Musings on Photography

HP Z3100 Support Woes

Posted in hp z3100 by Paul Butzi on November 30, 2007

I’ve been enthusiastically sharing my experiences with my HP DesignJet Z3100. Most of those experiences have been great. The only problem with prints that I’ve experienced has been a problem with intermittent horizontal banding that, because I haven’t dedicated a large block of time to pursuing it, has up until now eluded my troubleshooting efforts. At no point have I been unable to get the print quality I’ve wanted, although sometimes it’s taken some fiddling.

So a couple of weeks ago, I’d discovered that I could generate a diagnostic print from the front panel of the printer. And when I did this, I got a diagnostic print which I interpreted as showing that I had pretty significant nozzle clog issues. Running nozzle cleaning cycles didn’t clear the problem.

So I called Hp Technical support, where the technician, Sean, guided me through about an hour of checking things, and then suggested pulling all the print heads, pressing them against a wet paper towel until the ink was drawn through the print head, and then replacing the heads. I was short on time, so I closed the call with Sean before I could give this a try. The next day, though, I gave it a try, and was dismayed to find that not only did it not resolve the problems, it didn’t actually improve the situation at all. I was fairly frustrated, especially because it was not really clear to me that Sean understood what diagnostic print I was looking at.

And then it was time for the Thanksgiving holidays, and I was away for a while. Yesterday, though, I was resolved to call HP back and get the matter cleared up. I’m planning on doing a lot of printing this winter, and I want the printer in perfect working order at the start.

First thing I did was to run another diagnostic print. This showed some changes from two weeks ago, and in particular, the problem with the PK/LG printhead had improved (but still with problems) and the problems with the B/GN head had gotten quite a lot worse.

So, because often such things are easier to work via email, I tried the HP onliine/email tech support, using the form on their web page to tell my story, complete with three part harmony and feeling. In 24 hours, I got a response saying, essentially, “It sounds like you have print heads that should be replaced. Please call our tech support people, who will arrange to get replacements shipped to you under warranty.”

So, armed with this diagnostic print and the email, I called HP tech support, where I answered the voice recognition prompts by telling the system that I was having trouble with a Designjet z3100 and I am using Macs, not Windows. So I got connected to a Mac technician, who listened to my story, and then told me that he was going to have to reroute my call because he was a Mac support technician, and I was having problems with the printer hardware. In the future, he told me, if I lied to the VR system and told it I was using Windows, I’d get connected to the hardware support group. When I pointed out that it might make more sense to adjust the voice recognition prompts so that customers using Mac and having hardware problems didn’t waste 15 minutes getting rerouted, he cheerfully agreed, and then put me in the waiting pool for the hardware folks.

When I finally got connected to the right support group, I was talking to Robert. I told my story to Robert, this time with five part harmony. And, rather than agreeing to just ship me new print heads, Robert wanted to go through another round of pulling the print heads, soaking them, replacing them, doing head cleaning cycles, and so on. Fine.

And there, the problems began. Robert didn’t know the menu structure for the front panel on the Z3100. In fact, I knew more about it than he did. He didn’t know what diagnostic print I was generating, even after I carefully described how to use the front panel to generate it. Every time he asked me to do something, we had this little cycle where I’d ask him to give me specific instructions on how to do that, and he’d have to put me on hold for five minutes while he ran off and found out how to do it so he could tell me. He must have put me on hold for a total of one hour out of the first two hours of the support phone call, much of that time to go off and research how to get the menu item he wanted me to use. This was complicated considerably when he gave me specific instructions about which menu options to pick, only to have me land at a dead end when the option he wanted me to pick wasn’t on my printer. (It turns out he was working from a different version of the firmware from what was in my printer). When Robert went off to generate a diagnostic print on a printer at HP, it took nearly half an hour because the printer he had access to was not warmed up and wanted to go through 15 minutes of calisthenics, and then it had to generate the print – all while I waited on the phone.

