I pity the fool who bought a cheap color laser. As the pages crawl out, and the pricey toner supplies run empty, it's already too late to point out that a $400 inkjet offers better speed, print quality, and consumables costs than a like-priced color laser can ever hope to achieve.
The latest proof comes in the form of Epson's new office-class WorkForce inkjets. They look like any other printer, but they have something new to the category: Epson's PrecisionCore printhead. Here's PrecisionCore, in its most basic, chip form:
The PrecisionCore print chip packs 600 nozzles per inch, and 800 per tiny chip. The drop size is extremely small--1.5 to 24 picoliters--the better to print crisp output.
Epson can build them into printhead arrays of varying size. For industrial applications, a PrecisionCore printhead might span the entire page width. HP already does this with its PageWide technology, available currently on the Officejet Enterprise Pro x585.
Epson's new WorkForce models use moveable PrecisionCore printheads. Epson claims print speeds up to 20 ppm for both color and black pages. That's a darn sight faster than a cheap color laser. We're testing one in PCWorld's lab right now and will tell you soon whether Epson's numbers hold up to real-world scenarios.
The new multifunction printers all print, copy, and scan.Two-sided printing is standard, which is great for saving paper (though it can sometimes slow print speed).
The two WorkForce models are designed for small or home offices.The WorkForce WF-3620 costs just $170 and offers a 250-sheet main input tray plus a rear feed for thicker media. Two-sided printing is automatic, and a 35-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF) makes it easy to scan multi-page documents using the top scanner unit.
The $200 WorkForce WF-3640 adds fax capability, a second paper tray, and a larger, 3.5-inch touchscreen on the control panel.
The WorkForce Pro models are designed for workgroups, with higher capacities and speeds to match. The WorkForce Pro WF-4630 ($300) has a 250-sheet main tray and an 80-sheet rear-feed tray, plus a 3.5-inch touchscreen display. Epson claims it has a monthly duty cycle of 30,000 pages.
The WorkForce Pro WF-4640 ($400) adds another 250-sheet input tray over the WF-4630. Its touchscreen interface increases to 4.3 inches in diagonal width. Fax comes standard.
The ink costs look very affordable. Cartridges for the WorkForce printers cost $30-$35 and last 1100 pages, or 2.7 to 3.2 cents per color, per page. The WorkForce Pro printers have higher-capacity cartridges and therefore lower ink prices: 1.6 cents to 2.2 cents per color, per page, based on cartridge prices of $42-$44 and yields of 2000 to 2600 pages.
All of the WorkForce and WorkForce Pro lines include Wi-Fi compatibility and a well-developed suite of wireless and mobile printing features, including Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print support, plus mobile apps for printing on the go.
Epson's new business product line has plenty to recommend it, and we'll be publishing our full review in the near future. Color laser fans, give these printers a fair hearing; they offer a compelling counterpoint to the office laser status quo.