Ultra-low-cost inkjet printers

Introduction

Do you remember the printers that you used to get for under £100? Typically they output poor images, looked like shoeboxes, and lasted only fractionally longer than the ink cartridges. Both Epson and Canon have just released printers for £99 – and they don’t suck! Having access to inkjet high-flyers, I haven’t had to deal much with the cheap and cheerful end of the market – so I didn’t hold out much hope for the Stylus Photo 830u or the Bubble Jet i450. I’m pleased to say now, however, that I was surprised by what you get for your money. The quality of inkjet printers has increased steadily over the years. Now these printers are capable of impressive photo images that will give your local Snappy Snaps a run for its money in the quality stakes. Both models output almost indistinguishable test prints with great flesh tones. On a different image, however, there were some differences. An image of a bright, sunlit courtyard taken from under a canopy caught the Canon printer out – the dark shady area has a distinct green colour cast. The Epson Stylus Photo coped admirably, showing detail and the correct colours in areas of highlight and shadow. Of course, this is one of my worst-case-scenario files, and in most cases the quality is fantastic. While Epson uses a tradition six-ink photo setup, Canon uses a four-ink configuration. Normally, one might expect the six-ink setup to be streets ahead in the quality stakes. However, the differences were much smaller than expected. While both printers come with OS X drivers, the other software supplied with the Epson is strictly for OS 9. Canon did a bit better by supplying software that ran natively in OS X, but unfortunately it was slightly unstable. From what I saw, it looked like a good application for organizing your printing, but possibly needs an upgrade since the last couple of OS X updates. Now I’m going to indulge myself in a little gripe: USB cables. Printer manufacturers don’t supply them with their printers. The retail cost of a USB cable is only a couple of quid; buying in bulk should be considerably cheaper. I have never had a satisfactory answer from manufacturers explaining why these cables are not included.
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