The printer arrived in a very large box, but the container was much smaller than that of a high-function laser printer. It was also much lighter. Unpacking and hardware set up was pretty simple: snap a few parts together and play the usual Epson “see if you can find all the blue tape” game. I like the way that Epson takes the trouble to double the ends of the tape so that it’s easy to remove. At no time during the operation did I feel the slightest need to open the manual. The only odd note in the set up was that the printer takes almost 15 minutes to charge its internal plumbing. At least it requires no user intervention, unlike some of the Epson large inkjet printers that make you to flip levers during the process.
Software set up showed improvements in automation over previous Epson printers that I’ve installed. The installation software on the CD checked the web for updated drivers and downloaded them automatically. I used an Ethernet connection. In the past, this has required manually configuring Windows printer ports, but the installation package automagically went out to the network, found the printer, and set up a port for it.
When the registration form came up, it was already filled out, including the printer serial number. I’m not sure where Epson got my name and address; I’m hoping it was from the registration form for another Epson printer installed on that machine. There are other explanations, and they all make me nervous. If you just want to install the printer driver, there’s a setup program you can download from the Epson web site; it’s the best way to set up computers that don’t need access to the scanning, fax, and copying functions.
The printer doesn’t give the impression of incredible solidity that you get with a $2K laser printer. It’s not as big, partly because it has half-ream paper trays instead of the 500-sheet ones you get with a big laser printer. It’s not as heavy, in about equal parts because it doesn’t need a big imaging drum and a honking 30 page a minute fuser, and because it’s not built for 20,000 pages a month. The output paper tray is as flimsy as you’ll find on any printer at any price, but it’s still completely functional, if a little small.
How’d it print? Read on, for results with plain 20 pound paper.
Speed A 16 page double-sided PDF with moderate graphic content printed in 3:05 using the normal setting and print density set to “text”. The same document took 1:35 on the Xerox 6250, with 15 seconds of that being fuser warm-up time, which you wouldn’t see if you printed a bunch of documents in rapid progression. Like the 6250, the Epson printer partially ejects a page into the output hopper after printing the first side, and then sucks it back into the printer to print the second side. This means that double sided printing takes longer than printing the same document in single-sided mode.
Quality The normal settings produce blacks that are not near as deep as the 6250; manually increasing the print density to “0” makes most of the difference go away. Other than density, text quality appears to be about a wash with the 6250 in normal mode, and better with “fine” or “quality” printing settings.
Permanence A print can be smudged by forcefully dragging a wet finger across the page, unlike the laser printer output. However, pouring liquid water on the surface of a page won’t make the ink run, and trying to scrub off the wetted ink has no effect other than abrading the paper surface. It’s a huge improvement over early inkjet printers.
Noise It’s quieter than the 6250, but the noise is more intermittent since the paper doesn’t feed continuously. Since it doesn’t print as fast, it foes on for a longer time. For annoyance, I’d call it a tie. Neither printer is very noisy.
Overall, it looks like Epson has made compromises on density to get the print cost to below that of comparable laser printers, but the tradeoffs appear to be reasonable ones, and higher quality settings are available in the driver if you choose.
It looks to me that inkjet technology is moving faster than electrophotography. If you’re looking for a medium-speed color office printer with networking and duplexing, xerography is no longer the only game in town. The Epson 4540 is the first, but definitely not the last, of the inkjet challengers to xerography’s hegemony in that market.
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