Oh, brother!

A few years back the black ink on my Brother DCP-6690CW stopped printing entirely. I hadn’t been using it regularly and thought at the time that the ink just dried out. This is a fairly common complaint about Brother printers and the black ink specifically. I purchased a head cleaning kit from Printhead Hospital, basically two bottles of cleaning solution supplied with a syringe and tube to be attached directly to the ink nozzles. It’s a good kit and the guys at printhead hospital were really helpful providing advice by email when the first cleaning failed. After a few more unsuccessful attempts I gave up and purchased a wee Epson XP-352 for some general printing and wedding invitations I was producing that week. I kept the Brother for the A3 scanner and the document feeder which still proved really useful.

It’s always irritated me that I wasn’t able to fix the Brother and at the end of last year I contacted a few local tech repair shops to see if anyone would look at it. Unsurprisingly it was a resounding no, most of the guys saying that printers have moved on, they’re much cheaper now or it’s just not worth it, etc.

It’s an old printer, I purchased it in 2009 for about £270 and I’d likely have to spend a similar amount to purchase a new A3 printer/scanner. Essentially, if I poked around inside and messed it up entirely I’d have nothing much to lose, I could always buy a shiny new model or just settle for the wee Epson.

I found this IFIXIT guide with detailed instructions on How to Unclog Brother Inkjet Print head Nozzles.

In practice it was actually pretty straightforward, the trickiest part was finding the time to work on it and after dismantling/reassembling the Brother a few times I started to feel pretty confident about repairing this thing.

I took photos at each stage for wire placements, etc., until I got the hang of stripping it down. The photos in the IFIXIT guide varied slightly and were simply too small.

I was initially quite precious with the printhead removal until I watched some footage of similar printers being stripped for parts and refurbished on Youtube.

Here’s the old printhead and ink damper after the initial cleaning. I had hoped that I could simply clean the head but ultimately realised after a few print quality checks that it was faulty and I’d need a replacement. I made an offer on a seller refurbished printhead and it arrived within a few weeks.

Prices have increased since I purchased so I’d recommend making an offer in the first instance

After installing the refurbished printhead the results from the first print quality check were less than encouraging.

This is our starting point, zero K but bizarre that Y,C and M are still looking pretty good

It still wasn’t printing black but I figured there could be some air in the lines after disconnecting and then reconnecting the printhead. I used the head cleaning kit to flush the ink damper/printhead and also ran a purge operation in maintenance mode (details below).

Entry into the maintenance mode

  • Press the menu key
  • Press the Black Start (Mono Start) key on the control panel. Next press the Scan key four times
  • The machine beeps for approx. one second and displays * MAINTENANCE* on the touch panel
Function CodesFunction
09Test Pattern
76Purge operation
99Exit from Maintenance Mode

I made myself a cuppa before printing another quality check.

We have K!!! Weirdly the Y and M are worse, time to purge and try again

Much better, I breathed a sigh of relief and tried again after wiping excess ink from the print head.

While still not perfect I was pretty chuffed with this result considering where I started

At this stage I was hesitant to run any more purges as things were looking pretty good. Any more head cleaning would in all likelihood make the print quality much worse.

The print comparison from before and after shows a big improvement so overall, not a bad result, not perfect by any means but good enough for me.

The lesson here kids, use your printer regularly or you’re gonna have a bad time.