Introduction

The Epson Stylus Pro 3880 (and the 3800 before it) has been one of the best and most popular printers for making high quality digital negatives for contact printing using various alternative photographic printing processes. However, it has one potential drawback which is that the star-wheels on the eject path of the paper transport mechanism can leave a trail of pin-prick dots on the printed surface of the negative, or any glossy surface. One way of avoiding this is to use the Manual Front Feed mechanism which does not  engage the star-wheels. The problem with this is that the Front Feed is designed for very thick materials like poster board, and doesn’t always handle thinner materials well. I have 2 3880s; on one of them the Front Feed works perfectly with the Pictorico Ultra Premium OHP transparency film that I use for digital negatives, but in the other it doesn’t.

Here is a way to disable the star-wheels without having to make any permanent modifications to the printer. We take advantage of the retracted position of the star-wheel mechanism when the Front Feed is in use by tricking the printer into thinking that the Front Feed is closed even though it is in the open position.

 

Step By Step

  1. Open the Paper Eject Tray Cover and the Front Feed Tray.3880_FrontTraysOpen
  2. On the left side you will see the Front Left Housing Cover which is secured by one screw at the upper right. Remove the screw, tilt the cover towards you from the top, and remove it.3880_FrontLeftCover13880_FrontLeftCover23880_FrontLeftCover3
  3. There is a Leaf Switch behind the large white plastic cam near the right side of the opening. When the tray is closed the cam lifts it. It is small and well hidden, and a bit tricky to see at first. What we need to do here is to hold it in the closed position so that the printer thinks the Front Feed is closed even though it is not. That way we can use the Manual Rear Feed or even the Auto Feed but the star-wheels will not be lowered. I used a Printer Cleaning Swab from InkjetMall.com which I happened to have on hand to push the switch lever down just far enough that it is in the closed position while the tray actually remains open. The business end of the swab is wide enough to stay in place by friction without being taped. The panel display will no longer indicate that the Front Feed is open.3880_LeafSwitch_p513880_FFLeafSwitch3880_Swab3880_SwabInPlace
  4. Now locate the guide tab on the front right corner of the Front Feed Tray. Using a piece of electrical tape or similar flexible tape, cover the tab in such a way as to create a ramp that exiting film or paper can slide over.3880_FFTrayRightCorner3880_FFTrayTaped
  5. Finally, take a strip of film or smooth paper the width of the eject tray opening (17 inches) by 3-4 inches and place it so that it acts as a bridge to prevent the exiting film from sliding below the Front Feed Tray which is left in the open position. The piece I used here came from a roll so it has a slight downward curl. It’s not really necessary to tape it in place.3880_ExitRamp
  6. Optional: The 2 little white hinged flaps that are visible in the preceding picture shouldn’t be a problem unless your film curls up too much. If it does, you can push the metal frame that is just behind them in a bit, push the white plastic pieces in and up with a piece of cardboard wide enough to push both flaps up together, and then let the frame back out. It’s really easy.

 

Conclusion

The only drawback to this procedure that I can see is a very minor one. You won’t be able to close the Front Feed and the Eject Tray if it is to be left set up this way, and you’ll have to leave the Left Front Cover off. On the other hand, there is no reason that I can see why it can’t be used this way for printing on paper too, so why not just leave it as is. Alternatively, remove the swab from step 3 and the film bridge from step 5, and close the Front Feed Tray.

This modification does affect how much margin you need on the trailing edge. Since the star-wheels passively (by which I mean they are not motor driven, contact with the paper/film makes is what turns them) help keep the paper/film tracking straight, circumventing them limits the ability of the transport mechanism to to keep it moving properly as it runs out of material. A 1.5 inch margin is no problem; a 1 inch margin skewed before finishing; so it’s somewhere in there. I’m going to stick with and an inch and a half.

That guide tab on the right corner of the Front Feed Tray is a real nuisance since it pushes the front feed path about 1/4 inch to the left of the rear/auto feed path. When film goes over it, as it does with this modification, there is a chance that it may curl upward from the right edge which may cause a problem with the head brushing the surface of the film. It seems that having the strip of film in there helps, and that flipping the flaps up is a good idea, since if the film curls upward along the leading edge it may get caught on them.

I haven’t tried the auto-feed, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I just never have used it much.

It is also possible that this procedure will work on the P800.

 

Acknowledgements

I wish I could say that I came up with this modification from my own ingenuity, however that is not the case. Many thanks to Walker Blackwell of Inkjetmall for giving me the clues I needed to figure it out. I’m glad to be able to help out by writing up these instructions.

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18 thoughts on “How To Disable Star-Wheels On An Epson 3880

  1. Thanks so much for posting up such detailed instructions. I’ve had this as a nuisance, and sometimes more than a nuisance issue, with my negatives for carbon printing for a few years.

  2. This is GREAT GENIUS idea!!! I very appriciate for you. I had to buy another large format printer
    that have a vacuum system not pizza wheels.
    Though I look around the way to solve this annoy pizza wheels issue, I could not found the answer.
    but finally I have found this rock gem! Thank you.

