Stephen Bay's Photography Blog

How to Deal With White Dust Spots on Your Prints

You’ve just had a large print roll off your printer. You hold it up to the light and it looks fabulous with deep blacks and oh so rich colors. But… you notice a tiny white spot where the ink has flaked off.

I’m pretty sure this has happened to everybody who does their own inkjet printing. It’s super frustrating and costly. Depending on the paper you use, printing runs anywhere from $2-5 per square foot. So that tiny white spot ruining your 24”x36” print could easily set you back $20 in materials not to mention time. It will drive you crazy if you don’t address the problem.

What causes the spots?

The usual cause is a dust particle that falls on or is stuck to the paper. Then as the paper runs through the printer, the ink gets laid on top of the particle instead of the paper surface. Eventually the particle falls off leaving a white spot where it blocked the ink.

I find this happens much more frequently with precut sheets (as opposed to roll paper) because there’s often a lot of dust in the package. This could be either paper fibers or loose chips of the surface coating which can flake off from the edge.

If you’ve had your printer for some time, there may be quite a bit of residual dust inside it. I’ve also had the carriage belt, which moves the print head back and forth, start disintegrating and dropping little pieces of black rubber on to my prints. It got progressively worse until I replaced it (an 8 hour DIY job on my HP Z3200).

Prevent spots from occuring

The best course of action is to prevent spots from occuring in the first place. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Put your paper under a bright light at an angle. This should make it easier to spot any dust, hairs, or other particulate matter on your paper.
  2. Use a soft brush and gently wipe both sides of the paper.
  3. Use a rocket blower and blow off the surface.

You can use any soft brush and I have a cheap horsehair brush (Alvin Draftsman Duster #2342) which cost me about $6. When I first got it there were a lot of loose hairs that would fall on my print (so I had to make sure to remove them), but it has became less of a problem as I’ve used it. You can also find much more expensive brushes that are anti-static but I’ve not felt the need for them.

Since I’ve started brushing my paper, I’ve had very few problems with spots. However if this fails to solve the issue, you may want to try a different paper as some are just more prone to dust and flaking because of their surface.

I also take a few other preventative steps: I use a damp cloth to clean off my paper boxes when I get them (sometimes there’s quite a bit of dust on the box, inside the box, and on the plastic bag). I also clean the printer and my work area around it.

Brush and rocket blower

Retouching prints

If you’ve already made your print and it has a white dust spot you don’t necessarily need to throw it out. I have a set of retouching markers and I carefully fill in the spot on the print. It helps if you can try matching the colors on a smaller proof print first.

Retouching generally works well if the area is textured and will usually be unnoticeable. But in smooth areas with a solid color, like the sky, it can be hard to get the marker color to match exactly. If I can still see the spot after retouching, I will throw it away and reprint.

Finally, I only retouch prints destined for for short term exhibitions or proofs. I reprint any work that is for sale, so I don’t worry if my markers are archival or not.