Category: Printers and Scanners

Product Review–Brother MFC-7360N monochrome multifunction laser printer

Introduction

I am now reviewing the Brother MFC-7360N monochrome multifunction laser printer which is part of a series of newly-released monochrome-laser multifunction printers released by this company. This unit is positioned as a “step-up” model above the MFC-7360 entry-level direct-connect model. The midrange model in this series is the MFC-7460DN which can print on both sides of the page as well as become future-proof by supporting T.37-compliant Internet faxing. The top-shelf model is the MFC-7860DW which also has 802.11g WPA2 WPS-compliant Wi-Fi connectivity and can accept output from smartphones and tablets equipped with the Brother iPrint&Scan app.

They all have the same new “compact monochrome laser” print engine as the Brother HL-2240D printer that I previously reviewed and its peers such as the HL-2270DN network model that I also recommend. Here, this xerographic-print engine is a full laser type and can yield a simplex print speed of 24 pages per minute.

Brother MFC-7360N monochrome laser multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
B/W Colour B/W B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser Xerographic 2400dpi G3 Multi-purpose slot Ethernet
Automatic Document Feeder IPv6

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$349.99

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black 69.99 1200 $118.99 2600

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit AUD$129.95 12000

The printer itself

This unit uses the typical control panel layout as common with most machines in its class but the LCD display could benefit from backlighting. Here, I had to set the display contrast to maximum to gain best readability; and is something that could be improved upon.

Brother MFC-7360N monochrome laser multifunction printer control panel

Control panel

Setup

This unit has the same Brother fax-setup wizard with one name and fax number as a station ID, so you don’t have to determine a separate station ID for transmitting and receiving. It also can work properly with a dedicated fax line or a shared fax line, whether through a distinctinve ring (Faxstream Duet) setup or a CNG-detect arrangement.

It can be set up on an Ethernet (or HomePlug) network with plug-and-play operation for most small networks and is IPv6 ready. Of course, when the time comes to enable the network for IPv6, the user just has to go to the Network menu on the control panel and select “IPv6” and set that to “On” before turning the unit off and on in order to have it as part of the IPv6 network.

It could benefit from NTP-based Internet time synchronisation with time-zone selection so the user doesn’t have to set the clock when they set up or shift this machine or after a power blackout.

Walk-up functions

This unit has the basic copy and fax functions, and allows walk-up scanning to network-connected computers only. Here, the host computer needs to run Brother-supplied scan monitor software

The more-expensive models; the MFC7460DN and MFC-7860DW, have the ability to support scan-to-email and T.37-compliant Internet-fax endpoint functionality. These features should be available across the range as we move away from the circuit-based telephone setup towards packet-based telephony.setups courtesy of the next-generation broadband infrastructure plans.

Brother MFC-7360N Monochrome Multifunction Laser Printer ADF

Automatic Document Feeder with document loaded

The printer’s automatic document feeder may look as though it is missing something because of the absence of the paper input tray. But this tray is actually the lid that swings open to the right when you use the document feeder. This is infact a style that is becoming common with Brother small-business multifunction printers that have this feature; and allows for a machine to look more neater. It also assures more reliable operation of the document feeder because the input chute isn’t always exposed to dust and other foreign objects.

Computer functions

The software is very easy and trouble-free to load and has that same “at-a-glance” view for the print job settings that all of the Brother printer drivers have always had. As well, it makes proper use of the Windows 7 Device Stage for managing the printer’s functionality.

This is in fact where you manage the printer’s unobtrusive and reliable scan monitor software, which has been a sore point with many of the multifunction devices that I have used and reviewed. Here, you can determine what form the image file should be and which application should open the file.

Print Quality

The Brother MFC-7360N, like the previously-reviewed HL-2240D and others based on the same print engine, does the job properly by starting quickly and turning each page out quickly. Like most laser printers and multifunction units, it requires the user to press tie Start button after they replenish the paper tray during a print job.

The print quality is as sharp as expected for a monochrome laser printer especially when it comes to turning out documents. For photographs, it will reproduce the images as expected for black-and-white images when set to 600dpi in the print driver but can have issues with image contrast especially at higher dpi settings. Luckily, the printer didn’t complain of memory overload when I sent through the 1200dpi photo print job but it yielded an image that appeared too dark and with little contrast.

It also the similar consumables to the HL-2240D and requires the user to take the drum-unit assembly out and detach the toner cartridge from the assembly to replace the toner. This of course will have the same room for error by allowing the drum unit to be exposed to dirt unless it is on a clean surface when the user replaces the toner.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One improvement that I would like to see for the range would be to have the LCD display showing a high-contrast image. This could be augmented by having the display backlit during operation even with just a basic LED arrangement; akin to what is done with the HL-4150CDN.

There is still the common issue that this machine has with other Brother printers based on the new compact monochrome laser-printer engine that can impair the useability. This is where the user has to remove the drum unit from the printer to replace the toner. It could be improved upon with a similar arrangement to what is used for the colour lasers where the drum unit assembly is pulled out like a drawer so the user can replace the toner cartridge.

The feature limitations like the lack of duplex printing and inability to support Internet-based faxing may be necessary to keep the printer as a step-up model within the multifunction range.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Brother MFC-7360N monochrome multifunction laser printerThis printer can work well as an entry-level or supplementary monochrome laser printer where basic copying, scamming and faxing are desired. But I would recommend the MFC-7460DN, which is the model above it, if you expect to do a lot of document printing or place value on having future-proof Internet fax abilities.

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Product Review–Canon PiXMA iP100 Mobile Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Canon PiXMA iP100 Mobile Inkjet Printer which is the current-generation successor to the popular Canon BJC-80 portable printer. This particular model has appealed to those of us who need to use a printer to obtain hard copy “on the road” from our portable computer devices.

I have been lent this unit for review by a close friend of mine who had bought it to go with their netbook computer that they were using for an overseas trip they had previously done. This was intended to be used for occasionally obtaining hard copy of emails and similar documents through that journey.

Canon PIXMA IP-100 mobile printer

Print Paper Trays Connections
Colour 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Inkjet PictBridge host port
IrDA infrared; Bluetooth with optional module

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price AUD$449

Optional Extras:

BU-30 Bluetooth Connectivity Module: AUD$69

LK-62 Rechargeable Battery (with reviewed unit): AUD$129

PU-200U Car power adaptor: AUD$129

Inks and Toners

Standard
Price Pages
Black AUD$17.50 191
Colour AUD$34.50 249

Canon PiXMA IP-100 mobile printer closed up

The printer - ready for travelling

The printer itself

The Canon PiXMA iP-100 is a very small lightweight printer that occupies the table space that a typical netbook computer would occupy. This makes for reduced storage space that this class of device would require as you travel.

Like its former grandparent model, the BJC-80, this printer is able to work from AC power using a supplied power adaptor which connects to the AC power through the typical “portable-radio” power cord; or from an optional rechargeable battery. You can also buy another power adaptor that plugs in to your car’s or boat’s cigar-lighter socket so you can run it from the vehicle’s battery. From my searches on the Internet about this battery pack, it is rated to allow the printer to turn out 292 pages on one charge.

Canon PIXMA IP-100 mobile printer with external battery pack

External battery pack attached to printer

This printer is a direct-connect printer which can connect to the host using a regular USB cable or wirelessly with IRDA infrared connection or Bluetooth radio connection. The latter method can be achieved if you purchase the optional Canon Bluetooth module and plug this module in to the PictBridge USB socket.

It does support driverless printing for devices in certain situations. The first one would be wireless printing from phones and PDAs that support Bluetooth and IRDA “object-push” profiles for small documents and photos. The second situation would be for digital cameras and mobile phones that have a PictBridge connection.

