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Today's Multifunction Printers: What to Expect
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Link-Up Digital

The biggest beefs about inkjet printers, and multifunction printers based on inkjet technology, is that they blow through ink so quickly and that replacement ink cartridges from manufacturers are so expensive.

The business model is: sell printers inexpensively, include limited printed-page capacity, tie the printer to proprietary ink cartridges with print technology and software, and sell replacement ink cartridges expensively.

Naturally, consumers don't like this and have sought alternatives, from buying third-party ink cartridges to sending used cartridges out to be refilled by third-party companies. Most times the workarounds work, though not always well, and other times they ruin your printer.

Inkjet and multifunction printer companies may be getting wise. Epson, which made its name in the day when dot matrix printers were the standard, is leading the way here. It introduced a new kind of inkjet last fall with its “supertank” technology. These new printers have been around now long enough to show they work.

Epson EcoTank printers, targeted for home use, and WorkForce printers, targeted for business use, throw away the old, small, prefilled inkjet cartridges. Instead, they use larger tanks in which you have to pour in ink, carefully. When you run out of ink, instead of buying and snapping in new cartridges, you pour in more ink.

The biggest benefit is that the capacity is much greater. You no longer have to replace cartridges every few months. The ink lasts for up to two years without your having to squirt more in.

The home-use Epson Expression ET-2550 EcoTank all-in-one can print up to 4,000 black and 6,500 color pages before a refill. The home office WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank all-in-one can print up to 11,000 black and 8,500 color pages and includes auto two-sided printing and built-in faxing.

I tested the Epson Expression. It’s sturdy and fast, with a rated speed of 9.2 pages per minute for black and 4.5 pages per minute for color. The WorkForce ET-4550 is rated at 13 pages per minute for black and 7.3 pages per minute for color. The Expression has a 100-sheet paper capacity, the WorkForce 150-sheet.

Both include WiFi, so you don't need cables hooked up to computers, tablets, or smartphones to print. Both use four separate ink tanks for black, cyan, magenta, and yellow.

One downside is that the printers themselves aren’t inexpensive. The Epson Expression ET-2550 EcoTank is around $300 and the WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank around $400. Epson offers slightly less expensive models as well as a more expensive office model, the WorkForce Pro WF-R4640 EcoTank. Still, when factoring in the ink costs, the overall costs should be considerably less.

Another downside is the need to handle the ink with care. You have to be cautious about not spilling when filling the ink and when moving the printer from one location to another.

Even in the age of the “paperless” office when we can send, read, and store documents without cutting down trees for paper and refining petroleum for ink, multifunction printers can be marvelously useful. Sometimes called all-in-one printers, they can print, copy, scan, and often fax.

Multifunction printers are particularly useful for the small office, home office, or home, where there may not be space for a separate copy machine, scanner, and fax machine. There are also cost savings in buying one multifunction unit compared with multiple separate units.

In the past you had to sacrifice functionality with a multifunction device, not getting the same quality or feature set with an all-in-one that you got from individual units. Today’s multifunction printers have virtually bridged that gap.

With multifunction devices, you still risk multifunction downtime. If the unit breaks, you’re prevented not only from printing but also from carrying out the other tasks that the unit makes possible.

There are four main types of multifunction printers: general inkjet, photo inkjet, black and white laser, and color laser. Inkjets print in black and white or color, while photo inkjets provide extra resolution and color fidelity for those who use the machine extensively for printing photos.

If all you’re printing is black and white documents, laser printers are still faster and cheaper. In printing photos with inkjets, you get the best quality using photo paper.

But if you’re printing a lot of snapshots, it can make sense to use an online photo service such as Snapfish, where you can upload your work and have copies mailed to you or others. Similarly, if you’re making a lot of copies, it can make sense to use a local copy shop.


Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgoldsborough@gmail.com or reidgold.com.


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