SOHO: Epson L3550 ink tank printer
Note: This feature was first published on 29 May 2023.
Best SOHO and SMB printers
Despite the current hybrid work momentum, printers haven’t gone away in importance. As global market intelligence firm IDC published, printer shipments grew strongly year-on-year and even quarter-on-quarter.
Many homes and businesses have actually doubled down on buying a printer, with many opting for the user and space-friendliness of an All-In-One (AIO) printer that can perform multiple functions beyond just printing (subject to the features provisioned).And with space being a premium in new homes and offices,AIO printers make up the bulk of the models offered these days.
Even among multi-function devices, they canhave differences between them. Some may have fax capabilities, some may come without an ADF, someoffer duplex printing capabilities, while others even offer duplex scanning. There are also various other considerations, such as if you want to have customised printing and labelling ofdiscsto extenda personal touch for a function you're preparing, or on the other end of the spectrum, perhaps your office requires a high print run and you would prefer to have the option to add on an additional paper tray (or also known as a cassette) to avoid frequent refills and downtimes.
Able to print, copy, scan and fax, the divide between these and their higher-end brethren usually lies in the fact that the majority are still using inkjet technology. Indeed, two of the printers tested here are inkjet-based.
Assessing two categories
Personal and office needs will vary greatly, but this year,we looked at printers targeting home and SOHO usage needs launched within the past two years and priced at under S$400. We looked at the size and footprint as space could be at a premium in a SOHO setup, along with the features and connectivity options. While ease of use was important, the overall price of the printer, print quality, performance and cost of printing were all weighed in as well. The printers we tested that qualified for this roundup were:
Epson L3550Canon Pixma G4770HP OfficeJet Pro 9010e
We also looked out for options for small businesses,SMBsetups, and smaller office spaces. For this group of users, we hunted down options under S$700that had high-volume, high-capacity printing capabilities and were launched within the last two years. These were the qualifying models:-
Epson L5590Canon Maxify GX3070
Forboth categories, we were open to considering both laser and inkjet variants as long as they fit the scope, but it looks like all the options across both categories were inkjet and ink-tank-basedoptions only. To reiterate, these comparisons were conducted with Tech Awards 2023 in mind and thus, we looked for printer models launched in 2021 and 2022 time frame globally and are available in Singapore.
Here's what we found from testing each of these printers.
(SOHO Printer) Epson L3550: Good printsbut let down by lack of features
One Epson’s latest EcoTank models, the Epson EcoTank L3550 comes with the now familiar four refillable ink tanks that help to save on printing costs.
The Epson L3550 is made with 30% recycled plastic, and they utilise 84% fewer consumables compared to ink cartridge printers, with the packaging comprising over 80% recycled cardboard.
The L3550 isn’t anything different in terms of design with its form factor constrained by the print and scan functions. But without a paper cassette, it has a smaller footprint when the output tray is closed. This also means you can't print remotely if the paper tray is closed, and for any ready print runs at a moment's notice, the tray must be kept lowered all the time. The only part of the printer that sticks out is where the four ink tanks are located, which makes it easy to access and maintain.
However, the build quality wasn’t great, with the pinter coming across as having a cheap feel. In fact, we found that one of the parts was so loose that trying to move the unit often (for testing, photo taking, and other miscellaneous moves to manage the many printers we had in the lab)resulted in it coming off entirely. While printers aren't designed to be moved around, this encounter didn't leave us with a good impression. That's not the only design concern we had.
It does come with a user-replaceable maintenance box that's meant to store expended ink during print head cleaning. This means that a user can replace it with ease, anytime, without the hassle of bringing their printer to a service centre. That is thoughtful and cost-effective for users as the maintenance box requires replacement at the end of its service life (also read as when it's full).
Ultimately, the Epson L3550 is let down by its lack of features.
It lacks any form of display! All commands must be entered manually using the buttons on the printer, via the app, or using a PC. One problem with using the first option is that there isn’t any text below the buttons meaning that you need to remember what the icons do when pressing them. That's notdifficult for thosetechnically inclined, but for someone of my parent’s generation, they can't manage this printer without help.
It also lacks an ADF, which means you cannot copy or scan multiple pages effortlessly.For the sake of cutting costs, the manufacturer ends up hobbling the AIO when it could have been so much more user-friendly. While we understand it is normal not to have this function on affordable printers, at a suggested retail price of S$369, the Epson L3550 isn't considered cheap.
Finally, it lacks a paper cassette meaning that all paper is gravity fed from the back of the printer. This limits the number of pages it can hold as well as the variety of paper types it can handle.
Connectivity options include smart printing features such as AirPrint, Mopria, and Epson Smart Panel. With Epson’s Smart Panel App, users are given direct access to functions such as remote On/Off, printing, scanning, and copying while monitoring the printer’s operation and ink levels.
I found the Epson Smart Panel app rather user-friendly. Especially when compared to the Epson iPrint app, which was rather utilitarian. With its big buttons, it was easy to know what you needed to do and get things done. It also had easy-to-access consumer print options and management.
Next, we examine the Epson L3550's print performance, where we found the quality to be generally good, but it wasn't fast.
While the text printresults had dark and crisp text, with sharp serifs, there was some bleeding when we closely examined the text. The text was also slightly splotchy.Our test image was clean and crisp with no oversaturation or bleeding of colours; henceit was easy to make out the fine detail in the image.
Speaking about printing, we wanted to point out that while Epson has several other more affordable ink-tank printers, the L3550 comes with aPrecisionCoreprint head that first appeared in Epson's commercial systems but is now steadily being employed in many of their home and SOHO desktop printers and supports a top resolution of 4,800 x 1,200 dpi. With far more print nozzles packed in the PrecisionCore print head than a standard Piezoelectricprint head (such as on the cheaper L3250), this is why the L3550 sounds expensive for its class and feature set, as Epson has chosen to prioritize print quality output. In fact, the L3550 is amongst Epson's most affordable printers with aPrecisionCore print head. As they say, the devil is in the details.
Adding on, the PrecisionCoreprint head uses Epson's Heat freetechnology. Thisdoes not require heat in the ink ejection process, which saves on energy consumption for operating the printer (which is useful if you print often and have a high output). Instead, pressure is applied to the Piezo element, which flexes backwards and forwards, firing the ink from the printhead.
As an ink tank-based printer, running costs for the L3550 are low. Replacement ink cartridges are priced at just S$9.90 for both black and colour cartridges. They've a page yield of 4,300 and 7,300, respectively, giving the L3550 a running cost of just S$3.19 per 1,000 pages in our running cost assessment.
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