But, with tears in my eyes and with my frustration level mounting rapidly, I stumbled through removing all the heads, doing the ‘press against a wet lintless cloth’ thing, replacing them all, and running another diagnostic print. The net result was no change. He then had me try it again, this time just with the most problematic head. At this point, the B/GN head stopped working completely, and the printer was dead. It couldn’t do a print head alignment. It couldn’t make prints. HP tech support had managed to lead me through the steps of starting with a working printer with an intermittent problem and fussing with it until it had become a $4000 doorstop.

So, after about 2.5 hours, and with my blood pressure ranging upward into the ‘massive brain crushing stroke is imminent’ range, I asked Robert what I needed to do to get this whole thing resolved. Robert’s suggestion was to have HP ship me a replacement for the failed head – he would put me on hold, and go get authorization to do that. I suggested that, purely in the interests of having me not have a myocardial infarction, perhaps HP could see their way clear to replacing ALL the heads, so that all those other heads with problems would get resolved, too. Nope, he said. No way he could get someone to authorize that.

So I asked to talk to Robert’s supervisor, James. James gave me the old song and dance, and told me under no circumstances would he agree to replace all the heads. When I told him that ALL the heads were showing clogged nozzles that wouldn’t go away, he wanted the long form list of all the things we’d tried. Then he told me that a certain number of clogged nozzles was acceptable and that the printer could compensate (I actually believe this is true) but couldn’t give me a firm number on what the threshold of acceptability was. Finally he seemed to agree that any head with more than, say, 10 clogged nozzles or which showed banding on the diagnostic print should be replaced. Was I seeing that on any of the print heads? So I went through all six heads, and counted the clogged nozzles and the banding. And the upshot was that, after half an hour of arguing with me, he agreed to ship a complete set of print heads, as long as I would go through the process of giving Robert all the warranty dates off the print heads.

Naturally, it took Robert three tries and two five minute periods on hold for him to tell me where to find the warranty dates on the print heads. But after that, I gave him all the dates, and he said he’d get those heads sent out asap. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” he asked. “Well,” I said, “it would be nice if you’d give me the support case number, so that when the print heads don’t show up, I can refer back to this entire debacle without having to go through the entire 2.5 hour ordeal again. And that was a problem, because Robert claimed that their computer system was being upgraded and he couldn’t give me a case number. He’d have to call me back, he said, and give me the case number and the order numbers for the printheads. And so we parted company, with him steadfastly promising to call back, and leave voice mail with those numbers for me, absolutely cross my heart hope to die stick a needle in my eye for sure.

And the next part of the saga was when I returned from the play last night, fully expecting to check voicemail and find a message from Robert with the case number and the order numbers. And of course, there was no voice mail. In fact, caller ID indicated no calls at all, so Robert didn’t even try to call. I had to call, work my way back through the voice tree, and then ask for Robert before I managed to connect with him and have him apologetically give me the case number and order numbers.

So here’s my advice to HP on how to improve their technical support:

