There's an ISO standard being discussed at the moment to provide a methodology for testing print speeds; it can't come soon enough. Epson claims the B-500DN is capable of 33ppm, printing black or colour pages in ‘near laser quality' mode.
Our five page text document completed in 30 seconds and the five page text and colour graphics test was one second faster. This gives a maximum speed in the real world, including preparation time, of 10.3ppm. The company also claims a first page out in three seconds, but we didn't see one inside 15 seconds. Even so, subjectively this is a quick printer and a good alternative to lasers in the same price range, in terms of speed.
Print quality, from Epson's DURABrite pigmented inks, is fair for an inkjet, but not for a laser. Black text is slightly ‘lumpy', though you have to get very close to see a problem. In most environments, it would be adequate.
Colour graphics are solid, though with some dither patterning in areas of solid fill. Colours are bright, but not as robust as from a typical colour laser. However, where this machine and most colour inkjets beat a colour laser is in photo quality prints. Our 15 x 10cm photo sample shows very natural colouring and plenty of detail, both in brightly lit and shaded areas of the image. It's better than we've seen from any laser printer.
At least Epson has been honest about the noise levels, quoting a level of 68dBA when printing. We measured it a couple of dBA lower than this, but either figure makes it a pretty noisy machine to have on your desk, noisier than most lasers.
Epson claims the B-500DN is cheaper to run than an equivalent colour laser and given the prices quoted for its cartridges, we have to agree. There are three different black ink cartridge capacities available, at 3,000, 4,000 and 8,000 pages. Colour cartridges come in two capacities: 3,500 and 7,000 pages.
Using the higher capacity cartridges, which also give low maintenance costs, produces page costs of 1.31p for an ISO black page and 2.67p for a colour one. Both costs are lower than from colour laser printers we have tested, but the colour cost is exceptionally low. A page with good colour coverage for less than 3p is very good for any printer and keeps the total cost of ownership well down.
Epson's B-500DN proves that a business inkjet printer can be a direct rival to a colour laser, at the same price point. Although the asking price of £350 seems high for an inkjet, this is offset by extremely low running costs and the fact that you will only have to attend to cartridge changes every 7,000 or 8,000 pages. Print quality is good, speed is acceptable and although the printer is noisy, it shows Epson's determination to establish a new commercial role for inkjet technology.