Sunday, 13 December 2015 13:50

What printers excited me in 2015

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Printers can be boring things – yet there were some that deserve a mention as exciting. They can also be hard to review – carrying 20-50Kg in big boxes up three flights of stairs at my office challenges most couriers.

To define the headline – Exciting. I look for things like build quality, running costs (combined or separate ink/toner, replaceable parts), added value or MFP functionality (A4 and A3, duplex print and scan, wireless and cloud print), workload, speed, and overall total cost of ownership (TCO). Which begs the questions - Can you get a bad printer? Are printers simply devices to consume costly ink? The answers are most definitely yes and yes - buit these recommendations stand out as having lower TCO.

Before I get into the printers lets understand a little about these beasts. There are four main consumer/prosumer manufacturers (in approximate order of market share) and many specialists:

  • HP cover everything including sub $100 inkjets; small office/home office (SOHO); mobile; commercial inkjets, lasers, copiers; and huge large format printers
  • Canon (that make many of HPs products) – ditto
  • Epson concentrate on inkjets for home, work, and photo (consumer and prosumer) although it does make some commercial lasers and dot matrix. It also does label printers, mobile printers, and large format graphics printers
  • Brother has split their range into consumer and business and make a range of laser/LED, high speed lasers; inkjet and laser Multi-function printers; and thermal A4 and label printers
  • Specialist companies include Avery and Zebra (labels), Citizen (dot matrix), Ricoh, Konica/Minolta, Lexmark, Fuji Xerox, OKI, Panasonic, and Samsung – these are either in very specialist vertical markets or higher end business and copiers.

Regrettably Canon is not mentioned as it did not send me any press releases or review units. Also bear in mind these are personal recommendations from models I have reviewed or spent time with during the year. All printers mentioned have recommended retail prices quoted and exclude specials, and online that often change the TCO.

Sub $100 inkjet

Suffice to say that any low cost printer has compromises –usually tri-colour combined cartridges, limited life, lower speeds (3-10 PPM - pages per minute), and are designed for low volumes. Almost all are multifunction – scan, copy, and print but have no auto-document feeder (ADF), duplex print of fax.

Brother has a $109 (but often discounted) MFC-J245 that has separate ink cartridges, wireless and network, ADF, fax, and Airprint.

HPs cheapest $79 printer OfficeJet 3830 uses more expensive black (HP 64 and XL versions) and tri-colour cartridges. Its cheapest fax capable OfficeJet 5740 at $139. Its functional value for money is good and TCO is higher.

Epson has seven Expression Home printers under $100 that use four separate ink cartridges but none have fax (the cheapest fax capable is the Expression Premium XP-820 at $299).

Recommendation: Brother leads in this category.

A3/A4 inkjet

You never know when you need to print A3 – in a home or office environment.

Brother has the MFC-J4620DW that at $229 does almost everything you need – Wi-Fi, Airprint, 22 ppm, fax, ADF, occasional A3 and more. Spend a few more dollars to get a 33ppm version.

For SOHO users look at the MFC-6520 at $279 to get a more rugged printer. For a few dollars more you can get the next model up MFC-J6720DW with two paper trays.

HP has a wide format A3 printer OfficeJet 7110 at $199. It has four ink tanks and but is not an MFP. Its MFP Officejet 7510 costs $249.

Epson has a range of Workforce printers that go usually sell from $329 to $449 but there are some amazing discounts ‘at the moment’ that see the WF-7510 at $199 and the WF-7610 at $249.

Recommendation: If you can get the Epson at the discount prices grab them as they are the best specified by far. If not, then Brother is the best option.

A4 SOHO/WORKGROUP inkjet

This is an interesting category as there are a number of commercial grade printers using different ink technologies. For example, Brother has some price leaders that are well made and suitable for commercial use. HP’s page wide technology is amazingly fast at (36 to 42ppm - up to 70ppm in draft), low cost to run and built for workhorse environments. Epson’s new Eco-tank refillable has an amazing low cost to run and produces quality prints. Prices range from $229 to $3346 but for this comparison let’s stay below $800 (as it allows me to include my favourite).

Brother has the 22ppm MFC-J5320 at $299, the MFP-J5720DW at $299, and the MFP-J5920DW- at $499. I was impressed with business level quality, the versatility, and A3/A4 capability.