  1. Don’t ask people to tell you if they’re using Windows or Mac if what you really want to know is if they’re having a Mac software problem or any other problem. It just pissed me off, and it would be so simple to fix it’s not funny.
  2. Your support people should have in front of them a copy of the menu tree for the front panel FOR EACH FIRMWARE REVISION, so that they are not forced to ask the customer to ‘read the choices back to me.’ When your support staff are getting help on the menu tree from the customer, something is desperately wrong with how you are handling things.
  3. As a general rule, support technicians should not throw their hands up in despair when the instructions they give the customer result in a previously working product not working at all. Instead, they should either coach the customer through getting it working again, or they should pass the case off to a more experienced technician who can solve the problem. I had to spend a frustrating half hour AFTER the support call cleaning print head contacts before my printer started even vaguely working again. You can bet that during that half hour, I was pretty much continuously engaging in imaginative language use regarding the genealogy of the support technicians at HP.
  4. After your incompetent support technician burns 2.5 hours of a customer’s time fiddling with a printer, getting ink all over his hands, pulling print heads and replacing them, and getting him well and truly frustrated, that’s NOT the time to suggest that the printer is actually completely within spec and there’s no problem to be resolved at all, it’s just a misunderstanding. That’s particularly true when the first question the customer asked was “So given that I have this diagnostic print that I interpret as showing nozzles clogged, is my interpretation correct, and are these nozzle clogs the source of the intermittent banding I’ve been getting?”
  5. When you promise to call back and give the customer a case number and order numbers, for the love of all that’s holy call him back EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE NUMBERS. If you can’t get the numbers, call him back and explain why you don’t have them. But if the customer has to call you back and ask why the hell you didn’t call the way you promised, no amount of abject groveling and apologizing will convince him that you weren’t trying to slip one past and renege on your promise.
  6. At the most general, your product support staff should not convey the impression that they find those customers with problems to be an irritant. Instead, your product support staff, especially those supporting really expensive printers, should convey the impression that they will not, under any circumstances, accept an outcome where the customer’s problem hasn’t been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, NO MATTER WHAT IT TAKES.
  7. When the retail price of a printhead pair is $60 US, the actual marginal cost to HP is probably $15. So when you tell me that you want me to spend several more hours fiddling with the printer to avoid you having to just replace all six printhead pairs instead of the one pair you broke, what you’re telling me is that HP thinks that pissing me off and valuing my time as free is a better choice than saying “You know what, Mr. Butzi? I’m worried that if we don’t just replace all these print heads that we’ve been fiddling with, you’re going to run into more problems down the road, and that will just cause you more lost time and frustration. So I think it would be best if we just shipped you a complete new set, so that you can move forward from this point with more confidence in the printer you’ve bought. Would it be ok with you if we asked to you take a few extra minutes to replace all the heads now, rather than having to worry that we’ll run into more problems down the road? We’d really appreciate it.”
  8. Let me just observe that your competitor, who has massive market share and who you are trying to displace, not only has given me excellent phone support but offers one year of next business day/on site support as part of the purchase price, so that when my 9600 fell over dead, I called them, they talked me through about 15 minutes of trying to bring it back to life (so that I could get back to work instantly) and then sadly informed me that they thought it was going to require a technician onsite to fix it, would it be ok if the technician got there at 8:30am since I’m in a remote place? Your printer is a wonder, but your support is not even remotely on a par with that provided by Epson. And you can bet that I will take that into consideration with the NEXT large format printer purchase.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the prints from the z3100. But I sure hope I don’t have many more problems that require technical support, because the phone support from HP is atrocious. It’s execrable. It’s horrid, it’s a travesty. It’s odious. If I had known that the printer didn’t come with next business day/on site service for at least a year, I would probably have bought an Epson.

22 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Larry said, on November 30, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Paul, given your assumed dependence on a quality printer, you might want to consider HP’s current support offer/special (three year, next day, onsite):
    I have the B9180 and picked up the three year, next day replacement which I have already used once. Having this for three years really lowers the stress level.

  2. Rosie Perera said, on November 30, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    Ha, ha! It’s been a long while since we’ve had a good old Paul Butzi product support diatribe here. This would be a good one to turn into a song to be sung by a Complaints Choir.

  3. ageekgirl said, on November 30, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    Wow. One would think that HP would take care of new purchasers of very new, very expensive equipment would like that equipment and keep it continuing to function. HP support or lack thereof is the reason why I no longer have an HP laptop and now have a Dell. Best of luck with your printer!

  4. […] Butzi writes about a lackluster experience with HP support for his Z3100: Let me just observe that your competitor, who has massive market share and who you […]

  5. Geoff Wittig said, on December 1, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    It may be worth asking a few questions of the tech support folks, but once it’s clear they can’t walk you through the problem, it’s time for an on-site service call. That’s what your warranty is for, after all. On that score HP has done right by me; the optical paper sensor failed on my Z3100, and within days two technicians were at my remote rural home to replace the sensor. The tech person on the phone was polite & efficient, and quickly established the fact that I had already tried the obvious things she could suggest, so a repair visit was authorized.

