Epson Ink expiry dates

This week I've been doing some printing for my exhibition next year. But I've been having difficulty getting the prints to look as they do on my computer monitor. I've re-calibrated my system a few times and yet there was a colour shift in the prints I saw coming out of my Epson 4880 printer.

A 'before and after' simulation of what I was seeing in my prints with expired inks (1 year out of date)

A 'before and after' simulation of what I was seeing in my prints with expired inks (1 year out of date)

The expiry dates of my inks are now out of date by 1 year. I don't print that often so I seldom go through a 220ml ink cartridge in the time the inks are still valid. But I couldn't imagine how the expiry date would suggest a colour shift so prominent in such a short period of time so I checked around the web, only to find that there is a lot of misinformation and many assumptions by owners as to what happens when the inks expire.

In fact, Jeff Shewe simply stated that the coagulation of the inks would start to break up and maybe not lie on the paper correctly, but there was no mention in any internet search I did, that a colour shift may happen, despite this being what I saw.

So I took the plunge and ordered a brand new set of inks for my Epson 4880 and have just installed them. First I should point out that to do this requires a lot of inks. The old inks have to be flushed out of the system and in order to put enough ink into the print head, also requires the lines to the head to be refilled too. So for the half-size cartridges I've just installed (110ml) I've used around 1/3rd of them up just in the install.

The colours are now back to what my monitor shows me and the prints I'm making are very tightly aligned with what I see on my monitor. So I put out a question to a colour management expert I know, asking if the inks drift past their expiry date. This is what he had to say:

"Yes they do change after expiry, it's especially noticeable in proofing environments where a test wedge is checked."

Which I can confirm by my findings, since I've replaced the inks and I've compared the prints against my calibrated and profiled monitor.

So that's the upshot for you. If you have expired inks in your Epson printer, you're more than likely not getting the full gamut of colours you may be expecting. For me, I noticed that the blacks weren't as deep as they should be, and magentas were much weaker. Some of the blues were not as deep as they should be, and yellow tended to be absent on prints. In general, I felt my prints were a little lacklustre and not as vibrant or deep as I expected. In some cases, this was marginal when comparing before and after prints, but in other cases, it was very obvious.

So my suggestion would be that if you are serious about your prints, you buy the cartridge size that allows you to use most of the ink in the allotted expiry date time, and also check when you buy the inks that the expiry date has a long time to come. Some of the inks I bought are due to expire next September and that is still too short a time for me, while others have around 18 months or more.