- Review Price: £486.00
Workgroup colour laser printers may have dropped considerably in price over the last couple of years, but an investment of £500, multiplied by the number of workgroups in your organisation, can still be considerable. It may not be immediately apparent which departments need colour printing on a regular basis, either, so Epson’s latest idea to offer an upgradeable laser, which can start life as a mono printer, has legs.
You can buy the mono AcuLaser 2600N on the Internet for just over £400 including VAT and simply by adding cyan, magenta and yellow cartridges to the supplied black cartridge, you can convert it to a colour machine at any time. Admittedly, the cost of the three extra cartridges, at around £130, is greater than the difference between the two models, but it does give you flexibility.
You can also run the machine with four black cartridges, so you will only need to service it every 20,000 pages, and when running in colour mode, it will switch to monochrome if the colour cartridges run out before black.
The AcuLaser C2600N, reviewed here, is a neat and well laid-out machine. From its high-capacity paper tray, holding a full ream of 500 sheets, to its eight-line, backlit, LCD display, it an easy printer to use and offers a lot of helpful feedback. For example, when you’re inserting toner cartridges, the display can show miniature diagrams of each step in the operation – a lot more convenient than a similar display on the screen of your PC.
From the front of the printer you’re looking on the side of the print mechanism, so pages eject from the right-hand side and lay across the machine. This makes the printer quite deep, but gives it a relatively narrow front aspect. At the rear are sockets for parallel, USB and Ethernet connections.
Although the C2600N comes with its photoconductor drum and fuser unit installed, you do have to remove the waste toner bottle and flick a couple of levers to unlock the mechanism, before use. Then it’s just a question of inserting each of the toner cartridges and installing the Windows driver supplied on CD.
The driver is typical Epson fare, well-designed with good functionality. Colour calibration is automatic and gives above average reproduction, straight from the box. You can introduce watermarks and overlays to your prints and print two or four pages per sheet. Duplex printing is possible, but only if you add the optional duplexer unit.
Epson has rightly earned itself a good reputation for its print quality. This machine produces excellent black text, with clean cut edges and dense black fills. Greyscale fills, as in our text and business graphics sample page, were not quite so good and suffered from some over-dark and oddly spotted dither patterns.
In colour, there are none of these graphics problems and block graphics print smoothly and in clean colours. There are different settings for text, graphics and photos and we were surprised how well the AcuLaser C2600N reproduced our photographic test sample. Colours are smoothly defined and, although slightly larger than life, for many purposes they’ll be very acceptable for general business jobs.
This is a very fast printer for its class. 23 seconds to print our five-page text document may only give a speed of 13ppm, against Epson’s claim of 30ppm, but when you look at the colour prints and see that each of them completed in just 17 seconds, you see how well it compares with its main competitors.
In passing, it’s about time all printer suppliers quoted print speeds for a typical business page, printed with normal printer settings, rather than an undefined page printed in draft mode. Roll on the release of the new ISO standard which will define a typical business page. All the major printer manufacturers have signed up to it and Epson is certainly no worse with its quoted print speeds than any other supplier.
If you start with an AcuLaser 2600N in mono mode, or print black-only pages on the C2600N, Epson claims you can get 5,000, five per cent black pages from its high capacity cartridge, the only type available. This gives a black page cost of a very healthy 1.62p. If you fit four black cartridges, the printing costs don’t change, you just get more pages before you need to replace them.
When it comes to colour, the page costs remain good, though now you have a chpice of 2,000 page, standard capacity cartridges or 5,000 page, high capacity ones. Using high capacity yields, for the best economy, you should get a 20 per cent page coming out at a fraction over 8p. This is at the lower-cost end of the colour prints we’ve produced recently, though most printers can print one at under 9p per page.
You wonder why nobody thought of a convertible laser printer before. Being able to change from a single black cartridge to four black cartridges, or to full, four-colour printing, simply by adding or replacing toner makes the AcuLaser C2600N very flexible.
That’s not all in its favour, though, as it produces high-quality prints quickly, and at very competitive costs. Given the substantial discounts off the RRP available from Internet sources, it also represents very good value for money.
Score in detail
Print Speed 9
Print Quality 8