There are three main things to test in a colour printer: the speed it can print at, the cost of running it and most importantly, its print quality. We used separate tests for each of these three attributes.
To test each printerâ€™s speed, we timed it printing three different test pieces and took the average of two separate runs of each. The test pieces were a five-page text document, typical of a business report or homework project, a mixed black text and colour graphics page, such as might be used in a business flyer, and a full-colour photographic image.
For the text and text-and-graphics tests, we set each printer to its defaults for plain paper and normal print quality. For the photographic print we used the highest quality settings and the manufacturerâ€™s own brand of glossy photo paper. The times each printer achieved are set out in the table accompanying this review.
To establish real-life running costs for each printer, we printed a document with 5% black text cover repeatedly until the black ink was exhausted. We assessed this either by visual examination of when the print quality was no longer acceptable, or when we received a message from the printerâ€™s software saying it was dangerous to the printer to continue.
For colour, we used a 20% colour test piece, made up of bars of cyan, magenta, yellow and black, again printing until the first of the colours ran out or until we received a â€˜dangerâ€™ message from the printer driver.
Having obtained figures for the number of pages each printer can produce we then calculated the true cost of printing, using typical online prices for ink tanks or cartridges and specialist paper. When printing black text, the Epson and HP printers also use some coloured ink and we factored in an appropriate proportion of the cost of a colour cartridge into the black print page cost.
The final test is a subjective one of print quality, but to try and objectify it as far as possible, we asked a group of assessors to look at the photo and mixed text and graphics prints from each of the printers and assess the overall quality from both test samples.
We looked particularly at factors such as the smooth transition of the sky in the photographic image, the clarity and detail of the trees in the foreground and the amount of detail showing in the shadow sections of the rock outcrops. In the text and graphics prints we looked for clean black text, with as little bleed into the paper as possible, for the solidity of block colours in the heading banner and graphics, and for the colour definition of text in the heading.
These tests were conducted blind (not literally!), so that none of the assessors knew which printer had produced which prints. The ratings shown in the table are an average of those awarded by each of the assessors.