This latter function can come in handy if you need to print out “example images” or “pre-approval” proofs to show to customers after you have just taken a picture. Of course, some of us may find it useful for printing out the quick snaps to pass around after we take some funny pictures.

Canon PIXMA IP100 mobile printer data sockets and IRDA window

USB and PictBridge sockets and IRDA window

Computer functions

The software loaded properly on my Windows 7 computer and it didn’t take a long time for the computer to “re-discover” the printer on subsequent connections. This would suit its intended market where the printer would be brought out and connected as required.

Output Quality

The printer will turn out very sharp text that would yield a very easy-to-read document. When I print photos,there is strong contrast but sometimes there may be a bit of paleness in the picture. For colour reproduction, there is still some strong colour saturation and it can properly reproduce the skin tones.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

The Canon PiXMA iP-100  could benefit from higher-capacity cartridges, especially high-capacity black cartridges. This is especially more so if it is to be used by a tradesman like a repairman who has to turn out multi-page quotes or invoices; or if it is being used frequently to turn out “proofs”. As well, it could improve on the printer’s operational economy.

In the same context, the printer manufacturers who sell “mobile” printers could do some research in operation-economy-improving techniques like four-cartridge printing and higher-capacity cartridges.

As well, there could be some work done on making it feasible for smartphones and tablet computers to print out using the iP-100. At the moment, this may require use of the Bluetooth module as well as iOS and Android apps that link with the email, photo-viewing and document-creation functions of these devices.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would consider this Canon PiXMA IP-100 portable printer as being suitable for basic printing needs that occur primarily in the field like printing quotes and invoices to hand directly to the customer for example. It would also work well for business travellers who need to obtain hard copy of documents or photographs without the need to pay higher costs or face embarrassment when using other equipment.

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Buyer’s Guide–Buying a printer for your small business

Introduction

You might be at that position where the computer printer at your small business is “on its last legs” or becoming impossible to run economically. On the other hand, you may find you are working your existing printer harder and need to consider a machine that is suited to your current workload.

Similarly, as the end of the financial year approaches, you will face advertising from computer resellers and retailers; and office-supply stores for technology like printers at very enticing prices, usually to allow businesses to buy capital equipment that can be quickly offset against their income for tax purposes. This can become more intense whenever the government announces significant tax breaks for business owners when they purchase capital equipment.

At this point, you could easily make a mistake concerning the purchase of a printer and end up buying the wrong machine for your needs. I have prepared this buyers’ guide so you can be sure you are getting the right printer to suit your business’s needs and be able to use a machine that gives you more “bang for the buck”.

Printer classes

Laser printers

HP LaserJet Pro 1560 printer

HP LaserJet Pro 1560 monochrome laser printer

A laser printer uses a xerographic dry-printing mechanism to print the image to the paper, in a similar way to how the classic photocopier worked. But they use a laser or, in cheaper printers, an LED to illuminate the photostatic drum with the computer-generated image to be printed.

Colour laser printers use four of these mechanisms to imprint the four colours and some cheaper versions may use only one drum and four toners to print the same page; which will take longer to come out.

This class of printer is typically known for printing many copies of “press-quality” documents and has started the “desktop-publishing” revolution.

It is worth knowing that some laser printers will use a cartridge which has an integrated drum as well as the toner supply while others like most of the Brother range will use a separately-replaceable drum unit. With the latter model, you may have to factor in the cost of the drum unit which will occur later on in the machine’s life; usually after 17000-25000 pages.

Business Inkjet printers

HP OfficeJet 6500

HP OfficeJet 6500 business inkjet multifunction printer

This class of inkjet printer is pitched primarily at business users and uses high-capacity cartridges and is optimised for a high duty cycle. They will also have business-target functionality like advanced fax functionality and the ability to work with advanced networks.

Consumer Inkjet printers

Canon PIXMA MX-350 multifunction printer

Canon PIXMA MX-350 multifunction printer with fax

Typically this class of network printer will be optimised for photographic printing and have inks that reproduce photos well. But on the other hand, they will be optimised for a low duty cycle with low-capacity ink cartridges. If they have fax functionality, this functionality will be very basic and as far as network connectivity is concerned, these printers will be suited to a basic small network.

Buying dilemmas that a business owner can face

As a business owner, you may face some buying dilemmas when you choose certain printers. This is especially as manufacturers design printers, especially multifunction printers, that effectively have similar capabilities to others of a different class. Here, the prices for the machines are similar and they may have similar print speeds or functionalities. But there may be certain key differences like the cost to run the machine or the machine’s prowess at particular print jobs.

The two main examples of this are: a high-end fax-equipped consumer inkjet multifunction like the HP Photosmart Premium Fax C410a ( an ePrint-enabled successor to the HP Photosmart Premium Fax C309a full-duplex inkjet printer) and a network-capable business inkjet multifunction like the HP OfficeJet 6500A Series; or a high-end business inkjet multifunction like the HP OfficeJet Pro 8500 Series and en entry-level colour laser multifunction like the HP Colour LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw.

High-end consumer inkjet vs a business inkjet

HP Photosmart Premium Fax C410 consumer inkjet printer

HP Photosmart Premium Fax C410 - a high-end consumer inkjet multifunction printer

A high-end consumer inkjet printer will be optimised for photo printing whereas a low-end networkable business inkjet will be primarily targeted at printing large runs of documents. This will affect ink-cartridge capacity, machine durability, functionality and printer throughput in many ways.

The former printer will typically have five or more inks and these inks will typically be in lower-capacity cartridges which need replacing more often than the four inks used in a low-end business inkjet printer. I would still suggest that businesses prefer the models with separately-replaceable ink cartridges because each ink can be replaced as needed.

As well, these consumer-level printers will typically have functions that make it easier to print pictures directly from a digital camera whether it’ is “tethered” by a USB cable or one takes the “film” (memory card) out of the camera. Some of these printers may offer the ability to print from a mobile phone via Bluetooth whether through integrated circuitry or an optional Bluetooth module.

HP OfficeJet 6500a business inkjet printer

HP OfficeJet 6500a - a modest-priced business inkjet printer

It may be worth knowing that some business-level inkjets are acquiring this kind of functionality but most of these printers won’t turn out the high-quality prints from digital cameras. Here, this functionality may be useful for applications where print quality doesn’t matter like hardcopy proofs that are used for “shortlisting” pictures for a project.

I would consider the premium consumer-level inkjet printer as a business printer if you rely on it for turning out high-quality digital prints whether from your PC or your digital camera and don’t do much printing on it. If you want the best of both worlds, you could get by with a dedicated photo-optimised printer for photographic jobs and a business-grade multifunction printer for regular business printouts.

High-end business inkjet vs an entry-level colour laser

An example of this situation is HP’s OfficeJet Pro 8500a inkjet and the HP Colour LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw.

HP OfficeJet Pro 8500a Plus multifunction inkjet printer

HP OfficeJet Pro 8500a Plus - a hign-end business inkjet multifunction printer

These printers have a similar throughput to each other when printing pages and also turn out a similar copy quality for the documents that are printed. It doesn’t matter whether the documents are ordinary text documents or documents filled with graphics. There may be some glaring functionality differences like the support for duplex operation or memory type. In this example, the OfficeJet Pro 8500a had “full duplex” functionality where it could print on both sides of a sheet of paper and scan both sides of a printed document whereas the LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw could only print or scan one side of a page. Conversely, the LaserJet Pro used flash memory for its fax-related features like no-paper receive, “fax vault” or send-later while the OfficeJet Pro used regular RAM memory for the same functions.

HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw colour laser multifunction printer

HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw - an example of an entry-level colour laser multifunction printer

The cost-per-page for an entry-level colour laser printer is slightly cheaper than a high-end business inkjet that is fed the high-capacity cartridges although manufacturers like HP are  implementing ink cartridges in these printers that have a similar or better cost-per-page to the laser printers.  On the other hand, the inkjet is more flexible with print media than the laser because it doesn’t use any heat to bond the marking material to the paper. This can make it useful for printing short-run documents to glossy material or printing out labels and transparencies.

Dedicated printer vs multifunction printers

An increasing number of printers on the market, like most of the printers I have reviewed on this site, are of the “multifunction” type with a built-in scanner mechanism. Here, these printers will be able to scan to the computer or work as convenience light-duty photocopiers. Most of the business-focused multifunction printers are able to work as fax machines and these units typically are equipped with an automatic document feeder.

Compare this with the dedicated printers which just print from a computer. This class of printer is typically represented by laser printers or some photo-grade inkjet printers pitched at the graphic arts users.

A multifunction printer can work well as an all-round “workhorse” printer for most office applications whereas a dedicated printer can serve “infill” requirements that the multifunction cannot achieve. For example, you could use a colour inkjet multifunction printer as the main office printer in a doctor’s office while you have a monochrome laser printer turning out health-insurance forms and accounts that are part of the workflow. Similarly, you could use an A3 colour inkjet printer for turning out plans, signs and similar documents while you use a regular A4 multifunction for regular printing needs.

Features worthy of note

Auto-duplex printing

A feature that is becoming common amongst a lot of printers is auto-duplex printing. Here, the printer is able to automatically “flip” the page to print on the reverse side of the paper. This has become popular as a paper-saving measure but some of us may find it of value as a desktop-publishing benefit.

This is demonstrably so with laser printers like the Brother HL4150CDN colour laser that I recently reviewed. Here, the printer can print “to the edge” yet work on both sides of the page. As well, laser printers don’t have to “dwell” for up to 15 seconds to allow the ink to dry, thus it doesn’t have significant impact on print speed. Infact the previously-mentioned Brother printer could work both sides of two pages at once and with this, there is effectively no throughput penalty if you intend to do duplex or booklet printing.

Some inkjet printers, namely HP printers, may require a non-printed margin at the top and bottom of the page for auto-duplex printing. This is perceived to permit reliable paper handling but can be a problem if you intend to print landscape documents or “work to the edge” in your documents. It is also worth noting that some printers such as cheaper high-throughput colour lasers may only be able to use this function for the common document paper sizes like A4 or Letter.

At the moment, it is worth noting that not many of these colour laser printers that have auto-duplex printing can print on both sides of small-page “flyer-size” documents like A5, DL or postcard. This is usually because the auto-duplex mechanisms are not able to reliably push the small sheets of paper through the colour laser printing mechanism in order to print on both sides of the flyer.

It may be worth knowing that some high-end A4 multifunction printers will be likely to have “full duplex” functionality. This means that they will have auto-duplex printing as well as an automatic document feeder that can scan both sides of a page. This typically leads to functions like automatic “both-sides” copying and faxing.

Use as the business fax machine

Brother MFC-7460DN monochrome laser multifunction printer

Brother MFC-7460DN monochrome laser multifunction printer

Firstly, most of the multifunction printers that appeal to the business user will have an integrated fax functionality. This can be of use if that old fax machine has nearly “had it” or is becoming costly to run due to its use of the thermal-transfer tape.

Infact, the purchase of a low-end plain-paper fax that uses this kind of printing is really a false economy because these fax machines will work through the thermal-transfer tape even if a page is partially written on. Instead, a fax-equipped multifunction printer uses the ink or toner when and where it needs to mark the document.

As well, it will save on bench space because you don’t have to have a separate machine to receive your faxes on. This is an important requirement for small offices and shops where this space can be at a premium.

It is also worth knowing that the inkjet and colour-laser multifunction printers that have the fax functionality are capable of receiving and transmitting faxes in colour to businesses equipped with similarly-capable equipment. Here, if you select “Colour Fax” on these machines, they will transmit the document according to “best-case” rules where if the receiving machine isn’t colour-capable, the transmission will succeed with the document being in monochrome. Other examples of these printers offering increased value for money as a small-business fax machine include the business class printers offering a “fax-vault” function where you can set the unit to hold received documents in memory and print them when required; or “print-to-fax” functions or “fax-to-computer” functions so you can fax a document from your computer or capture a faxed document to your computer without reprinting it.

Of course, these machines will have the expected fax functionality and can work with a dedicated fax line or a shared phone line, including support for “distinctive ring” dedicated-fax-number setups like Telstra’s Faxstream Duet.

What to be careful of

The two-cartridge colour inkjet printer

A lot of inexpensive consumer and small-business inkjet printers still use two cartridges for their printing setup. One of these cartridges is the black cartridge while the other is a “tri-colour” ink cartridge that houses the cyan, magenta and yellow inks in one plastic body.

The main problem with this design is that if one colour runs out in the colour cartridge, you have to replace the whole cartridge even if there is plenty of ink remaining for the other colours. It can become more exacerbating if you print material using your business’s trad dress which will be dominant in particular colours.

This may be OK for an occasionally-used printer but should be avoided if you use your printer frequently. Instead, look for a midrange printer that uses four or more ink cartridges with each colour in its own cartridge.

Wi-Fi-only network connectivity

Another feature common with inexpensive network multifunction printers is to provide Wi-Fi as the only network connection method. This is more so with the printers that are positioned at the consumer end of the market.

There are a few limitations with this setup. One is that you have to run a Wi-Fi network to obtain the benefits of network connectivity and this can be fraught with problems because of Wi-Fi being a radio based method. For example, walls made out of double-brick, cinder-block or reinforced concrete can play havoc with a Wi-Fi link; as can metal-reflective insulation. This limits the ability to connect the printer to your business network using alternative network technologies like Ethernet or HomePlug powerline networking.

As well, a lot of these printers require the user to configure them for the wireless network by connecting them to a host computer and running manufacturer-supplied software before they will work with that network. The exception to this rule for most of these printers is Wi-Fi network segments that use WPS “push-to-connect” setup, where you may push a button on the printer or select a menu option to start the configuration process. This is although the HP ePrint-enabled Wi-Fi-only consumer printers like the Photosmart Wireless-E B110a economy printer and the HP Envy 100 (D410) slimline printer do support configuration for non-WPS wireless networks from the control panel.

Recommendations for most businesses

General-office work

I would recommend a midrange network-connected business inkjet multifunction printer with four ink cartridges and auto-duplex printing for a “general-use” workhorse printer. It may be OK to use a high-end consumer printer or low-end business inkjet for low-traffic applications like a secondary printer.

A photo-optimised consumer printer like a Canon PiXMA or HP Photosmart may be good as a secondary printer for applications where you value high-quality photo prints with the full saturation. Some manufacturers may offer a dedicated photo-optimised printer but typically these can be very expensive and are pitched at the graphic-arts industries.

A dedicated monochrome laser printers can be useful for printing out forms or documents as what would be required of medical, legal or similar professions. Here, it would be wise to look for auto-duplex-equipped units if you turn out many multipage documents like most legal documents. As well, I would recommend that these machines are network-connected if you have or intend to have two or more computer workstations that will turn out the documents.

HP OfficeJet 7000 wide-format printer

HP OfficeJet 7000 A3 wide-format inkjet printer

If you don’t care about colour printing but turn out many documents, you could get by with a monochrome laser multifunction printer like the recently-released Brother units or the HP LaserJet M1212nf that I had previously reviewed. Then if you want to do colour printing at a later date, you could add on a dedicated colour printer like the HP OfficeJet 6000 inkjet; HP OfficeJet 7000 A3 inkjet or Brother HL-4150CDN laser “desktop-publishing workhorse”.

