Epson B-510DN ink jet printer

The Epson B-510DN colour inkjet printer could be the first crossover success, besting its own cohort–as well as many lower-end colour lasers–in speed and cost per page. All this talent comes at a high initial price ($599 as of June 28, 2010). But if you need speed, volume, and economy, plus good photo printing, this printer is well worth considering.

The B-510DN’s design is efficient rather than aesthetic. The front ink-cartridge bay makes replacing consumables a snap, but it protrudes awkwardly from the unit’s face. The control panel is simple, with a two-line monochrome LCD and a few buttons whose purposes are clear even without word labels. The front input tray holds 500 letter/legal sheets and has a 170-sheet output tray on top. A rear input takes envelopes and the like (or another 150 sheets of paper). It can connect via USB or Ethernet. Automatic duplexing is standard. (On the Mac platform, a driver glitch means that Mac OS X 10.6 users must select the paper size and type manually in their application–just for the first time duplexing is used. Epson says a fix is due by September.)

Pages virtually flew out of the B-510DN. Via a PC connection, plain-text pages averaged 14.7 pages per minute (ppm), and colour photos (4-by-6 inches on letter-size media), 3.4 ppm. Via a Mac, plain text averaged 13.82 ppm, while a four-page PDF of mixed text and graphics managed 2 ppm. A high-resolution colour photo (at near-full-page size) printed at a rate of 1.1 ppm.

Print quality was mostly very good. Photos on Epson’s own matte paper boasted accurate colours and a slightly dotty, but even, texture. (The same images on plain paper looked washed out and grainy, though.) Text printed on plain paper was nicely dark but a little fuzzy–one of the few areas where similarly priced lasers and even the HP (NYSE: HPQ) OfficeJet Pro 8000 Wireless fared a little better.

The B-510DN’s consumables are extremely cheap. Its standard-sized supplies include the T616100, a $40, 3,000-page black (1.3 cents per page) and $50, 3,500-page cyan (T616200), magenta (T616300), and yellow (T616400) cartridges (1.4 cents per colour, per page). A full-colour page would cost just 5.6 cents. The high-yield colours (with T617 designations) each cost $60 and last 7,000 pages, or 0.9 cents per colour, per page. Epson offers two larger black tanks: the T617100, a $50, 4,000-page cartridge, and the T618100, a $70, 8,000-page cartridge. The former marginally reduces cost per page to 1.2 cents (hardly worth the bother compared with the T616100), while the latter cuts per-page expense to a mere 0.87 cents. A maintenance tray to collect leftover ink costs $17.50 and lasts 35,000 pages. The OKI C610dtn colour LED printer costs a little more and is a little faster, but its toner is also a bit more expensive.

The Epson B-510DN removes nearly all question of whether an ink jet printer can succeed in business. It offers competitive speeds and ink costs–enough to make some lower-end colour lasers nervous.

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