Re-inking Ribbons

By Will Watts

Originally published in EUG #05

The manual for my new(ish) Panasonic printer states that the ribbon permits the printing of about two million characters in its lifetime. This sounds a lot but the manual doesn't say whether this figure applies to "DRAFT" or "NLQ" mode text, though I suspect it's the former!

If you only use your printer once in a while, the chances are that the ribbon will dry up rather than run out of ink, in which case you might try re-vitalising it with a squirt or two of WD40 or a similar product in the ribbon cartridge. I am told that this can make a small improvement.

On the other hand you may employ your printer on a daily basis and if such use includes the printing of a lot of documents in NLQ mode or, worst of all, producing screen dumps, two million characters' worth of ink will soon be used up! This is where re-inking your ribbon could be an economic alternative to buying a new cartridge.

But hold on, before you dash off to buy a gallon of 'Quink', it's wise to check the condition of the ribbon itself. Modern ribbons are a seamless band of incredibly tough man-made-fibre fabric and you really have to give it a hammering to see any signs of wear and tear, but it will eventually perish. As ribbons lose ink and printing becomes more and more faint, I for one, have a tendency to adjust the position of the print-head, moving it one more notch closer to the platen. This increases the force with which the pins of the print-head are fired into the ribbon. Sooner or later permanent holes will be created - and it's not worth re-inking a Swiss Cheese!

Assuming your ribbon is sound, you have a number of re-ink options. Perhaps the easiest solution is to let someone else do the job for you. You can find ads for re-inking services in several national magazines. Whether any of these advertisers are a bunch of cowboys with a tin of shoe polish and a toothbrush, I wouldn't know. If anyone has used a re-inking service I'd like to hear what you thought of it.

If you're keen to do it yourself, then a product like "Re-Ink" might be worth the asking price of £12.95 which includes VAT and P&P. Re-Ink proclaims itself to be "Carbon-in-a-can" - and an environmentally friendly pump spray can at that! You need to open up your ribbon cartridge in order to apply the spray, then leave it to dry for 24 hours. As you see from his letter in this issue, Mr G. S. German has had very limited success with Re-Ink, but this may be due to the manufacturer's questionable advice on how much spray should be used for a small ribbon. Re-Ink is available from:

18 Crescent Way
Tel: 0689 861400

If spraying a product like WD40 into your ribbon cartridge is at the bottom end of the scale, at the top must be the range of products produced by Quill Marketing. Their "Maxiprint" re-inker was awarded the 'seal of approval' in a recent issue of MicroMart magazine. The Maxiprint is a device which comes in kit form and has to be assembled by the user. This is because it is intended to be a potentially universal system for re-inking most sizes and shapes of ribbon cartridge. Once the Maxiprint has been set up (a procedure which we are assured is far less complicated than might first appear!), the ribbon is secured to a winding unit which may be either manual or motorised, depending on which version of Maxiprint you buy. The ribbon is then drawn slowly past a dispensing nozzle which delivers just the right amount of ink.

By the way, they make a big thing of the ink used in the Maxiprint system, in particular the fact that the "insolubles" (i.e. the particles that make the ink black) are less than 5 microns in size and will not cause damage to either the print-head or the ribbon fabric. So be warned - cheap inks may harm your printer!

As a basic manually operated Maxiprint system will set you back £39.90 plus VAT, I would think that very many ribbons would have to be re-inked before the device paid for itself. Perhaps this is the equipment being used by all those re-inking services I mentioned earlier?! If anyone fancies starting a mess-free re-inking service for EUG members (and others!), you can learn more about Maxiprint from:

11 Hemmings Close
Tel: 0603 746970

Will Watts, EUG #5