Promoting your business yourself

You may want to use a colour laser printer as a promotion tool for your business. I have infact written up an article about why it is worth considering these printers as a buying option. Here, it would be a good idea to stick to high-throughput colour laser printers like the Brother HL-4150CDN especially if you do a lot of your own short-run publishing, including “infill” print runs.

You may want to take advantage of the larger A3 page size as a paper size for signage and similar material. It may even come in handy within the office for turning out large spreadsheets or business charts that can have more detail. Here, you may look at a single-tray A3 multifunction like the HP OfficeJet 7500 for occasional A3 use or a dual-tray A3 multifunction like the Brother MFC-6490CW or dedicated A3 printer like the HP OfficeJet 7000 if you do turn out a lot of A3 material.

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Conclusion

In simple terms, I would suggest that you check how much the printer will cost to run; such as the price of replacement ink or toner cartridges; the availability of high-capacity cartridges and the kid of cartridges used and other cost-saving practices like auto-duplex

Then make sure that your printer can suit your current needs as well as allowing for future needs.Here, you can then own and run the right printer that will serve your business’s needs for many years without being a drain on your business’s cashflow.

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Product Review–HP OfficeJet Pro 8500a Plus multifunction inkjet printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the HP OfficeJet Pro 8500a Plus, which is the high-end model in Hewlett-Packard’s business inkjet printers. It is snapping at the heels of the previously reviewed LaserJet Pro CM1415 and its peers as a general-office colour workhorse printer and I will explain further why it is doing so.

HP OfficeJet Pro 8500a Plus multifunction inkjet printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Ink-jet Resolution ID Copy, Optimised book copy, Super G3 Large-capacity A4 tray Ethernet, 802.11n WPA2 WPS wireless
Auto-duplex Duplex automatic document feeder HP ePrint email-to-print IPv6 ready

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price AUD$449

Optional Extras:

Optional high-capacity paper tray

There is no need to pay any additional fees to use the HP ePrint service.

Inks

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black $45.00 1000 $62.00 2200
Cyan supplied only $43.00 1400
Magenta supplied only $43.00 1400
Yellow supplied only $43.00 1400

The printer itself

HP OfficeJet Pro 8500a Plus printer - ink cartridges up front

Front-loading ink cartridges

This high-end printer has the ink cartridges installed up front in a similar manner to the Brother inkjet printers. It therefore avoids the need for users to lift a heavy lid when they need to install new cartridges in this unit; and there isn’t much effort needed to make sure the cartridges are in place; both of which I also find very important when this printer is used by older users or those with limited dexterity.  As well, this arrange also allows HP to use cartridges that have a page yield similar to that of their LaserJet printers.

HP OfficeJet Pro 8500a Plus control panel

Touchscreen control panel

Like the LaserJet CM1415 printer that I previously reviewed, this printer uses a touchscreen as its control panel. This provides for access to the common functions as well as the HP ePrint Apps; and can provide for a more intuitive usage experience. As well, it uses this display to show animations concerning maintenance and repair procedures like ink replacement, paper loading or paper-jam rectification when these procedures needed to be done thus reducing the need to have others train new users in these procedures.

It connects to the network via Ethernet or 802.11n WPA2 WPS Wi-Fi and has automatic wireless override if it is connected to an Ethernet or HomePlug network. A feature that I am pleased about and is becoming very relevant nowadays is that the OfficeJet can now work properly on an IPv6 network as well as a current-generation IPv4 network.

Walk-up functions

This unit has a very capable copy function that would satisfy most business requirements including ID-copy functionality where you can copy both sides of a small document like an ID card on to one side of one sheet of paper; a function I had first come across with the LaserJet CM1415.

But the feature that most impressed me with this printer was the quick duplex-copy function where it could copy both sides of a document on to both sides of a sheet of paper. I ran this printer on a duplex-copy “race” against my regular HP Photosmart Premium Fax C309a and found that this can copy both sides of an A4 page much quicker than the Photosmart could. This is more so due to the printer being pitched at the small office where throughput is considered very important.

This printer works with the HP ePrint cloud-based printing functions and is able to perform as the “network printing appliance of the office”. This functionality was able to work as expected especially with “email-to-print” and the print apps.

Computer functions

The driver installation can be a pain especially if a software desktop firewall takes too long to respond but, after I suspended the McAfee firewall software, it installed very quickly.

After that, it worked as expected for printing via the network. Windows 7 users will benefit from the tightly-integrated “Device Stage” presentation which has the “branded look” but without the excess baggage of the typical device driver / print monitor package.

You can scan to the PC but can also set the printer to scan directly to a folder anywhere on the network, which can be useful if you don’t want to have a computer running a troublesome scan monitor program in order to provide control-panel-started “scan-to-computer” abilities. You still have to use the HP software or the printer’s Web interface to determine the path where you want scanned-document images to end up at and this will work with the standard network file-transfer protocols.

Print Quality

As I have said before, this printer is intended to “snap at the heels” of an economy colour laser multifunction printer. This is demonstrated more so with documents that look just as sharp as those emerging from the HP Colour LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw which is a “general office” colour laser printer that I am measuring this up against. It doesn’t have the “laser shine” that is part of a laser printer’s output and may not be considered “up to snuff” for some business users.

The auto-duplex print mechanism is very accurate with the registration but still requires the blank top and bottom margins for it to work properly. Thankfully these are slightly smaller than on previous auto-duplex HP printers that I have reviewed before.

When this printer prints photos, the images look sharp and very defined but the colours don’t have the saturation that one would expect. It is similar to the picture quality that a laser printer would yield for a photograph; and may be good enough for quick hard-copy requirements. This may be a problem with printers that are “pitched” at business users because manufacturers don’t see don’t see mainstream business users printing out many photographs even though they may take pictures as part of their business life.

Limitations and Points Of Improvements

There are still a few shortcomings with this printer that HP could improve on.

Firstly, the printer could benefit from T.37 email-fax and T.38 real-time-fax endpoint functionality in order to make it relevant with other IP-fax solutions. This could be implemented either as an HP ePrint gateway service or as a local facility that uses “wizard-based” setup. I have raised this in relation to having this machine support a full-functioned fax service because of the impending arrival of packet-based telephony networks in most countries.

As well, I would like to see the implementation of flash memory functionality in a manner similar to the Colour LaserJet Pro’s fax functionality in this printer. Here, it could permit a proper “fax-vault” functionality for handling confidential faxes or permit improved fax archiving. This function could be taken further to provide fail-safe printing and improved fail-safe ePrint functionality.

The printer could Improve on photo-printing quality especially with the saturation. If they don’t feel it is appropriate to create an OfficeJet business inkjet printer with the high-quality photo-printing abilities of a Photosmart printer, HP could market-test and create a “bridge” printer lineup with the high-quality photo output, quick document output and cost-effect consumables.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

This printer is one that can put you in to a quandery whether to buy a printer like the HP Colour LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw laser or this model for use as a colour workhorse printer even though this printer is relatively cheaper to buy and run; and has some more functionality and media flexibility than the LaserJet.

If you simply want a highly-flexible general-purpose “workhorse” printer for that office, professional practice or shop; I would recommend this machine. On the other hand, if you are needing the speed and exact output capabilities of the colour laser printer, head for the Colour LaserJet CM1415fnw as a “general office” printer.

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Encouraging the use of the UPnP Printer device class

The UPnP Forum have established a printer device class in the early days of this standard and have provided an “improved-printing” service for this device class. This was an attempt to allow a device to print text, Webpages and photos without the need for the device to have printer-specific drivers.