  6. […] HP Z3100 Support Woes « Musings on Photography OUCH (tags: hp proactive support printer z3100) posted this entry on Sunday, December 2nd, 2007 at 12:22 am. Posted in the category Links You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. […]

  7. Paul Perton said, on December 2, 2007 at 12:43 am

    My experience with a B9180 and it’s (as far as I know) still unsolved pizza wheel marks was much the same.

    Except that I live in South Africa and the support here is completely and totally non-existent. I tried to get help from the UK and came to the conclusion that the staff there come from the same single brain cell gene pool as our dear, sweet local chaps.

    Don’t believe me? One suggestion from the local support guy was that they would supply unlimited ink and paper and I should just print and print and print and print and print and print and print and print until the offending steel guide wheels wore down and no longer caused a problem.

    After four months of no printer and hundreds of phone calls and e-mails, I finally got my money back and did what I should have done in the first place; buy an Epson 3800 which worked perfectly out of the box.

  8. photoburner said, on December 3, 2007 at 7:48 am

    I also have a B9180 and and haven’t had to call HP yet. But I was at a local Office max the other day and ran into a HP rep who I guess was trying to sell HP printers.

    I mentioned to the guy that I had a B9180 and drew a look of blank incomprehension. Then he tried to ‘upgrade’ me to the model he was trying to sell, some all-in-one unit with 4(!) ink cartridges. I kept telling him the B9180 was a speciality photo printer with 8 carts while trying to get away from him, but he foillowed me around the empty store for a couple minutes while I tried to find the thumb drives. LOL.

    You’d think the sales force would at least have heard of and be remotely aware of the models HP is selling.

  9. Doug Stockdale said, on December 3, 2007 at 10:11 am

    Yikes Paul, this really has me concerned about the HP printer as a ‘system’. Maybe the ability to ‘easily’ switch between gloss and matte papers may not be the HP answer. Really too bad, as the printer looks like it should be a catagory ‘killer’, but it does not help without the needed technical support;- (

  10. Mac Daddy said, on December 3, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    I have been down this path and it is ugly. I have tried to upgrade my firmware since I bought my printer last June. I always get the message resource not available after a very long URl is listed.
    I called tech support b/c my printer keeps telling me to upgrade the firmware, and driver 5.1 for my MAC PRO. I spent well over 2 1/2 hours on the phone (hold, menu problems, transfers to other people). My tech support person who was very nice couldn’t think of anything else to try (and we tried a lot) finally told me to “reboot” the printer to factory defaults and then we could try a firmware upgrade. What he didn’t know is that requires the startup print-heads that ship from the factory in new printers. Those get disposed of after the first boot-up (June 07 for me). The printer will not go past that step. I was told a technician would come out the next day with print-heads and also perform my firmware upgrade (via new mother board if necessary). The technician called and said they don’t have the part, don’t know when they will get the part and he was going out of town for vacation. So now I have a printer with ink in the lines and it is shut down. It can’t perform its usual maintenance b/c it is stuck in boot-up. I have missed a print deadline for a competition, and had to cancel print-jobs I was going to get paid for. HP response is well we can’t help you b/c we don’t know if we can find the part today, tomorrow, next week.
    I am outraged and don’t have a next step. Customer service suporvisor said I’ll get an estimate, expedite your case and call you back. No call. This started last Wednesday.

    My printer was working OK but I had noticed a little banding and assumed it was clogged heads. Nothing a few cleaning cycles couldn’t fix. Now I too have a $4000 dust collector. HP killed my printer, and can’t/wont help.


  11. Mac Daddy said, on December 4, 2007 at 11:04 am

    A service tech called me yesterday and said he wanted to come look at my printer while waiting for the parts. He did. As it turned out the parts were in but they were in Virginia (I am in Maryland) He had them couriered over last night. He came back this afternoon (here now) and installed the parts need to effect the repair only to have the printer say the print cartridges are bad. Further conversations with tech support lead him to believe that the printer delivery sled?? was bad. They gave him the part number so he could order a replacement. When he tried to order the replacement they told him the case was closed and he couldn’t order the needed part. He is hoping to recreate the case and order the ink delivery sled tonight (ETA on that part ???) Up until a few moments ago my printer was in parts all over my office floor. He kindly put it back together so I wouldn’t have a depressive breakdown. Who knows what is next. Still unable to print. Is there a lemon law for printers?