HP has a range of OfficeJet Pro ranging from $249 to $449 and all offer good performance and value. Where HP differentiates is their page wide models that print the entire page width (ink cartridges are A4 width) at once. The 32ppm, $699 X476dw is an MFP including and duplex print and scan. My favourite is the $799, 42ppm, X576dw that has full MFP, duplex print and scan, and very comprehensive software. I know of corporations that have replaced lasers with this model due to speed, quality and low running costs.

Epson has the Workforce (WF) inkjet series that start at $119 and go to $499. It has higher specified A3 and Pro series – all are good.

The one I want to talk about is the EcoTank ET series. This range has scored 5 out of 5 by most reviewers for durability, SOHO and workgroup suitability, and amazingly low cost to run due to a unique refillable ink tank system. These are $449 (no fax) ET-2500 to $599 (fax) ET-4500 . There are also two slightly different models excusive to Harvey Norman. They are very new so long term usage has not been determined as yet but I think these are a category leader.

Recommendation: If you budget extends to $699-799 then the HP page wide printers are the best choice – by far. In tests these had TCO of less than a $69 printer over four years – if the $69 printer lasted that long!

If your budget is $449 to $599 you cannot go past the Epson’s EcoTank printers.

If your budget is $229 to $499 you cannot go past Brother’s A3/A4 MFC-J5XXDW series.

A4 Laser professional use

I cannot make a definitative recommendation at this level because so many printers have managed print services – pay per print instead of outright purchase. These also have options like extra trays, pedestals, staplers, finishers and collators, speeds typically 50 to 100 ppm, remote print, collaboration, printer management software, duplex print and scan – all at a cost and you won’t find them at major retailers.

Brother has a range of business colour, mono, standard and MFP printers – including a 100ppm mono, laser only sold by specialists.

HP has the Officejet Enterprise (inkjet) ranging from $1300 (printer only) to $3346 (MFP, hard disk etc.). It also has LaserJet Enterprise (laser) 4XXX series 4XXX, 5XXX, 6XXX, series from $1320 to $9,500.

Epson does not do lasers in this category as it believes the WorkForce inkjets do overlap in this category. They are one of the few remaining dot matrix printer makers.

Recommendations: I think HP has this area well covered with enterprise laser quality inkjets to laser machines that reach up to the realms of copiers.

Interesting Printers

Brother’s thermal A4 printers range from $599 to $879. These mono printers (remember the thermal fax paper or credit card receipts) are a good addition to the road warriors kit. It also has thermal receipt printers.

Epson and HP have portable colour inkjets.

HP has a new ‘sexy’ range of DeskJet home printers (not MFP but have flatbed scanners) from $59 to $69 and the Envy range from $99-119. As much as I like the design I cannot recommend Tri-colour cartridge machines except for very light usage.

Epson has some interesting photo printers that use 6 cartridge Claria dye ink (expensive). At $279 they will produce a 4 x 6” postcard print every 12 seconds. A 6 pack (one of each cartridge) is $159.98.

Some words of wisdom

I have used manufactures recommended retail but if you shop online you will save on printers and ink. I typcially use about four online companies to compare prices. My favourite, $799, HP x576dw page wide can be found from $600 to $700 plus freight.

Similarly, XL or extended life cartridges are always cheaper to buy in bulk online. If you think you will use say 2000 pages a year (4 reams) then shop around and buy enough ink for say two years – once the starter inks are running low. That mainly applies to lower cost printers – the HP page wide XL inks do 9200 pages back and 6600 pages in colour!

Then there is the age old question of genuine ink versus third party, remanufactured, or refilled ink. The answer is simple – genuine ink/toner is always better quality and should at least be used during the warranty period. After that it is your choice. Also be aware that genuine ink will likely use ‘pigment’ versus a cheaper dye. Pigment lasts longer and resists fading. Photo inks may use dye sublimation – a kind of heat process to set the ink.

Managed print services for commercial printers may actually be cheaper that owning the printer and buying toner. This opens the market to Konica, Kyocera, Lanier, Lexmark, Ricoh, OKI, Toshiba and Xerox.

Warranty will typically be 12 months on all the lower end printers. You can buy warranty extensions and on-site service for most commercial printers. My experience is that these seldom go wrong so save the money and depreciate the printer.

I have not seen a poor quality print on any of these – it does depend on paper, printer settings etc., but on the whole they are all excellent.

3D printers – too bulky to review but coming down in price.

And apologies to Canon – get your PR department moving if you want coverage next year.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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