Until recently, Epson America had the Mac ink-jet-printer market pretty much to itself as rivals focused their efforts on PC users. But now that Apple is back on its feet, Epson finally has some serious competition, in the form of new printers from Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Canon.
The results? If you have an older, pre-USB Macintosh, Epson is still your only option, because it’s the only manufacturer that continues to offer a serial port. But if your Mac is USB enabled, all these printers offer top-notch output for reasonable prices.
To test image quality, Macworld Lab produced a set of output samples from each printer and submitted them to a jury for evaluation. The samples included text, photos, and line art. Jurors compared each sample with the original print.
The HP printers feature four-color output, while the other models offer six-color output. Nevertheless, all five printers scored high for photo quality. The HP printers especially impressed ustheir output quality on glossy paper rivaled the six-color photos of the other tested models. However, we noticed some striping when printing photos on plain paper.
Although the Canon BJC-6000 uses an optional six-color cartridge for photos, our jury thought its default photo output was slightly dark. In our first pass with the Epson printers, magenta was too strong and yellow too weak, but we were able to correct this using Apple’s ColorSync 2.6.1 and Epson’s device profiles.
When printing black text from a Microsoft Word document on plain bond paper, the HP and Canon printers produced excellent results, although the HP models printed bold text a little heavily. The Epson printers generated thin spider lines in bold text, but when printing on photo ink-jet paper, they exhibited excellent output quality.
One often overlooked issue with ink-jet printers is the durability of the prints. Epson claims that photos produced on its ink-jet printers will last two to three years in normal sunlight. HP claims that the carbon pigment in its black ink allows documents to last substantially longer than that in sunlight.
Print speed can be deceptive, because most manufacturers quote the speed you get at the printer’s lowest resolution, not at the higher resolutions required for the best-looking output. In Macworld Lab’s print tests, we timed output from two programsMicrosoft Word and Adobe Photoshopat each printer’s maximum resolution and at lower resolutions of 300 dpi (HP) or 360 dpi (Epson and Canon). (The HP models print black ink at up to 600 dpi, but HP doesn’t quote the maximum color resolution. The Epson and Canon models print black and color at 720 by 1,440 dpi.)
As we expected, the higher-quality pages took dramatically longer to printin some cases, ten times longerthan the low-resolution versions. But the performance champ was clearly the HP 895C. In our high-resolution Photoshop test, it produced an image in 7 minutes, compared with about 10 minutes for the other printers. When printing the Word document at low resolution, the HP 895C cranked out 6.6 pages per minute (ppm) versus 4.9 ppm for the Canon, 4.3 ppm for the HP 882C, 1.8 ppm for the Epson Stylus Photo 750, and 1.2 ppm for the Stylus Photo 1200. The latter speed translates into a 6-minute wait for 10 pages.
All five printers can handle a variety of paper sizes, from 4-by-6-inch cards up to banner-length paper. The Epson Stylus Photo 1200, the large-format version of the Stylus Photo 750, can print full-bleed on tabloid stocks. All of the models can print on 110-pound paper stock, but the BJC-6000 can handle up to 143-pound stocks. As with all ink-jet printers, you get the best output quality, especially for photographs, when printing on glossy photo paper.
The HP printers feature a front-loading paper path, reducing the amount of desk space they take up. HP’s design also protects the input tray, making the printer more child resistant than the models from Canon and Epson.
Among the printers reviewed here, Canon’s BJC-6000 has the most flexible ink system. The box includes a black print head with a black-ink tank, and a color print head with tanks for cyan, magenta, and yellow inks. Each print head lasts 5,000 to 6,000 pages; the tanks themselves last 500 to 840 pages. You can replace individual tanks as they run outa great feature, because sometimes you’ll run out of one color long before the others are depleted. For six-color printing, you need to buy a $42.95 photo print head with tanks for black, light cyan, and light magenta inks. You install this next to the three-color print head, replacing the black-ink cartridge.
The BJC-6000 also features a useful low-ink warning that shows up in your Mac’s Print Progress dialog box.
The Epson Stylus Photo printers feature two ink cartridges, one for black and one for the other five colors. A software utility informs you if ink levels are low, but you get less warning than the Canon printer provides.
Although some HP printers offer a six-color printing option, the 895C and 882C are limited to four colors: one cartridge for black and one for cyan, yellow, and magenta. Neither printer, nor the included software, features a low-ink warning.
Epson’s printers are the clear winners here, because each provides a serial connection for older Macs, in addition to a parallel port for PCs and USB for iMacs and blue G3s. You can also print directly from Epson’s PhotoPC 750Z digital camera.
The Canon and HP printers limit their Mac connectivity to USB. Worse, Canon’s USB connection kit is available only as a $70 option; the printer itself costs $250. All three companies offer Ethernet options for their printers, except HP’s DeskJet 882C.
Epson’s longtime commitment to the Mac community shows in its software. Of the printers reviewed here, only Epson’s models include bundled software for the Mac. The Stylus Photo 750 includes Polaroid Photomax Pro for image editing, ArcSoft Photoprinter 2.0 for creating photo layouts, and ArcSoft Photobase 2.0 for keeping image databases. The Stylus Photo 1200 includes Adobe Photoshop 5.0 LE, Vivid Details’ Test Strip 2.0, and a trial version of Altamira’s Genuine Fractals 2.0.
Epson’s printer driver isn’t too shabby, either, offering extensive color-management and image-adjustment features. However, it would be nice if the software included a Return To Default button.
Canon’s printer driver offers simple adjustments in its basic operating mode but includes an advanced option that lets you tweak individual colors. And it sports that elusive Return To Default button we wish other manufacturers would offer. Canon’s software also permits two- and four-up printing.
HP’s driver is also simple: just choose your paper and desired output quality, and you’re set for great output. HP’s software also puts a printer icon on the desktop, permitting drag-and-drop printing. However, some features HP offers on the Windows side, such as its cartridge-alignment utility and WebSmart printing software, are not available for the Macintosh.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
All of the printers reviewed here offer excellent output quality, so the decision boils down to what you want to do with them. For home users, the low price and child-resistant design of HP’s DeskJet 882C make it a good choice. For small businesses, the versatility and large ink supply of Canon’s BJC-6000 make for a winning combination, although HP’s DeskJet 895C, along with Epson’s Stylus Color 740 and Stylus Color 900, are also worth considering. Budget-minded photographers and graphics professionals should consider the Epson Stylus Photo 1200 for its tabloid prints and color-adjustment capabilities.
See the table: “”Battling Ink-Jet Printers””