Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Epson moving fast into business-class ink jets

Up until now, Epson ink jet printers and all-in-ones were, like most of their competitors, of limited use to businesses. Once you looked past the rated draft speed to a “normal” resolution (around 600dpi) speed, the speed fell off disappointingly, often to under 5ppm. In addition, color ink has been expensive, often far more than laser toner. These printers, well suited to occasional printing and well equipped for printing digital photos, just weren’t suitable for a real business.

But Epson is rapidly changing that perception. It has come out with two new series of ink jet printers and MFPs that offer from good to excellent speed, more moderate printing costs, and (in some cases) more than minimal hardware features.

The WorkForce series contains two printers, the Workforce 30 ($70) and 40 ($130). These low-cost machines offer decent speeds averaging well over 10ppm at normal resolution. The WorkForce 40 also includes both Ethernet and Wi-Fi networking. Both machines have good photo printing features as well.

Two all-in-one multifunctionals are also included in the WorkForce series. The WorkForce 500 ($180) and 600 ($200) can print, copy, scan, and fax, and have a 30-sheet document feeder in addition to a platen. The printing speeds are over 20ppm in normal resolution.

Even more robust are the printers in the B series, made up of the single-user t B-300 ($329) and the network-ready B-500Dn ($529). These machines print at over 30ppm in normal mode. They have fairly solid paper handling for ink jet printers with 650 sheets of input. They also do not come with extensive photo printing tools bundled in, indicating where Epson is headed with this series.

But most exciting is the cost per page. Epson is claiming a cost per-blsck page cost for the 500DN of under one cent, and a color cost around 3.5 cents. The B-300 costs are a bit higher, but still remarkable for a low-cost printer.

We have yet to get our hands on any of these machines, so we’ll be a little skeptical for now. And speed figures on ink jet printers are notoriously variable, based on ink coverage for each page, unlike laser printers, which have much more predictable speeds. But if the speeds and costs are anything near on the mark, Epson is going to make a big inroad into the growing market for low-cost color laser printers. Like HP and Ricoh (and others to follow), Epson is on the way to making ink jet technology a real contended in the office.

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