Anyone who has been faced with buying a new set of cartridges for a colour inkjet at a cost greater than the initial price of their printer knows the printing industry’s business model all too well. It was with a great deal of interest, then, that we attended an event held by Epson South Africa a few months back, at which the company’s local representatives outlined their plan to turn the printing industry on its head.
Their grand idea was to make printers for home and office use that use an ink tank system – and not an ink cartridge system – to deliver ink to the print head, a change that would result in a much cheaper cost per page for the consumer. They talked thousands of prints per bottle of ink, as opposed to the hundreds most home and small office printers are currently capable of, all without compromising on the overall quality; the only catch was the printer would cost more up-front. We were intrigued.
So when we received Epson’s L355, a colour inkjet all-in-one for review, we were keen to see just how close the company would come to delivering on its claims.
The L355 is Epson’s mid-range office and home printer. It does full colour prints as well as scans and copies, and it has an array of buttons adorning its front, but no LCD touchscreen. It connects to PCs and Macs over Wi-Fi or using a USB cable. The L355 won’t blow anyone away with its feature-set, but it has enough going for it to appeal to anyone looking for an office companion.
As this printer uses an ink tank system, setting it up required that we pour the individual colours into their designated tanks once we had it unpacked. We messed a bit of ink during setup, but it wasn’t a big deal as the ink didn’t stain the surface the printer was on. The spill itself was more due to shaky hands than a problem with Epson’s design.
Once the ink was in, power was connected and it took about 20 minutes for the printer to cycle the ink around its insides in preparation for printing. This was a one-time thing, fortunately – once the cycling process was complete there was little to no warm-up time between prints.
Setting it up was a matter of using Epson’s setup CD to do most things from our test laptop. On running it, we were presented with various options, from installing the printer driver to joining it to our Wi-Fi network. As setting Wi-Fi up using the software required knowledge of our network’s SSID and password, we figured it’d be easier to just use WPS (Wireless Protected Setup) by simply pressing the WPS button on our wireless router and the Wi-Fi button on the printer. It was.
We have not been impressed with the build quality of Epson’s printers in the past few years, and the L355’s build didn’t convince us to change our minds. The plastic being used feels weak and flimsy, and we were particularly aware of how fragile the printer’s paper tray and feeder felt and made a conscious effort not to bump either in any way lest they snap off (as has happened to us before).
So while it won’t win any prizes for durability, the L355 should be okay in the average office environment once it is set up in a single spot and nobody moves it.
The L355 has a flatbed scanner with no paper feeder, which means it is only possible to scan and copy documents one page at a time. The process itself is at least quick and easy, and the option to choose either colour or monochrome copies using the buttons on the front of the printer is a nice touch.
Print Speed & Quality
The L355’s speed performance was a bit disappointing. Its normal-quality prints didn’t exactly sprint out the printer, but setting the quality to High resulted in prints taking even longer. As an example, we printed out a 7-page document made up of both text and images, and at Standard quality the L355 printed it in 3:15. At High quality that time became 16:10 for the same document, but there was no immediately-obvious improvement in quality.
The quality of our test prints were also a little underwhelming. We printed out two documents – the aforementioned 7-page mixed-content document, and a text-only test PDF we found online and the results were not awful, but not fantastic either. Text appeared fairly crisp to the naked eye, but on closer inspection involving a magnifying glass, it became clear that the ink spreads more than other printers do, resulting in text sharpness that isn’t what we would call “laser-comparable”.
We also noticed a rather washed-out look to the L355’s colours. Reds in particularly weren’t as bright as we had seen from two other non-Epson printers we had lying around the office.
Strangely, then, when it came to photo printing the Epson absolutely blew us away, particularly because it’s not billed as a photo printer. The details it was capable of producing and the true-to-life colours we saw in the test photo we printed were absolutely astounding.
Epson promises that each set of ink bottles can print up to 4 000 mono documents and up to 6 500 colour prints. This is the best part, though: each bottle of ink costs R107.95, so those 10 500 pages will cost you just R431.80. Doing the maths, that means a cost per page of just 4.11c. That’s something nobody in the printing industry can beat, and on that score, Epson wins hands down. While we didn’t have 10 500 pages of plain paper lying around to test Epson’s yield claims to their logical conclusion, after much testing and printing we noticed barely a drop in the ink levels, and we printed well over 500 pages with the L355. That’s normally around the mark where cartridge-based printers start to take strain, so good job Epson.
Our testing of the L355 yielded some interesting results. It’s not the fastest printer ever, and its quality does leave a bit to be desired, but those are easy to overlook when its cost per page is so ridiculously low. We feel we must give credit where it’s due: it’s about time somebody challenged the status quo within the printing industry, and Epson’s new “Ink Tank System” is doing a fine job. We just hope that as Epson’s ink tank technology matures that we see an improvement in their overall quality, too.
Once people get their heads around the more-expensive up-front cost of Epson’s new printers, and realise the genuine cost-savings on offer, it might be hard to sell them on any other printer system, and with good reason.
Build Quality: 5/10
Print Speeds: 6/10
Print Quality (text): 7/10
Print quality (images): 6/10
Print Quality (photos): 10/10
Running Costs: 10/10
Price: R2 999.95 up-front, R107.95 per bottle of ink