HP Envy 100 all-in-one printer (D410a)

I know that a lot of Hewlett-Packard’s network-enabled printers in the Photosmart range like the Photosmart Premium Fax C309a support this functionality. This also includes the HP Envy 100 printer which I have just reviewed. Some other manufacturers like Epson may support this functionality in a few of their products.

HP Photosmart Premium Fax C309a

The reason that there is inaction concerning the UPnP Printer device class is that there aren’t enough client devices that properly support this function. So far, some of the Nokia phones that work on the Symbian S60 Third Edition platform like the N95 and N85 can print photos to these printers using this platform. But I know of no other devices or platform apps that exploit this functionality.

Key enabler for this device class

Platform devices

An increasing number of manufacturers are moving towards the use of device platforms like Android and Maemo as the baseline operating system for embedded-platform devices like set-top boxes, PVRs and TVs as well as smartphones and tablet computers. These platforms typically use “apps” as a way of adding functions to the device, effectively turning the device into something that resembles a general-purpose computer. These “apps” are typically written by third-party developers and provided through an “app-store” or similar menu that is hosted on the device, either for a low cost or, in a lot of cases, for free.

These platforms, save for the Apple iOS platform, don’t have a printer-interface function that these apps could exploit and what is happening is that printer manufacturers are writing photo-printing apps for these platforms that work with their devices. They can support the UPnP Printer Device Class as a printing interface rather than reinventing the wheel for this function.

Key applications

Hardcopy from the tablet computer

As the tablet computer becomes increasingly popular amongst home and small-business users, there will be a requirement to turn out hard-copy from the apps loaded on these devices. Examples of this include printing emails or chapters from ebook apps to printing out photographs taken using the device’s integrated camera.

At the moment, the iPad can work with AirPrint-enabled printers like the HP Wireless-E B110a, the HP Envy 100 and the HP Colour LaserJet CM1415 that have been reviewed in this site. Windows 7 tablets can use the conventional driver-based Windows printing platform but Android and WebOS tablets don’t have an integrated printing platform. Access to the printers for these platforms is through photo-printing apps which are limited in purpose because they only print photos or, in some cases, PDF files; and are also tied to particular manufacturers’ printers.

If Google, HP or other companies who are behind tablet-computer and smartphone operating systems implement the UPnP Printer Device Class, they can add a driver-free printing ecosystem to these operating systems.

Hardcopy for Interactive TV

As the TV set becomes integrated with the Internet, there will be an interest in interactive TV. This will allow the viewer to interact with broadcast material using their remote control. Initially, it is being used with some broadcast-TV set-top boxes that use a cable-TV or dial-up-modem return path to facilitate purchasing of pay-per-view content or increasingly to allow viewers to register votes when they watch panel shows or talent quests. The Internet path is increasing the interactive TV abilities through the delivery of extra material to the viewer, thus permitting concepts like “catch-up TV” and on-demand availability of extended interviews and supplementary material. It is being augmented by set-top boxes, PVRs and TV sets (especially the main-lounge-area ones) being equipped with network connectivity.

The UPnP-enabled printer can work well with Interactive TV by offering a hard-copy option for editorial and advertising content. In the case of editorial content, this could lead to the availability of factsheets, end-of-show leaderboards and similar material.

The best example of this would be MasterChef, the popular cooking-based reality TV show. In a typical season, there are many recipes that will appeal to one’s tastebuds and may “fill in the gap” for a cooking situation that may be particular to one or more viewers. Here, the viewer would have to go to the MasterChef website using their computer and search through the recipes for the one that interests them in order to print out the hard copy they need to work from when they build their shopping list and when they cook the dish in the kitchen. It could be made easier by the viewer pressing a button on the Interactive TV remote control while the recipe is being cooked to have that recipe printed out, or obtain a recipe list for this current episode so they can choose what to print out.

Even the commercials could be augmented with “print-to-redeem” coupons, “specials lists”, factsheets and product-disclosure notices that the viewer can print out at the touch of a button when they see the ad. This can be extended to programs like game shows or talent quests that exploit viewer participation and use “print-to-redeem” coupons as incentives for viewers who participate in these shows.

Games and apps that are part of the interactive TV experience can be augmented with hardcopy options. Examples of this could be skill-based games that reward users with prizes for successful completion or being at the top of the game’s leaderboard; or apps that provide hardcopy information on demand.

Companies who are behind interactive-TV platforms like those involved with Internet TV could implement UPnP Printer Device Class in order to open up the possibilities offered with hard copy for Interactive TV.

Hardcopy snapshots from digital cameras and electronic picture frames

The UPnP Printer Device Class offers the ability for a connected electronic picture frame or digital camera to print snapshots through an existing home network rather than having to use “peripheral connections” like USB or Bluetooth.

This can avoid the need to locate a frame that receives “new” images via email or online services near the printer to print out the snapshots. Similarly, one could print out snapshots taken with a Wi-Fi enabled digital camera or mobile phone without worrying about whether the camera will work with the printer. This would be more acceptable for people who like creating “picture walls” from special events that they host. These “picture walls” are collections of pictures of the event taken by guests that are stuck to large sheets of cardboard.

Conclusion

But there are more applications like the ability to obtain a copy of a “dashboard” screen from a monitoring device through to “on-demand” news-printing from other devices. It also means that the UPnP Printer Device Class can open up paths for innovation when it comes to the functionality roadmap for a device targeted at a home or small-business user. As well, the UPnP Printer Device Class can also be useful as a “generic printer driver” for general-purpose computers so that basic text and graphics print jobs can be turned out without the need for awkward print drivers.

What needs to happen is that companies need to get serious about implementing this device class in their printers, computers and network-enabled devices.

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Product Review–HP Envy 100 ePrint-enabled all-in-one printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the HP Envy 100 ePrint-enabled all-ine-one printer which is another member of the HP “Envy” high-end stylishly-designed equipment range. This printer is styled not like an ordinary all-in-one printer but something that wouldn’t look out of place alongside domestic hi-fi or home-cinema equipment.

HP Envy 100 all-in-one printer (D410a)

Print Scan Copy E-mail Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Ink-jet 1200 dpi   HP ePrint email-to-print service   802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless
Auto-duplex          

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$399

Inks and Toners

  Standard   High-Capacity  
  Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$22.62 200 AUD$44.49 600
Colour AUD$26.52 165 AUD$52.30 440

 

The printer itself

HP Envy 100 all-in-one printer (D410a) all lids open

The printer with its scanner lid open and paper input and output exposed

There is a lot about this printer’s styling that makes it not like the typical all-in-one printer that I have used or reviewed. This printer has a design that wouldn’t look out of place in a hi-fi or home-theatre equipment rack with its slimline and neat styling. Here, it would be as slim as the typical VHS video recorder or “personal-TV service” unit. Even the scanner lid reminds me of that flat-glass lid used to cover the turntable on a mid-1980s “music-centre” stereo system because of the way it lies flush with the top of the printer and is made of that similar glass.

Where do the documents come out of?

The way the printer is styled may confuse some people because there isn’t an obvious paper tray or output tray.

HP Envy 100 all-in-one printer - paper output

The printer's paper output tray

When you want to use the printer from the control panel, you work it using a large touchscreen on the front of the unit. This touchscreen can be positioned at an angle for easier operation but will swing up when the printer is printing out anything. The paper is loaded in to a shallow removeable tray which you pull out from the front of the printer.

Even the SD slot for your camera card may be hard to find but it is located on the top right edge of the printer, under a small flap.

Setup

The printer can work with 802.11g/n WiFi networks that are secured using WPA2-PSK technology. You enter the passphrase for these networks using a virtual keyboard on the unit’s touchscreen; but it also works properly with WPS “simplified-setup” routines that most recent-issue home and small-business routers support.

