Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4540

The Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4540 ($400 as of February 22, 2012) does most everything (copying/faxing/printing/scanning) well, but it faces stiff competition in the business inkjet multifunction category. Put another way: It’s fast, but not the fastest; it produces great output, but nothing beyond what other models generate; and it’s cheap to operate, though no cheaper than its rivals. Unfortunately, said rivals fully support legal-size documents, and the WorkForce Pro WP-4540, for the most part, does not. 

One genuinely appealing, unique-in-class feature is the WorkForce Pro WP-4540’s 80-sheet rear vertical, multipurpose feed. Combined with the integrated 250-sheet tray and the included 250-sheet, bottom-mounted auxiliary tray, that makes the WP-4540’s input capacity a generous 580 sheets. The rear feed eliminates the 180-degree turn that sheets from the trays must suffer, so there’s no bending of thick photo papers; it also accommodates legal-size paper, which the trays do not.

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The scanner bed is letter/A4-size, and can take sheets from the 30-sheet automatic document feeder. You’ll also find an automatic duplexer for two-sided printing (not the driver default), as well as automatic two-sided scanning. The scanning is a double-feed process: Since the unit has no second element to scan the back of the page on the first pass, it scans each side in succession.

Installing the WorkForce Pro WP-4540 was largely a breeze, though Epson still has not fixed its installation process so that wireless push-scanning to PCs is correctly enabled; we had to set exceptions in the Windows firewall ourselves to get it to work. The company is aware of the issue, and promises to address it. Push-scanning via ethernet and USB are not hampered in this manner. The WorkForce Pro WP-4540’s documentation is all online except for the included setup sheet; while it is generally thorough, it lacks info on troubleshooting the push-scanning issue.

You can control the WorkForce Pro WP-4540 largely via its 5.8-inch touch panel, but the unit has physical buttons for the fax keypad and common jobs such as copy, scan, and the like. The menu structure is intuitive, as is the Epson Scan software designed for controlling the scanning functions from a PC. AirPrint and email printing are fully supported, and ScanSoft Paperport is included for both the PC and Mac to handle OCR tasks. The MFP has a front USB port, but it’s only for scanning to USB-connected media; you can’t print from a USB thumb drive or a PictBridge-compatible camera.

The WorkForce Pro WP-4540 was very fast with plain paper at default settings in our tests, producing text at 12.4 pages per minute on the PC and 12.25 ppm on the Mac. Snapshot-size (4-by-6-inch) photos also printed quickly at 6.2 ppm; and though we don’t officially clock it, full-page photos on plain paper exited rapidly as well. Things slowed down quite a bit when we printed to glossy photo paper. The same 4-by-6-inch photo prints emerged at a rate of only 1.7 ppm on the PC, and the full-page photo printed at a rate of 0.7 ppm on the Mac. Copies and scans were very quick; the one-page copy times were the fastest for a business inkjet MFP that we’ve seen, though we did notice a slowdown via wireless occasionally.

Output is first-class most of the way. Text appears black, smooth, and precise, even with closely spaced fonts. Color graphics have the infamous (but slight) Epson pinkish cast to them, but are generally very nice. Monochrome graphics are exceptional, with only the darkest areas rendered a tad muddy. Color scans are good, if a bit fuzzy, while line-art scans exhibit a fair number of distortions–call them fair.

Ink costs for the WorkForce Pro WP-4540 are quite low, far cheaper than with low-end inkjet MFPs, but in line with other business inkjet MFPs. The unit’s regular 676XL black ink cartridge lasts for approximately 2400 pages, yet costs only $38.49–a mere 1.6 cents per page. The 676XL cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges cost $24.49 apiece and last for 1200 pages, or just over 2 cents per page. A four-color page costs 7.6 cents. Note: The WP-4540 ships with 1000-page black and 900-page color starter cartridges.

If you read the product overview section on the company’s website, you’ll see that the WorkForce Pro WP-4540 is rated for a 20,000-page monthly duty cycle. Dig into the notes on the Specifications tab, however, and you’ll discover that the printer is actually meant to handle 1600 pages per month–the recommended duty cycle. To be fair, this is a universal discrepancy among printers.

The WorkForce Pro WP-4540 gets the job done quickly and cheaply, and it has the largest standard capacity in the field. That said, the equally fast and inexpensive-to-operate HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus e-All-in-One Printer is $100 cheaper and supports legal-size documents, though it’s less capacious (250 sheets). The like-priced Lexmark OfficeEdge Pro5500 ($399) is another viable legal-size contender, but it too holds less paper (300 sheets).

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