Monday, 20 January 2020 11:07

Review: Brother Inkvestment A3 Inkjet Multi-Function Printer MFC-J6545DW

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Brother's MFC-J6545DW multifunction delivers full A3 capabilities with low running costs.

At around 20kg, the MFC-J6545DW is a hefty piece of kit. The good news is that Brother took the weight into account when designing the packaging, and inside the box the printer is wrapped in a thick plastic bag with carrying handles. This means it is relatively easy to unpack single-handedly, as you don't have to bend right over the carton to lift it out.

Setup is also straightforward, although the USB, Ethernet and phone sockets are mounted beneath the scanner. That's a slight inconvenience during installation, but more importantly it means around 60cm of cable is wasted inside the device. That could make the difference between an existing cable being sufficient and having to buy a new and longer one.

Like all inkjets with non-integrated printheads, a significant amount of ink is used to prime the mechanism during initial setup. In this case, the process consumed around 6% of the "inbox" (starter) tanks (cartridges). But since the package also includes a set of XL ink cartridges (rated at 5000 pages for cyan, yellow and magenta, or 3000 pages for black), buyers won't have to rush out to buy spares. Indeed, Brother claims there's enough ink in the box to last for up to two years (up to 9000 black and 6500 colour pages).

The MFC-J6545DW is part of Brother's Inkvestment family, which combines a relatively high capital cost with a low cost per page, much like Epson's Ecotank range.

The Brother's web interface revealed that updated firmware was available, so we installed it continuing with testing. There was no indication of what had changed.

Other functions controlled through that interface include sleep and power-off times, speaker volume, control panel backlight setting, fax address book, scanning profiles (network destination, quality, file type, etc), user restrictions (eg, print but not copy or scan, page limit, no colour printing; up to 100 users can be accommodated), and network settings. Not only is it easier to use these controls rather than via the printer's touch screen, the web interface allows remote administration.

The device has a number of other features that will appeal to IT administrators in medium and large organisations. These include sending reports and notifications by email, and support for SNMP, LDAP, IPsec, Kerberos and Active Directory.

AirPrint support enables printing from iOS devices, and means no drivers or other software necessary to print, scan or fax for macOS. However, Brother does offer a downloadable installer package containing a CUPS printer driver, fax driver and Status Monitor utility to "get the most functionality out of your Brother machine." The CUPS driver does provide control over the more obscure printing parameters (eg, diffusion or dither halftone patterns, adjusting for thicker papers, or reducing smudging when duplex printing), but we suspect most users will be happy using AirPrint.

The installer recommends the use of Brother's iPrint&Scan app, but the print side of this program is only meant for printing photos and seems less capable than macOS's native Preview or Photos. When it comes to scanning, the app does have some advantages over Image Capture in that its feature set includes de-skewing, automatic rotation based on text direction, bleed-though removal, and colour dropping. In our testing, automatic rotation worked but de-skewing was ineffective on either image- or text-heavy documents.

Windows drivers and supporting software are available, and the J6545DW also supports Mopria, Windows mobile printing, and Google Cloud Print (which is being dropped by Google at the end of 2020).

An automatic document feeder (ADF) is a welcome feature in any office that does a lot of scanning. The J6545DW's ADF did a good job, managing to separate even dog-eared pages. Some particularly serious dog ears did result in warped images as they caused the original to slew while passing through the scanner, but we were surprised that the results weren't even worse – documents in that condition would normally be placed on the scanner glass rather than going through the ADF.

This device also gives good results when scanning or copying photos. The colour rendition isn't identical to the original, but it does come close – certainly close enough for most office purposes. For other types of document you probably wouldn't notice the difference.

Speed is sometimes a consideration. Using an Ethernet connection, our usual business test document had a first-page-out (FPO) time of 14 sec, with the second page dropping after another three seconds. Brother claims an FPO of 6 sec (slightly less for mono) and then 22 ppm mono and 20 ppm colour.

We clocked a very simple (one word per page) six-page text document at 10 sec FPO, and then another 10 sec for all five remaining pages.

So as usual, our FPO times were slower than the manufacturer's claim, but the run-on speeds were broadly consistent.

Switching to Wi-Fi made no appreciable difference to print times in our tests, although the J6545DW was within a metre of the access point.

We somehow managed to get the printer into an unusable state while trying to use the web interface to switch from Ethernet to Wi-Fi. A call to Brother revealed the codes needed to perform a factory reset from the control panel, and then we were back in business.

Duplex printing is good for saving paper and reducing the bulk of printed documents, and the J6545DW supports duplex right up to A3. There is a slight speed penalty: around one second per A4 sheet in our tests.

MFC6545DW alt9

Like many recent network-connected printers, the J6545DW connects to internet services – including Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive and OneDrive – to upload scanned documents or to print documents from the cloud, among other functions. Those we tried worked without any fuss or bother.

A selection of apps covers functions such as printing a variety of paper templates (graph paper, music paper, lined paper, etc); scanning documents to Excel, PowerPoint, Word or searchable PDF; and scanning to a mobile device. The latter is interesting, because the image file is uploaded to a Brother server, and accessed by scanning a QR code that appears on the J6545DW control panel. Again, our use of these functions was uneventful.

We didn't test the fax functions because we no longer have a fax machine or a second phone line to use as the other end.

At $947, it's not a cheap printer. You're paying a significant premium for the A3 scanning, faxing and copying capability, because the $694 MFC-J5845DW is otherwise similar apart from its scanning mechanism being limited to A4. If you don't print enough pages to justify the upfront cost of an Inkvestment model, there's the $209 MFC-J5330DW that prints A3 pages but only scans, faxes and copies originals up to A4 and uses conventional ink cartridges that cost around 23c per colour page compared with around six cents for Inkvestment cartridges.

Another issue is that it is only sold through Officeworks, an arrangement we're not keen on regardless of the retailer involved, if only because it makes a mockery of price matching promises.

But the J6545DW seems solidly made, does a respectable job, has management features that will appeal to businesses with at least several staff, and – apart from that network setup glitch that we'll put down to operator error – was trouble-free during the review period.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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