On the other hand, the software that is supplied on the CD-ROM leave a lot to be desired. It doesn’t operate properly with network setups and you may have to try many attempts at setting this software up on your computer. This is more so with firewall software that may be slow to respond.

Walk-up functions

The printer works as expected for a colour copier. As well, it can print from or scan to SD cards or USB memory keys. Like with all printers, these functions could be improved through increased memory in the unit. Here, images obtained from the scanner or removable media could be copied to the memory before being printed so as to allow quicker and more productive operation; such as being able to quickly copy many pages or print pictures from your camera then continue snapping more pictures.

Through the use of the ePrint Web apps, this printer can print documents on demand. As well, some of these ePrint apps work as client programs for various photo-sharing or social networking sites, so you can print pictures from your albums that exist on these sites.

It also supports the HP ePrint “email-to-print” system which allocates the printer an email address so you can send documents or photos to that address for printing. This also allows for Apple iOS devices to print documents and images directly to this printer using AirPrint.

It is also worth knowing that Android users can download the “HP iPrint Photos” app from the Android Market to their device so they can print photos through this printer. At the moment, there isn’t a full document-print solution available for this platform yet.

Computer functions

When used with a Windows 7 machine, this printer works tightly with the operating system, thus using functions like the Device Stage.

Even the ability to set up device-initiated scanning for a network-connected printer requires you to visit the Device Stage which comes up when you click on the printer in “Devices and Printers”. This feature has still got some problems with reliability in that it won’t start properly or expose the options to the printer’s control panel. This function is still something that has to be worked out and should be part of the operating system as I have touched on previously.

Other than that, it does work properly as far as computer-initiated printing goes. It also does offer proper support for basic and advanced UPnP printing functionality; something I find that is not implemented in many client devices like set-top boxes. This is not enabled by default and you would have to go to the printer’s Web page which is at its URL, then go to “Networking” to select and enable this function.

Print Quality

This printer works as expected for an inkjet printer when it comes to printing documents. But the real test I notice with these inkjet printers is how they handle photographic images. The pictures don’t come out as saturated as most of the other inkjets that I have tested.  As well, they are not as dark as those printed on most of the other inkjet printers that I have tested.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

As with all HP inkjet printers that have auto-duplex printing, this function still requires a significant top and bottom margin, which can be very limiting for desktop publishing applications. I have raised this issue on forums operated by HP, but they say that this is a designed-in limitation to assure proper auto-duplex operation but I have seen auto-duplex-equipped inkjets available from other manufacturers, namely Canon, which can print this way without requiring the top and bottom margin.

As well, the use of a tri-colour ink cartridge makes the printer more costly to run because you can’t replace individual colours as needed. This could be improved upon by HP when they refine their low-profile print mechanism that is used in this printer. The slimline design also has a limitation with the paper tray not being able to hold much paper.

The manufacturer-supplied software could benefit from a lot of work on it, especially with the way it operates with network printers. This includes making it work tightly with the operating system’s services and properly discovering the printer and announcing the computer’s network location. This is always something that manufacturers tend to forget about when designing their printers.

Taking the concept further

The way HP have integrated a duplex-capable inkjet print mechanism with “front paper feed” as well as an LED-based scanner mechanism into a chassis the size of a typical VHS video recorder has amazed me with this unit.

Here, they could take the concept further with various product ideas for inkjet printers and similar devices. One could be a rack-mount printer for “built-in” applications, where the printer is pulled out like a drawer when it needs to have new ink added or be serviced.

Similarly, there could be the ability for HP to design a transportable “all-in-one” printer modelled on the Envy 100 that is designed for “on-location” workforces. This would have a handle of a style not dissimilar to that found on a boombox and having the scanner lid kept closed by a latching mechanism. Electronically, it would have full WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity and work on 12 volts DC, thus being able to work from a car’s cigar-lighter socket or a 12-volt rechargeable battery pack.

As well, this mechanism could encourage HP to work towards mainstreaming low-profile “front-feed”  inkjet printer designs for the home and small-business market/

Conclusion and Placement Notes

This printer is targeted to those who place a lot of emphasis on style and may suit those of us who are particular about what can be placed in the common living areas of the house. But it wouldn’t be worth using as a main printer for a home or small business because of the two-cartridge system or the reduced paper capacity. Here, I would recommend it for use as a secondary printer intended for use in the family room if you can accept the price for this application.

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Poor print quality from your Epson or Brother inkjet printer? Airlocks may be the problem

Introduction

Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 desktop inkjet multifunction printer – uses piezo printheads rather than thermal printheads

If you own an Epson or Brother inkjet printer, you may end up with a situation where there is reduced print quality for particular colours even if you have just put in a new ink cartridge. The symptoms will be in the form of one colour not appearing in your printout or gaps at regular intervals in the printed output.

This is a problem that I have experienced previously with an Epson inkjet printer that I had earlier on through 2000 to 2004. As well I had run in to this problem when I was reviewing the Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer; and had to run this printer through the cleaning cycle a few times after installing a new cartridge.

The piezoelectric print head working as a pump

Saeco GranBaristo Avanti espresso machine press picture courtesy of Philips

An espresso coffee machine that uses a pump to push the water through the ground coffee – similar to how the piezo printhead in an Epson or Brother printer works

This may be to do with the way these printers work compared to most other brands. Here, the ink is pushed through the printer using a piezoelectric pump mechanism which integrates technology similar to what is used to force the hot water through the ground coffee in a domestic espresso-coffee machine when you make that latte or cappuccino.  On the other hand, the HP, Canon and Lexmark printers use a thermal a.k.a. “bubble-jet” method of pushing the ink drops through the printhead in a similar vein to the way water is pushed through a drip-filter coffee maker.

Mr. Coffee Smart 10-Cup Drip Filter Coffee Maker - press image courtesy of Belkin

HP, Canon and Lexmark printers use a printhead that works in a similar way to how this drip-filter coffee maker passes water from its tank to the ground coffee

If you happened to fill one of the previously-mentioned espresso machines with water after allowing it to run dry, then decide to make a coffee, it will take a very long time for the coffee to come through. As well, you will hear the machine’s pump initially make a loud noise, then make a softer noise as it takes on the water. The loud noise that you hear initially is due to the pump encountering an airlock. Then the softer noise that you hear is what is happening as the espresso machine’s pump is being primed and airlocks are being removed out of the pipework in the machine. In some cases, you may have to run water through the machine’s cappucino steam-jet as if to make hot water for this to work.

Similarly, what can happen with your Epson or Brother printer is that after allowing an ink to run dry, you will end up with airlocks in the pipework or printhead. This may be more so if you try to “run it out” beyond the “out-of-ink” warning so you could get those last few pages printed. This same situation tends to happen with newly-purchased printers because you have to establish a constant flow of ink through the pipework and printhead.

What can you do?

The cleaning cycle

Main menu on Brother MFC0J5720DW printer

Newer Brother printers represent the settings menu with “tools”

If this happens, you may have to do one of two things. One would be to run the printer through the “cleaning” cycle a few times as this will “prime” the printhead pumps. You may have to do this after you install a new ink cartridge.

Brother MFC-J5720DW settings menu

Maintenance menu in Settings menu

In most of these printers like the previously-mentioned Brother printer, you will need to start the cycle through going to the “Maintenance” or “Setup” menu on the printer’s control panel, then select the “Cleaning cycle” function. Recent Brother printers use a “tools” icon for access to the Settings and Maintenance functions.