  12. megster said, on December 5, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    I have a reply for ‘MacDaddy’ that may well solve his woes, although he may not like my suggestion.
    I have had 2 Epson printers, and am budgeting my pennies for purchasing the 3800 next. I have never had a problem with either printer, and they stand behind their product lines.
    Best of all, they work with any of the computer systems — so all you MAC users out there can use Epson products.(consumer, prosumer and pro models).
    Good luck!

  13. Ben Wolf said, on December 6, 2007 at 10:17 am

    To those of you who have outlined support issues on your Z series printer: my name is Ben Wolf and I am the product manager for the Z2100 and Z3100 series in the US. Let me personally apologize to anyone who has received a poor support experience from HP. I encourage anyone who has received an unsatisfactory result or had frustration with our support process to please contact me directly at and I will ensure your problems are addressed.

    I take customer satisfaction on our products very seriously. This is not corporate lip service: every customer is important to me, and if you are not satisfied, I will personally get involved to resolve whatever issues you may be having.


    Ben Wolf
    Creative Segment Mgr

  14. Cuong Tran said, on December 6, 2007 at 9:22 pm

    Good to hear from Ben. I have B9180 and love this printer dearly. I am contemplating upgrade to Z3100 and am so hesitant given the horror stories, especially in support.

    Ben, if the printer is under warranty, HP will stand behind it — even if it is bought used. I hope this is correct.

    Kudo to Paul. It is educational and “amusing” to follow his thread on Z3100.


  15. […] 7, 2007 In this post I had suggested that the Z3100 didn’t come with one year of on-site next business day […]

  16. Mac Daddy said, on December 10, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Support woes update. Dec. 10th. Last Wednesday the replacement inks that I ordered came. I installed them so I could try and finish the initial start up and try to print. The printer completed the boot cycle and wanted to align the print-heads, but it wouldn’t accept any of he papers that I tried to load. Went to bed frustrated again. The next day I spoke with the technician again who was going to try and stop by if I needed him to but I was out. Late Thursday after scouring the online documentation I realized that to do an alignment the paper has to be wider than 17 inches. I loaded a 13 x 19 sheet side ways and that worked. Print heads aligned. I printed a diagnostic page that said a printhead was partially clogged. I ran a few cleaning cycles until it cleared. Printed a picture looked OK ( a crappy jpg that was sent via e-mail). Lastly, and this is what started the service call, The firmware upgrade. Tried and tried and tried and it wouldn’t work. The printer would say “receiving data” and then quit, error 74:10. Changed cables, rebooted, prayed…. nothing.

  17. Mac Daddy said, on December 10, 2007 at 10:16 am

    Support woes final: Here is the kick. I decided to turn off my other printer, a photosmart 8450 that I use for general printing. I tried the firmware upgrade and voila, it worked!! It took almost an hour but I now have the latest firmware installed. So in the end I couldn’t meet my printing deadline for my competition. I had to cancel two paying jobs. I had to replace ink cartridges that were still half full and I wasted a LOT of Time because tech support didn’t know about this issue. Maybe it is a very unique set of circumstances. I hope that HP puts this in their database so that tech supports knows these things.
    1) Never tell a customer to do a hard restart on the printer to set it to default without having start-up printheads first.
    2) Ask if they have other HP printers installed and to turn them off before attempting the firmware upgrade. I don’t know if it is only HP printers or any printer but the print utility program might get confused with two HP printers.

    I also want to say everyone I dealt with was polite and patient, if not knowledgeable. They tried to help. If you are thinking of buying this printer… It rocks! I love it. I just didn’t expect HP to not have the support I needed. The technicians don’t carry parts which adds considerable time to any service call.

