Rihac ink kit for the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 printer

      Photo Review 8.9

      In summary

      Rihac refillable cartridge kits are not for everyone. They won’t suit those who only make prints intermittently, nor are they suitable for people who don’t want the hassles associated with to re-filling and regularly checking their inks. If you fit into either of these categories, you should probably give them a miss.

      We’d also recommend you wait until your printer is out of warranty because you can’t expect a manufacturer to support a device that has been used without the recommended consumables.

      However, for those who are prepared to make the effort, the Rihac system can eliminate the need to recycle depleted cartridges and will also save you money in the long run.

      Full review

      Driven by our wish to minimise the amount of plastic waste we produce, we are investigating the ‘starter kits’ of refillable cartridges offered by Rihac Enterprises for a variety of popular desktop printers. Over the past few years, we’ve accumulated a carton full of depleted cartridges that it’s been difficult to recycle. On the advice of a a photographer friend who has been using the Rihac inks in his 3880 printer for a few years without problems, we purchased a kit for our 3880 back in early 2018.

      The contents of the Rihac kit for the Epson 3880 A2 printer. (Source: Rihac Enterprises.)

      Defining a Problem
      Plastic waste is a pressing problem for both businesses and consumers all over the world. Over the past 6-12 months, we’ve been bombarded with messages about the need to reduce plastic waste, much of it triggered by China’s refusal to accept any more waste from Western countries in July 2017.

      Since then, we’ve been left with a dilemma: how can we reduce our contribution to this problem? The way to start is for consumers throughout the world to help their countries deal with the more than eight million tonnes of plastic waste that is clogging up landfills and entering our oceans.

      While depleted cartridges from inkjet printers make up a small part of that waste, they constitute a large part of the waste in our office. And it’s something we need to address.

      Although Australia has a system for collecting depleted cartridges that was set up by Planet Ark and is supported by the main printer manufacturers, it doesn’t necessarily accept 80 ml and larger cartridges. Much depends on where you try to drop them off.

      In theory, you should be able to take empty cartridges to any Officeworks store as well as ‘participating’ Australia Post, Harvey Norman, The Good Guys, JB Hi-Fi, Office National and Office Products Depot outlets. The catch lies in the term ‘participating’ because some stores won’t take cartridges at all while some will only take the 8-11 ml cartridges used by office printers. The 80 ml cartridges used by large format printers are often not accepted.

      So what can be done?

      A Refillable Alternative
      We found an alternative in the Rihac replacement kit, which contains a set of empty cartridges that can fit into our large format desktop printer as well as inks and the tools you need for refilling the cartridges. You can slot the Rihac cartridges into your printer alongside the branded cartridges and – provided you’ve set everything up correctly – the printer shouldn’t miss a beat.

      Since we  installed  the system we’ve been able to say farewell to having to find a place to drop off empty cartridges because it’s easy simply keep the Rihac cartridges topped up from time to time.

      While we appreciate that genuine OEM cartridges will always be the option favoured by printer manufacturers, even they are recognising the need to offer more environmentally-friendly options. Both Epson and Canon (the market leaders) have been selling printers with refillable ink tanks for a couple of years and canny consumers and businesses are well aware that even though they might cost more up-front, they provide worthwhile savings in ink and recycling costs in the long run.

      Unfortunately, all the refillable printers are four-colour CMYK models and there’s no guarantee their inks are colour-accurate or durable enough to use for photo printing. Epson makes a couple of six-ink photo printers (the L1800, L805 and L850) but they’re not sold in Australia and we’ve been unable to obtain details of the durability of the inks.

      So if you want a low-waste system for your A3 or larger printer, the Rihac kits are your only option.

      Before purchasing a Rihac kit, there are some important cautions to take into account. Consider these factors when deciding whether this is a product you’d be happy to use – because it won’t suit everybody.

      1. It’s not worth purchasing the kit if you only print occasionally. (This is also true with respect to buying a large format printer since the up-front price must be amortised over a number of years.)
      2. Buyers are warned that the Rihac inks are “not sanctioned or manufactured by Epson and users must be aware that the use of third party inks can void their printer warranty“. Given the age of our printer, the fact that it is well out of warranty and the experiences of our colleague, we were prepared to take the risk.
      3. These kits are only suitable for technically engaged and competent people. While the supplied instructions are pretty comprehensive, they must be followed to the letter and filling the cartridges with ink can be fiddly and, at times, messy.

      What’s Available?
      When we checked the Rihac website we discovered they offer two types of  resin encapsulated pigment inks, which are packaged in different-sized containers. According to Rihac, the inks in the 100 ml bottles are manufactured by Cabots, a specialist chemicals manufacturer whose portfolio includes inkjet colourants.

      The other type, which comes in 250 ml bottles, is made by Diamond Dispersions in the UK, which specialises in inkjet inks.  Rihac tells us both inks would be considered ‘premium’ products but the Diamond product is more likely to swell when exposed to heat and over time.

      Other differences between the two kits are effectively negligible.  Both ink sets are multi-filtered by osmosis and both have the same colour gamut and longevity ratings as Epson’s original inks.

      We decided to opt for the 100 ml starter kit, partly because it costs less but mainly because it’s closer to the 80 ml volume of the cartridges used in the 3880 printer. When we purchased our kit in mid-February 2018, the 100 ml starter kit for the 3880 had an RRP of AU$530, while the 250 ml kit was priced at AU$900. Interestingly, these prices still applied when this review was published.

      Similar kits are available for most of Epson’s large format printers, ranging from the Sure Color SC-P600 through to the Stylus Pro 9900 (which uses 700 ml cartridges). The only Canon printer currently supported is the Pixma PRO9000 A3+ model.

      What’s in the Box?
      The starter kit for the Stylus Pro 3880 contained the following items: nine refillable cartridges with easily resettable chips plus screwdriver for prising off the chip slot cover, one bottle of ink for each ink colour the printer uses (9 bottles), one needle and syringe kit for each cartridge (9 in all), priming tools for each cartridge and comprehensive instructions showing how the kit is used.

      Each kit is supplied in a postage pack with protective bubble wrapping to prevent the bottles from being damaged, leading to ink leakage.

      Buyers will need to take the chips off their existing Epson cartridges and place them on the equivalent refillable cartridge. This must be done when the cartridge first indicates its ink is running low. Waiting until the cartridge is empty will re-set the chip on the cartridge, making it unusable if the cartridge is re-filled.

      How to Use the Kit
      Before opening the kit you should run a nozzle check to see whether the print heads are working efficiently. If the printout shows any gaps, follow up with a print head clean and a test printout. Cover your work surface with newspaper to absorb spillages (which are almost inevitable the first time you fill a cartridge) and use thin rubber gloves to keep your fingers free from stains.

      OEM cartridges should be replaced when you get the first ‘low ink’ signal from the ink monitor. If you leave it much longer, there’s a risk the chip will be re-set to empty and become unreadable.

      Check the empty cartridge to ensure there are no cracks or other signs of damage that might have occurred in transit (unlikely since the kit we obtained was very well packed with bubble-wrapping around the cartridges and ink bottles). Make sure the black filling plug and the orange air plug are in place, as shown in the illustration below.

      The empty Rihac cartridge, showing the auto-reset chip and orange air plug. The black filling plug is at the end of the cartridge, indicated by the lower arrow.

      Make sure the refillable cartridge has the same colour label as the cartridge you want to replace.  This is important since the cartridge chips are colour specific and they won’t work unless they are attached to the correct refillable cartridge.

      Remove the almost depleted OEM cartridge from your printer and use a sharp blade to cut through the two plastic lugs that hold the chip in position. Carefully lift off the chip (don’t attempt to lever it off; this can damage the electronics).

      Removing the auto-reset chip from the cartridge.

      Use the tip of the screwdriver to gently lever up the L-shaped ARC (auto-reset chip) assembly, which is located towards the front of the refillable cartridge. Slot the Epson chip you removed in under the ledge in the exposed receptacle, making sure the gold contacts face forward, as shown in the illustration below.

      Inserting the Epson chip from the almost-depleted cartridge beneath the auto-reset chip assembly.

      Before attempting to fill the cartridge you must remove the black filler plug that is located below the cartridge label (shown in the illustration below). Don’t discard it as you’ll need it again when priming the cartridge. Make sure the orange air plug is still in place.

      The syringes are colour coded so select the one that matches the colour of the ink you will be using. Attach the needle to the syringe, shake the bottle gently to ensure the pigment particles are in suspension and evenly-dispersed, unscrew the bottle cap and carefully punch a hole in the metal cover and insert the tip of the needle. Use the plunger to draw up a syringe full of ink.

      Carefully insert the tip of the needle into the hole where the filler plug was and slowly push the ink into the cartridge. We found it best to have the cartridge at a slight angle so we propped its front end up on a depleted cartridge. Repeat this process until the cartridge is roughly 80% full, taking care to increase the slope of the cartridge as you feed in more ink to prevent it from spilling out through the filler hole.
      Once you’ve put in enough ink, replace the filler plug and  remove the orange air plug. Keep this plug as you’ll need it when you have to top up the ink.

      Take the needle off the syringe and replace it with the priming plug. The priming process is designed to remove all air from the feeding lines that take the ink into the printer. If air enters these lines, the printer will not work and you’ll need to have it serviced (which will be expensive).

      Priming the cartridge.

      Carefully insert the tip of the priming plug into the ink outlet point at the opposite end of the cartridge to the label. Ensure you push the tip all the way in to push the spring seal open. Slowly draw the plunger on the syringe back to remove air from the cartridge. You can see when the air is removed because ink will flow into the syringe and the square window (shown in the illustration below) will fill up with ink.

      Check the orange plug has been removed before installing the replacement cartridge in the printer. You can replace the original cartridges individually as they become depleted without experiencing any loss of output quality or durability.

      It’s OK to run the printer with a mixture of the manufacturer’s inks and the Rihac inks.

      NOTE: When using the Rihac cartridges you cannot rely on the ink monitor display to show you when a cartridge needs to be topped up. Make a habit of checking the cartridges regularly and don’t let the ink level fall below about 20-30%. Cartridges that are allowed to run dry will enable air to get into the printer’s feed lines – and that will require an expensive service call.

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      Package contents: 9x 100 ml bottles of Premium Resin Encapsulated Pigment ink, 9x 80 ml replacement cartridges with intelli-chips, syringes, needles and reusable plugs for easy refilling, 9 priming tools, tool for installing resettable chips, detailed instruction book
      Ink type: Resin encapsulated pigment inks
      Cartridge capacity: 100 ml

      Distributor: Rihac Enterprises, (03) 9005 5555; www.rihac.com.au



      RRP: AU$530 per starter kit (for Epson 3880 printer)

      • Ease of use: 8.0
      • Print quality: 9.0