Brother MFC-J5720DW head cleaning menu

Head cleaning menu under Maintenance menu

Older single-function printers and some Epson multifunction printers may have a dedicated “cleaning cycle” button or require you to hold down a button like the “Paper Eject” button to start this cycle. To be sure, check the instruction manual that has come with the printer or the manufacturer’s Web site concerning how to activate this cycle.

Creation and use of “printer cleaning sheets”

Another would be to prepare a “printer cleaning sheet” for each colour. This would be a drawing that has a rectangle of the specified colour (black, cyan, magenta or yellow) that covers at least 50% of an A4 or A3 sheet of paper. You could create this with your favourite graphics, presentation or desktop-publishing program. Even a “paint” program like Microsoft Paint could do the job. Then make sure you save this as a file. If you created a multi-page file such as the PDF file that I have created and made available for you, you have one page per colour and print this page out for the colour that needs attention. Otherwise, print out the file pertaining to the colour that needs attention. You may have to print this a few times to prime all of the pumps in the printhead.

The idea behind creating and printing these sheets of paper is that the printer has to keep running the pumps continuously so they are primed and the ink starts flowing through all the nozzles properly. As far as the paper is concerned, you just then use the blank side of these sheets you printed out as notepaper, such as to keep beside the telephone.

How do you prevent airlocks from getting in to your printer?

The only way to prevent airlocks from appearing in your Epson or Brother inkjet printer is to make sure you have a spare ink cartridge on hand and ready to install when the ink cartridge in the machine is running low. Here, your machine will notify you of this with a warning message on its display or a flashing light. As well, the print-monitor utility on your computer that comes with the machine’s drivers will flash up a “low-on-ink” warning.

Similarly, if you anticipate large print runs you may find it a good idea to stock up on ink cartridges and/or purchase the extra-capacity cartridges. This may be more so if you are doing campaign-driven print runs; frequently printing on A3 using your A3-capable inkjet printer; or using special media like glossy paper.

If you do use generic-brand or third-party cartridges, you may have to keep an eye on the ink level because these cartridges may not work as accurately as the manufacturer-original cartridges. In some cases, you may even have to run the cleaning cycle every time you change these cartridges.

Those of you who use an aftermarket continuous-inking system may need to keep an eye on the bottles associated with these systems so that you know when to replace the inks. As well, you need to make sure that the system is in good order with the pipes secured properly and full of ink. This also applies to those of you who use an Epson EcoTank printer that has user-refillable ink tanks mounted on the side of the printer. Here, you need to check the ink tanks on the machine’s side to make sure your machine isn’t getting too near the “empty” mark.

Conclusion

Once you know how to use the cleaning cycle and / or create a “printer cleaning sheet”, you can be able to avoid an unnecessary service call or product return concerning your Epson or Brother inkjet printer.

Note: This article was originally published on March 2011 but has undergone a major revision in 2015 to illustrate the different types of coffee machines and to encompass the newer Brother printers. It has been revised in August 2016 to encompass Epson’s EcoTank printers which use large user-refillable ink tanks.

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Product Review–Canon PIXMA MG-6150 multifunction inkjet printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Canon PIXMA MG-6150 multifunction inkjet printer which is positioned as the top inkjet multifunction in Canon’s lineup that isn’t equipped with fax functionality.

Canon PIXMA MG-6150 Multifunction Inkjet Printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour 2 x A4 USB 2.0
Ink-jet 600dpi resolution   Print-to-CD carrier Ethernet, 802.11n WPA2 WPS wireless
Auto-duplex       Optional Bluetooth module

Prices

Printer

Recommend Retail Price: AUD$299

Optional Extras:

Bluetooth module: BU-30 $69

Inks and Toners

  Standard  
  Price Pages
Black 23.95 2185
Cyan 23.95 462
Magenta 23.95 437
Yellow 23.95 450
Photo Black 23.95 328
Grey 23.95 1515

 

The printer itself

This machine comes in a piano-black finish and has the user-interface LCD lying flat with the top of the lid. But when you turn it on, the LCD screen lights up and various touch buttons light up in a manner that isn’t dissimilar to either the way a pinball machine or the dial panel on a mid-1970s stereo receiver lights up.

As you use the printer in its various operating modes, some of the buttons light up as required. These buttons are actually touch-panel buttons which will make you think somewhat of operating some of the mid-1980s B&O hi-fi equipment, especially the Beogram CDX CD player which had this similar kind of touch panel. As well, the main display is able to come up at an angle by pushing on a button located behind the display.

Canon PIXMA MG-6150 Multifunction Printer - Display close-up

The display can come up at an angle

Canon PIXMA MG-6150 multifunction printer - operation mode

The printer lit up in operation mode

Walk-up printing

The printer has various “walk-up” functions like copying and printing from camera cards. As well, it can print from cameras using PictBridge, which I have used to print “proof-prints” of the pictures that I took for this review. It can even print PDF documents from USB memory sticks. But its handling of this function can be very fussy at times, especially if you use a PDF prepared by a desktop-publishing program.

As well, there is the ability to create your own stationery like notepaper, graph paper and music manuscript paper. For this latter paper type, you can turn out 12-stave pages which is a lot more flexible for most music tasks like “vocal and piano”, organ or “four-part harmony” music.

Computer functions

The software that is supplied on the CD-ROM can be very tricky to load and can think that there isn’t the printer available. But I have visited Canon’s Website and downloaded the latest version of the software and this has loaded properly and discovered the printer as it should.

The device-initiated scan-to-PC software leave a lot to be desired. The user interface looks very pale and confusing and you can only allocate one path for device-initiated scan jobs. This would be to place the files in a particular folder on the host computer or to attach them to an email in Outlook. As well, it doesn’t support other email clients for scan-to-email. You can determine how the document should be scanned from the printer but there are two forms already set – A4 document to PDF or 4×6 snapshot to JPEG.

Paper handling

Canon PIXMA MG-6150 multifunction printer - paper loading

Paper loading paths in this printer

The paper handling is very similar to some of the other high-end A4-capable PIXMA printers like the direct-connect MP-610 and the fax-enabled network-connectable MX-870 that I previously reviewed on this site. Here, the printer has a front-loadable tray for A4 plain paper as well as the standard rear-mount paper feed tray. This means that you can keep a reserve of ordinary paper on hand in the printer yet use the back path for glossy paper and other special media.

Also, these printers have a fabulous auto-duplex function that has very little registration problems for double-sided documents and can work “to the edge” as far as margins go. This would put the double-sided printing function beyond satisfying the need to avoid wast and in to a league where you can work on both sides for your desktop-publishing needs.

As well, there is a CD printing attachment that slides in the front but you have to flip down a tray that is deeply hidden there. There isn’t any storage for the CD printing attachment so you could then easily lose that part if you occasionally print on CDs.

Printing reliability and quality

The printer is very reliably as far as the mechanism is concerned and could handle large print jobs very easily.

Its document-printing quality is what you would expect for a high-end consumer inkjet unit. When it prints photos, the pictures come out strong on saturation but do lack a bit of definition.

Canon PIXMA MG-6150 Multifunction Printer - 6 ink tanks

6 ink tanks in this printer

This is even though it uses a six-colour ink system whereas most inkjets that I have reviewed use either four colours or five colours if they are “photo-rated”. Sometimes it may be true that the number of colours in a photo-rated inkjet may not yield particular improvements.

Points of improvement

The printer could benefit from an improved scan-to-PC program which gives the user greater choice on how the image should be handled. As well, it could support the ability to define more than one path for scan-to-PC jobs initiated from the control panel.

As well, Canon could supply high-capacity cartridges for these printers as an extra-cost option so that users are covered if they have a huge run of print jobs from the printer.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend this printer as being on my shortlist of printers worth deploying as a home-office or secondary-use (study) multifunction printer for the home if you don’t value faxing or email-to-print.

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The printer-initiated scan-to-computer feature for network applications could be standardised and implemented at operating-system level

Most, if not all of the network-capable all-in-one printers that I have reviewed on this site have support for network-based scanning. This includes the ability to start a scan job from the printer’s control surface and have the job sent to the computer and handled in a preferred way. But this function isn’t handled in a smooth and reliable manner as judging from my experience when connecting the many different printers to my computer.

The current situation

This function is typically managed by a manufacturer-supplied “scan-monitor” program that is part of the “printer solutions package” and has to be up and running before you start your scan job from the device.

What can typically happen is that this functionality can end up being dependent on the way this “scan-monitor” program behaves. Here, you may end up not being able to scan via the network or not being able to start the scan job at the printer’s control surface. In some cases, you may be able to use the operating system’s scanning infrastructure such as Windows Image Acquisition, rather than the manufacturer’s scan tools to do a scan job,

Why integrate device-initiated scanning for networked hardware in to the operating system

The operating systems could support device-initiated scanning by offering functionality like “scan paths” that are available to each of the devices. Here, the devices could then expose the “scan paths” that are available to them based on their capabilities like colour scanning, automatic document feeder, etc. This means that if two scanners have the same capabilities, they have the same scan pathos for each computer endpoint.

Multiple-machine environments

This could include the ability to identify a particular computer as a destination for the scanned files; as well as allowing applications rather than the manufacturer’s particular applications to be the endpoints. This could allow for applications like OCR, bookkeeping, raster-to-vector and others to simply become “available” at the printer’s control panel rather than having to work the application’s user interface or find image files left by the scan monitor in order to benefit from the scanned work.

Here, it may cater for realities associated with the home or small-business network where there are many computers and, in some cases, two or more multifunction printers. This may be brought on by the use of a premium-level machine with all the bells and whistles like the HP Photosmart Premium Fax C410a or the Canon PiXMA MX-870 being installed in the home office and an economy-level machine like the HP B110a Wireless-E installed in the study, kitchen or bungalow and used as a “second” printer.

Efficient operation

Another obvious benefit of the scan-monitor function being integrated in the operating system is that it works in an efficient manner. This will free up memory and other resources and allow for a quick response from the destination computer. This is compared to a significant time delay occurring when one instigates a scan job from the multifunction printer’s control surface as the scan monitor starts up and handles the scan job.

Points of innovation

The operating system working as a scan monitor can open up paths of innovation when it comes to imaging-driven applications. An example of this could include the use of the multifunction printer’s control surface for entering job-specific information. This is more so as these multifunction printers come equipped with D-pad, numeric keypads and touchscreens; as well as graphical screens and menu-driven operation. Applications of this could include entering the file name for “scan-to-file” operations, determining the nature and amount of an expense when scanning receipts in to a bookkeeping program or entering photograph-specific information when scanning a photograph.

It can also open up another path of innovation in having network-attached-storage devices become scan destinations without the need to remember FTP or other file-path locations for these devices. This can help with activities like archiving of paper documents or scanning of pictures to be made available on the DLNA Home Media Network.

Conclusion

Once we move the workload of device-initiated scanning to the Windows, Macintosh or Linux operating system, it can then yield many improvements to people who scan hard-copy material using the current crop of multifunction printers.

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Moving towards inkjet technology for receipt printing–why couldn’t this be done

When most of us do business with banks or shops or simply run a business, we have to deal with paper receipts and journals. Typically this involves the use of a printer that prints on to a paper tape of some form, whether integrated in a cash-register, EFTPOS terminal or an automatic teller machine; or as a standalone device connected to a computer-based point-of-service system of some sort.

Similarly, this class of “tape printer” is also being put to use as a label printer in most business applications like travel or healthcare. But this label-printer application is becoming relevant in the general office space for addressing envelopes on an as-needed basis.

In the home, It may also be relevant as a coupon or receipt printer for interactive TV applications such as “claiming” special offers that are promoted alongside TV commercials or buying goods from TV shopping. It can also be relevant for “as-needed” label printing in the home office.

The main problem is that there are two main printing methods used with this class of printer. One is an impact printer that works like the old dot-matrix printers and uses a ribbon to print on to cheaper plain paper. The other is a direct-thermal printer which uses heat to print on to special paper, like the first-generation fax machines.

Usage problems

Both these technologies yield a fair share of problems with the useability of these dockets. The impact printer is based around a ribbon which can cause the print quality to deteriorate as the machine is being used. At worst, the docket or journal can end up being hard to read when the ribbon is nearly at the end of its life.

The thermal printer which relies on the special paper can cause problems of its own when it comes to handling the receipts or journals. For example, the paper is known to fade over time and this becomes worse with receipts that are kept in a wallet that rests in someone’s hip pocket because of the contact with one’s body heat. This can be an issue if you have to keep the receipts over a significant amount of time, which would be required of a business or individual in order to satisfy the taxman.

Another issue is that the paper can be very slippery and this can cause problems when writing on the receipt or journal with most ballpoint pens. This may be of importance if you have to sign a receipt at the point of sale when paying by credit card. As well, customers may have to sign or annotate the receipt after the sale for tax or reimbursement purposes.

It also makes it hard to use an automatic document feeder on a scanner, fax machine or copier with these documents if you have to copy, scan or fax them. In these situations, you are not likely to have consistent and reliable feed-through behaviour and at worst, you could have frequent paper jams.

Inkjet technology for this printer class

One improvement that I would like to see is for manufacturers to use inkjet technology for this class of printer. Here, the printer could use an integrated printhead cartridge like what most cheaper inkjet printers use or use technologies like the pipe-based ink-distribution technology used in Brother inkjet printers like the MFC-6490.

Previous designs

Canon has tried this idea previously with a few of its printing calculators by using a “BubbleJet” mechanism as the printhead but not many other manufacturers caught on to this idea.

What could it offer

A printer based on this technology would use cheaper plain-paper rolls for regular receipt and journal printing. If it were to print labels, it could use regular and cheaper plain-paper labels, rather than special thermal-paper labels.

The inkjet technology can also support colour printing in a cost-effective manner, whether as a basic two-colour setup or as a full-colour setup. This can open up application paths like colour emphasis or full brand preservation on customer-facing documents. In the home, it could appeal to personal “as-needed” labelling applications like “ownership” labels used for things like books and recorded music, or labels used on jars of homemade preserves where these labels convey full personal flair.

If the mechanism uses the pipe-based ink-distribution technology, it could use higher-capacity cartridges which would be useful for high-throughput applications like kiosks, gaming machines, high-turnover point-of-sale or ATMs.

Limitations

One limitation that may surface for this class of printer is the size of the inkjet print mechanism. The printhead for this technology may be larger than the common thermal printhead and this will impact on the design of the device that it is to be implemented in. This will put a limitation on designs that are intended to be low-profile like handheld payment-card terminals, printing calculators or peripheral printers, unless these machines use a pipe-based ink distribution mechanism.

It could be easy to “cheapen the design” by doing what has been commonly done with consumer and small-business inkjet printers. Here, a manufacturer could sell a low-end inkjet-based tape-printing device like a label printer, printing calculator or entry-level cash register for a loss-leading price but have the device work only with expensive ink cartridges. This can be exacerbated through the use of very small ink cartridges that need to be replaced frequently.

This may also require a cash register or POS printer to have two separate paper rolls placed side by side and the printhead moving across both rolls every time a sale is made. Some machines may be designed with dual printheads so they work as if they have two separate printers – one for the journal and one for the receipts.

Conclusion

The use of inkjet printing for “tape-based” printers could make life easier for most businesses and customers as well as allow for increased innovation in this class of device.

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