    I hope Bob Wolf takes these comments to heart.

  18. John Dean said, on December 21, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    I just wanted to second the thanks to Ben Wolf for offering his assistance to those of us about to purchase the Z3100. That post was very significant to me. I’ll be ordering a 44″ model in January and I take all these comments to heart and keep my eyes open during warranty.

    I also realize that many of us jump to conclusions in the heat of pressure printing and often dismiss entire product offerings due to our own impatience and sometime just plain ignorance. I’ve been there, I’ve done it. However, I too have heard many horrific stories about HP phone support on a range of products from lap tops to scanners, to high end printers. We know they have one of the finest design teams in the business in Barcelona who created this amazing machine. I’ve met some of them in Ny. They listend to what we asked for in the last 5 years that Epson didn’t deliver on. But without tech support and production quality control on something so new and unknown to many of us, all the features in the world won’t make this product line take off like it has the clear potential of doing. I also want to take this opportunity to praise HP on the development of the Vivera inkset. Doubling the life of an inkjet print while maintaing a photographic gamut, and clean smooth black and white output is no small feat.

    John Dean

    Dean Imaging Atlanta Ga.

    Wish me luck in January.

  19. Jerry Nelson said, on January 26, 2008 at 9:26 am

    Paul, you have my sympathy. After all the posts are read and the phone hours squandered, some high level musings are in order.
    1. Large corporations and individual with few options form asymmetrical relationships. Should conflict arise, the resolution might be favorable to the corporation, not the individual, but you can’t be sure.
    2. Modern life is not always fulfilling for those of use trapped in it.
    3. If technology is inherently unreliable, than complex, technologically advanced civilizations may experience breakdowns. I wonder whom we call then.

    On a more cheerful note, Xerographic printers have become reliable in the 48 years since the Xerox 914 went on sale, complete with a CO2 fire extingisher on every machine — seems the fuser ignited your last copy if the paper jammed. Reliabililty has come from progress in materials science and feedback. We can hope for inks that dry yet evaporate slowly, that are permanent without having solids content, so few clogged nozzles. We can expect the addition to todays horrible, mostly open-loop inkjets of some of the innumerable feedback loops that cheap electronics and cunning sensors make possible. It was madness to expect these machines to stay in calibration, or even remain functional. It’s not much better now as only the most rudimentary nozzle droplet and photometric monitoring creep into only the most expensive hardware. Sigh.
    “Inside the Beltway”

  20. John Dorian said, on April 8, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    I just thought i would type this up to let you guys know somethings about tech support for HP, Ive been an HP Badged Service tech for 4 Years, worked through the color problems on the 5000 Series, and the stupid 21:10s on the 500/800 series, and let me tell you, the guys and gals you get on the 800#, they are great, considering the money they get paid (pittance) and the training they get (something like 8 weeks for 30+ Models of printers they have to support vs 4+ weeks we get for every model of printer), they also handle calls from us techs and from resellers(i only know this because a reseller im friends with, will talk to the same names i do). let me also tell you that they are not directly employed by HP. and they do a bang up job all things considered. lets not hassle them because they hang up with us, and then 10 seconds later they are getting yelled at by another one of us because they don’t know every little nuance with the specific media/model of printer that you use. and with some things, its not that they wont tell you, and its not that they dont want to tell you, its just thier jobs are on the line if they let it slip that for example there is new wheels available.

    Please cut us some slack, its only a job
    J. Dorian
    Hp Field Services

  21. John Maitland Graves said, on April 9, 2008 at 8:48 pm


    Guess I shall not be getting an HP product. Just too many issues. Have little time for service problems. Not worth it!


    Sympathy to HP field services – not their fault.

  22. Karen said, on April 23, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    I found your blog thanks to Google after having problems with my HP Z3100ps printer at my work. I’m however having problems with the starwheels leaving marks on my canvas and glossy paper. Luckily I’m getting the same run around as you from the HP Tech Support. Have you had any of this problem with your prints? Any help would be most appreciated since I can’t get an HP tech to come look at my printer.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: