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Inkjet printers

We’ve reviewed six multifunction inkjet printers, testing and comparing them for speed, quality of printing and running costs

Inkjet printers have become increasingly affordable, with PC retailers and even supermarkets piling them high and selling them cheap. However, the bargain you take home might not seem such great value for money when you realize how often the ink needs to be replenished and how much that costs.

In this Group Test, we’ve reviewed six multifunction inkjet printers, including two older models that are currently available at heavily discounted prices. As well as looking at how well the printers perform, both in speed and print quality, we also scrutinized how much ink the printers consume and the cost of replacing their cartridges.

How to choose a printer

There are more printers available, at a wider range of prices than ever before. Here’s what you should consider when trying to choose the right one for you

Inkjet or laser?

Laser printers want to convince us that they’re as home-friendly as their inkjet counterparts, while some inkjets are as fast as laser printer. So which of these very different animals is right for you? Laser printer toner cartridges last several thousand pages but cost a fortune. Color models tend to slowly use up the color toners even if you only print black, then refuse to print at all when any of them is empty. This makes color lasers awkward if you only print occasionally, and even for higher volumes they don’t necessarily work out cheaper to run than inkjet to run. They do offer crisper text and solid color graphics, but aren’t great for photos.

For most of us an inkjet is the best choice, or a budget mono laser for black only.

Multi-function

It’s more common than ever to find printers with a scanner stuck on top.

There are differences in quality and speed between scanners, so always read our reviews. For everyday occasional photocopying and digitizing paper documents, any ‘multi-function printer’ (MFP) should be fine. A few models still support faxing.

Paper handling

Most printers can accommodate 250 A4 sheets in their main tray, but others only fit 100 (sometimes in a vertical hopper on top, which isn’t as neat). Many MFPs now have an automatic document feeder (ADF, see image above right) for the scanner, typically taking 25 sheets, which is great for multi-page copies. It’s rarer to find a ‘straight-through’ rear paper feed, which avoids the need for thick card to wrap around rollers, so most printers are limited to about 300gsm (grams per square meter) paper. A few A4 printers, notably made by Brother, can print single sheets of A3, but full A3 and larger printers are much pricier.

Laser and inkjet printers have things in common, but are very different animals

Getting connected

A printer can connect to a PC via a USB cable; to a PC or router via an Ethernet cable (meaning you can share it with other devices on your network); or to PCs and mobile devices via built-in Wi-Fi.

Most Wi-Fi models support AirPrint (Apple’s technology that allows printing from iOS apps) and Mopria (for compatible Android apps). A few rely on the printer manufacturer’s own app, which will also let you scan pages from an MFP to your phone or tablet.

The Xerox Phaser 6022V color laser printer, but a full set of refills is well over.

The Xerox Phaser 6022V color laser printer, but a full set of refills is well over.

Until all printers fill up from bottles like Epson’s EcoTank, cartridges will remain pricey

Ink and toner costs Our reviews always work out the cost per page for you based on current prices for official ink or toner cartridges. Roughly, expect around 2.5-4p for black text or 7-10p for color. These figures are useful for comparison, but the industry standard definition of a ‘page’ assumes there’s not much on it, so in fact a fullpage photo could use dozens of pages’ worth of ink or toner. Printers also waste ink/toner in maintenance tasks.

Larger ‘XL’ cartridges save money.

Tank systems such as Epson’s EcoTank can work out even cheaper, as well as creating less waste. With HP’s Instant Ink option you pay a monthly fee and ink arrives in the post whenever you’re running low, but to be sure of saving money you’ll need a clear idea of how many pages you’re likely to print.

Unofficial ‘compatible’ cartridges often work fine, and can save money.

But printer manufacturers hate you using them, so expect your printer to harangue you about using an unapproved cartridge. Heavy users of color laser printers, for example, can easily save hundreds of pounds by finding a reliable brand of compatible toner.

HOW WE TESTED

We ran each printer through a barrage of timed printing tests, including a five-page color report, a 20-page monochrome text document and a full-color photomontage. We then compared the output of each printer to assess quality, checking the clarity and definition of blacks and colors. We also compared the print capacity and price of each manufacturer’s cartridges, to work out and compare the total cost of running each printer.

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Brother MFC-J5330DW Review

This Brother inkjet is the largest printer in this test, so you need to make sure you’ve got enough room to house its bulky 530 x 398mm footprint. It’s bursting with features, though, and is the only printer in this round-up to offer A3 printing.

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Brother Printer MFCJ5330DW Wireless Color Printer with Scanner, Copier & Fax

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$159.00 $189.00

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It was the fastest in our tests at producing mono prints, managing 16.7ppm (pages per minute), and it’s no slouch at color printing, either – only the HP Envy 4520 was faster.