  3. A much simpler solution, at least on our 4880C: The pinwheels can be easily flipped up with one finger. Load the substrate, in this case Fixxons, and prepare to print. As soon as you hit the final print button, wait for the pinwheels to engage then simply firmly use your index finger to push them backwards and they will flip up and out of sight.
    Note the C means made in China. We are in Hong Kong

    1. Unfortunately for 3880 users, the mechanism is different than that of the 4880. What I have described really is the simplest way for the 3880, 3800, and probably the P800 as well.

      1. I’m not so sure this procedure works on the P800.
        I’m not in front of my printer right now but I remember reading these instructions a few months ago while in my studio and these directions didn’t seem to apply.

      2. Yours. I haven’t looked at the P800 with Robin’s advice in mind.
        My feeling, though, is that the P800 has more in common with the 3880 than the 4880 series.

      3. The mechanism on the 4xxx printers is very different than that of the 38xx series so I doubt Robin’s suggestion would apply to the P800 either.
        I haven’t seen a P800 in person yet, but from what I can tell from specs and pictures, it does look like the front feed mechanism is similar if not the same. It also looks like there is a similar left front cover that may house a cam like the one on the 3880. Is there not a visible screw that holds that cover in place? I was just looking at this: https://youtu.be/jJvjbcYYzvc
        and notice that the front feed moves the paper up onto the sheet-feed rather that out thru the back, so maybe tree is no mode that feeds paper during printing without star-wheels.

      4. Now that I’m back in front of the machine I can see where I got stumped months ago: There is a left lower cover, as with the 3880, but there is not screw to remove it (nor a clear way to remove it without damaging a pin, clasp, tab… or whatever holds it on).

      5. On the 3880, it is the front-feed being open that disengages the star-wheels. In order to keep them disengaged when feeding the film via rear-manual or sheet-feed paths, we have to trick it into thinking that the front-feed is being used. That is the purpose of the swab engaging the leaf-switch behind the cam.
        From browsing the P800 user guide, it looks like the feed mode that uses the front-feed in the open position for printing (not just for loading) is the Poster Board mode (p.28-29). This leads me to think that the mechanism is similar to the 3880, and that in this mode the star-wheels are not engaged.

      6. So as not to clutter up the comments section of this post I’ll just get back to you once I’ve either succeeded or failed, as my results may be of some use to other P800 users.

        I will say, though, that I did manage to (non-destructively) remove the lower left panel.
        Time for a beer. Removing that little cover plate may seem like a small accomplishment but today I feel the need to reward myself.

  4. This remedy is a life saver and far easier than other “solutions” I’ve found, thank you!
    I’ve successfully disabled the star wheels on my 3880 but now I need to adjust the print to give me the 1.5 inch border at the bottom so I don’t have ink spray and skew issues. I’m printing digital negatives with PiezoDN and QTR, and even if I shrink my image size on the film, it still wants to print the black border all the way to the bottom of the sheet. I’m still new at this, when printing a negative through QTR, can you explain how to add the margin of 1.5″ at the end of the sheet?

    1. I posted this reply along with a couple of examples to your question on the PiezoDN forum. Since PiezoDN works with a positive image, it is a bit different than methods where you send an inverted (negative) image to the printer.

      First thing is that if you are trying to print a black border around the image to mask the edges (a white border around the positive image), you have to think of it as part of the image area. You still need to add black to the edge of the page to prevent the printer from trying to fill the rest of the sheet with black ink. I know this seems strange, but QTR sees the area between the image dimensions and the page size as white (on the positive) and therefore wants to print black in that area on a PiezoDN negative. The way to avoid this is to expand the canvas size to fill the area around the positive image with black to the exact same size as the sheet of film you are printing it on.
      The target files are NOT ready print as is. The canvas size MUST be expanded (with the extension color set to black) to the exact same size as your film. That is the only way to prevent the printer from printing in what should be the clear margin.
      The left and right margins can be anything more than 1/4″ (maybe even less – but QTR can’t print borderless), but necessary leading and trailing margins vary somewhat depending on the printer model. On the 3880 with star-wheels disabled, I have found that it needs 1/2 inch on the top margin and 1-1/2 inch on the bottom. To accomplish this the canvas MUST have black in those areas. If your image is too large to allow that you will have to either reduce the image size or print on a larger sheet.
      As an example, most of my current work is 7×17 inch image size. I can print these on 13×19 film by expanding the canvas size (with black fill) first to 13×18 centered which gives a 1/2 inch black border on the short ends, followed by 13×19 anchored on the left which adds another inch to the righthand side. I could of course place it higher or lower if I want by expanding in increments and using whatever anchor selection I need. If I really need the image to be centered on the film I would have to use a larger sheet.

  5. Hi Philip Bond,

    I was wondering if you were successful at removing or disengaging the star wheels for the p800?
    Thanks, Stacey

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