the technology is pretty much the same as in the 3880.

  7. I am/was a happy owner of an Epson 3880. Two years of light duty but regular work and all of a sudden the PK dump issue. It just happened that I was in the middle of delivering a printing job ( galley display for a friend ). I had to rush and pickup a ” pre-owned ” 3880 with low number prints on it. Literally it was running the original set of inks. Yes , you guessed it ! PK dump on this one too just after three A3 prints. WoW !!! maddening this is.
    I believe there are enough cases of identical occurrences for a ” class action ” against Epson. The total denial from the Epson tech is representative of their awareness for possibility of class action lawsuit.
    Let’s do this people.
    BTW, this was the last Epson printer I bought. I’m not going to touch anything Epson with a 10 yard pole. Canon has been making competitive large-format printers with awesome ink management and better drivers. In fact that gallery job was outsourced to a local shop and all 24 prints were printed on a Canon.

      • @coopscapture, there are no solid numbers but from the volume of irate comments on the web one could make educated assumptions. Knowing Japanese culture in general and Japanese industrial culture especially, one could imagine engineers’ heads floating around Tokyo on the account of this disastrous fiasco. Again, considering the events around the brands like ” Olympus ” and now ” Sharp ” anything is possible. We cannot afford being blind and dumb ” FANBOYS “.

        If Epson want me as a customer, they can give me a FREE printer loaded with FREE ink delivered to my office with a three year warranty for average intended usage and a FREE pickup and disposal in case of failure as most of their machines suffer from lately.
        All the bad things said about Epson, my Pro7600 Ultrachrome is still working after few thousand meters of Paper and I’m sure it will continue to function as intended for years to come. Is that considered ” BAD ” for business from the Epsons’ point of view !? Yes and no. When you tally up the Epson Paper and ink that I have paid for ( happily ) and the trust I developed towards Epson based on the quality of that machine, and upgraded printers that I bought as the result of that trust, one would tilt towards the positive effects of industrial longevity, rather than quick cash earnings from producing disposable short life machines.

        Successful strategies for dodging the law for intentional coverup of a flawed product while they continued it’s productions and distribution will serve them as an evil does. Soon the payback will begin, if it hasn’t already.

        I will not be subjected to criminal abuse!

  8. I am in the very fortunate position of having TWO Epson 3880 printers (a long story).

    I use one for PK ink and the other for MK. The PK fault as described above has happened, so should I change over the printers? i.e. change the one I have been using with MK inks to Pk and vice versa?

    • Hi Neil, it may work if the problem is exactly the same. The main issue is that the PK ink tank empties itself while the printer is on standby, so you can leave an empty tank in place. However, the head cleaning routine may not like it and “demand” to be fed with a new cartridge. If you are willing to swap out the new cartridge right after cleaning heads, perhaps that will work.

      • Thanks for the prompt response. However, the PK cartridge is currently showing full, although I have done quite a few prints since fitting the new cartridge. Would that be sufficient to fool the process and allow a head clean?

      • @Neil, Im sure rubbinphoto will chime in and explain the fact that the digital representation for the ink volumes in printers similar to Epson 3800/3880 are just fake. The representation volume is just giving the user ( you ) the impression of how much usage you could be expecting from your cartridges. That graphical ( comical ) representation comes from a countdown routine inside the chip of the cartridge during the normal printing routines. When the ink leaks ( drains ) to the maintenance tank as the result of design flaw, that chip does not have the slightest sense of the flow of the ink. So, your PK may be empty as my pocket. The only way of knowing for sure is the good old fashioned weighing the cartridge on a ” gram ” weighing scale. The full 3880 cartridge weighs at 150grams and a completely empty cartridge is 60 grams. Epson calls a cartridge empty while it contains up to 15% remaining in the cartridge.

        I have converted my 3880 to third party ink ( Jon Cone ). As a workaround to cleaning cycles I refill the PK with cleaning agent ( Jon Cone ) and reset the chip. It empties on each cycle with no harm. I just have to print a few dummies after that.
        There are also affordable ink modules available on the ebay. If you are handy and mad enough you may be able to repair the damn thing yourself. But again, if the OEM ink module went bad the replacement WILL not be an exception by proxy.

      • As Max states very well, the ink cartridge will show as being full, but it is likely empty if you are having the same issue as us here… You may damage your printhead in the process of running no ink through it, although this may not matter to you if you do not use the PK ink. I don’t know enough technically about Epson printers if running them like this will fool the printer over months or years.

  9. I have the same exact problem and have several unopened cartridges in the drawer waiting to be used. But it’s now 2017 and I’ve had this printer for seven years, so I won’t be repairing it. I’ll probably give it away and someone else can pay for the repair. And get a load of ink.

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