Print quality is also respectable: black doesn’t have the definition you’d expect from a more expensive device but it’s adequate, while photo prints are excellent, showing vibrant color and good contrast between light and dark shades.
Given its great performance, you’d expect the Brother inkjet to charge a premium for its cartridges, but at 1p per mono print and 4.2p per color print, the total cost of printing 5,000 pages came second only to the Epson.

Verdict

This Brother inkjet is a beast of a printer, but if you’ve got the space for its sizable bulk, you’ll find it has a lot going for it. It produces great-looking prints, both double-sided and A3, and excellent photos – and doesn’t take ages doing it. Best of all, it’s reasonably priced and cheap to run.

4/5

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Epson EcoTank ET-2600 Review

Epson has taken a stand against the exorbitant running-costs of inkjet printers by switching cartridges for a system of internal ink tanks, refilled using cheaper bottles that hold enough ink to print 6,500 pages. The results speak for themselves: mono prints cost just 0.24p per page; color prints cost 0.5p.

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Epson Expression ET-2600 EcoTank All-in-One Printer with Wireles Print, Copy and Scan...

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$219.99

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If value for money is your priority, the Epson is the ideal option. On the downside, refilling the cartridges can be messy and the printer has to ‘charge’ the ink after you’ve filled the tank, which can take 20 minutes. It’s also slow: only the super-cheap Canon Pixma MG4250 took longer to print than the Epson’s 9.9ppm mono speed. Quality isn’t perfect, either: text suffers from ragged edges, while our test photos on plain paper were dull and lifeless, though they perked up considerably when printed on glossy paper.

Verdict

This isn’t the fastest or most capable printer, but if you print a lot and are willing to compromise on speed and quality, the low running costs are very attractive indeed. It also produces hardly any waste because there are no cartridges to throw away

4/5

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HP Envy 7640 Review

For a relatively low price tag, the Envy 7640 has a surprising number of additional features. A sheet feeder on the top of the device means you can dump a pile of stuff to copy or scan without having to manually carry out each one, and it also comes with fax capabilities, if you’re still sending and receiving them.

The quality of printing is good enough, particularly on photos and color documents, but the black isn’t as sharp as we’d like. Running the printer is expensive, too, because you’ll have spent £359.97 by the time you’ve printed your 5,000th sheet.

3/5

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Canon Pixma TS9050 Review

This unassuming box is well designed and has a large 12.6cm screen, which makes it slick and simple to operate.
If photo quality is your priority, this is definitely the printer to go for. It wasn’t that brilliant on plain paper but it comes into its own when printing on glossy paper.

However, it’s expensive to buy and run, and by the time you’ve printed out your 5,000th page. Most of this cost is due to its color printing, which costs 8.7p per sheet. Mono printing come out at a more reasonable 1.4p per sheet.

3/5

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HP Envy 4520 Review

The HP Envy 4520 has the same stylish, compact design as more expensive printers, despite being a couple of years old. It has a touchscreen interface that makes it easy to control and was one of the fastest printers in this group, managing 16.3ppm in mono and 9.8ppm in color. Even the print quality was reasonable, if not brilliant.

However, its running costs make it less appealing. At 5.3p per sheet when printing in mono, it’s a pricey option that will have cost you more than by the time you’ve printed your 5,000th page.

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HP Envy 4520 Wireless All-in-One Photo Printer with Mobile Printing, Instant Ink...

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3/5

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Canon Pixma MG4250 Review

The Canon Pixma MG4250 is an older model from 2012, but it’s still available at a very cheap price.

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PIXMA MG4250 - Multifunction ( printer / copier / scanner ) -...

Last update was in: 2017-08-18 1:07 am

$125.20

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It has a built-in flatbed scanner, 802.11n Wi-Fi and a color display, though this isn’t a touchscreen and uses buttons to control it. The printer is the slowest of the models we tested, printing at 8.8ppm in mono. We also found the print results disappointing because it laid down too much ink on color prints, while mono printing lacked finesse. It was reasonable at printing photos on glossy paper, though our prints were a little grainy and the colors were muted.

3/5

TEST-RESULTS CHARTS

OUR VERDICT

We awarded our Gold Award to the Brother MFC-J5330DW because it’s got what it takes in all the right places.
Crammed with features, from a sheet feeder to A3 printing, it’s excellent at printing photos, prints at a very reasonable speed and offers good value for money, both in the asking price and the long-term cost of printing.

Anyone looking for an affordable, waste-free printer should seriously consider the Epson EcoTank ET-2600, which is significantly cheaper to run than the other printers we reviewed here. However, it’s not as quick or as good at printing as the Brother.

Our Bronze Award goes to the HP Envy 7640, because it produced great-looking prints and has many of the extras you’ll want from a multifunctional printer and scanner. However, it’s not ideal if you print a lot because the running costs are high.

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