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A3 Office inkjet multifunction segment bolstered by Epson Workforce A3 but with disappointing Total Cost of Printing

Issue #1202 – Having enjoyed the first A3 inkjet multifunction devices from Brother two and a half years ago, and witnessed Brother’s dramatic cut in supplies costs with the introduction of the LC-1280XL series cartridges a year ago, it is both encouraging and disappointing to see Epson’s entry joining Hewlett-Packard’s also disappointing contender, launched 18 months ago.

Despite the low volumes of A3 printing actually undertaken, this should be an exciting sector of the market – bringing big company flexibility and functionality to the small company and small office.

Why? Because – there are now much better opportunities for volumes of A3 printing and copying to increase without the huge expenditure involved in acquiring an A3 laser multifunction device. The reasons for this are two-fold:

  • Firstly, the advancement in inkjet technology over the past decade, to the point where both print speed and print quality are not at all an issue in the way they were, mean that small organisations are now able to fulfil their A3 requirements professionally in-house at the same cost as printing two A4 pages and sticking them together.
  • Secondly, printer manufacturers are making graphic design resources available to their printer customers to enable them to create reasonably high-quality (in design terms) hard copy marketing, display and information collateral in-house, with the flexibility to create one-off or personalised materials where desirable.

Architects, engineers, accountants, retail outlets, restaurants, etc., are all able to make good use of these facilities by buying a single device that offers them the ability to print both standard A4 office documentation and high-quality A3 presentation materials and also take advantage of all the other facilities a multifunction device affords.

As we look at the three families of A3 inkjet multifunction that are now available from Brother, Epson and Hewlett-Packard, the exciting aspects are not hard to find – but neither are the disappointments.

Let’s look at each in turn, identifying the strengths and weaknesses.

Brother was the trailblazer in this sector and, as such, has had the opportunity to make most progress over the two and half years since launch.

Even in the first generation, we saw a very well thought-out family that provided solid performance and good print quality. The family included a device for everyone – from A3 printing but A4 scan platen, through A3 print and scan to dual-paper feed, duplex A4 print with A3 scan capability. Very impressive!

Perhaps the disappointing aspects of the MFC-58/68 series were print speed and, to a degree, print quality (somewhat pallid colours).

Brother MFC-J6510DWBrother MFC-J6510DW

In the second generation, however, the ‘J6’ series: print speed has been addressed with a much faster print engine; print quality is improved with a slightly better colour print density; and the new family also benefits from a much-reduced Total Cost of Printing through use of the new high capacity LC-1280XL cartridges.

All three models benefit from: automatic duplex printing at A3; A3 ADF for A3 copy, scan and fax functionality; a single-sheet rear feed for printing/copying onto card; and wireless n networking in addition to 10/100 wired networking. Individual models range from: single paper feed (250-sheet capacity); through dual tray paper feed (500-sheet capacity); to dual tray paper feed with auto-duplex (single pass!) scanning through the ADF for A4 originals.

Brother MFC-J5910DWBrother MFC-J5910DW

Brother has also just newly added a cut-down A3 model to the range, MFC-J5910DW, at a cut-down price – just €230.10 (median price sourced in Germany). This model follows the example of the previous generation MFC-5890CN and MFC-5895CW in that it is equipped with an A4 scan platen for those who do not require A3 as a scan/copy/fax function. Apart from this one feature (oh, and a smaller LCD display), the J5910DW is identical to the J6510DW, even to the degree of accepting the high capacity LC-1280XL cartridges – fantastic for very low Total Cost of Printing for general office use where A3 printing only (no A3 scanning) is useful. In fact, I would probably go so far as to recommend this machine as the best Brother option for general office use instead of going for one of its range of A4 specific devices – purely on the basis of 250-sheet paper capacity and high capacity cartridges.

Hewlett-Packard, with only one model available (Officejet 7500A) even after 18 months, should have been able to draw on Brother’s experience and produce a killer machine to match the quality of the A4 Officejet Pro series. It didn’t! The Officejet 7500A is a very disappointing device, providing A3+ printing (single-sided only) but no (worthwhile) A3 scan capability and low paper capacity (150-sheet). The stitching software provided for creating A3 prints from two scans of an A3 original is worse than useless – see sample copy images below.

HP Officejet 7500A A3 copy stitching

Hewlett-Packard Officejet 7500AHewlett-Packard Officejet 7500A

In addition, the Officejet 7500A was effectively cobbled together using the Officejet 7500 single function printer, which uses the HP920 print engine. Nominal Cost Per Page for the Officejet 7500A is so much higher than that for the Brother range that this engine cannot match the Total Cost of Printing of even the top end of the Brother range (MFC-J6910DW) with its hugely superior specification – dual paper trays, duplex print capability, A4 auto-duplex scan capability and proper A3 scan capability! The only area in which the Officejet 7500 has an advantage over the Brother devices is that it boasts A3+ printing.

Then, finally, we saw two models arrive on the market from Epson (WorkForce WF-7515 and WF-7525). Specification here is fairly impressive – with the WF-7525 beginning to show a capability to challenge Brother. Shame about the choice of print engine on which to base this otherwise interesting multifunction range!

Epson WorkForce WF-7515Epson WorkForce WF-7515

Also capable of accepting A3+ paper, the WorkForce WF-7515 is fitted with an A3 ADF; 250-sheet paper feed; and both wired and wireless (n) networking. The major downside of this particular model is that there is no automatic duplex printing or copying.

In the WF-7525, we see a somewhat closer match to the Brother models, with: two paper feeds providing combined capacity of 500 sheets; auto-duplexing ADF (reversing, A4 only); and auto-duplex printing (A4 only).

However, the real downside with this machine is that choice of engine – the T130x high capacity ink series instead of the T702x series. This restricts cartridge capacity to 945 pages from the black instead of 2,400 pages! Likewise colour yield could have been 2,000 pages per cartridge but is restricted to 800.

In this way, like Hewlett-Packard, Epson appears to have decided that A3 should require the user to pay a premium for actual printing undertaken – as compared to its A4 devices. Not content to allow the hardware purchase price define the value of the added capability, Epson has chosen not to position the A3 range as a really competitive alternative to A4.

So, while Brother decided to make the A3 family the true flagship of its office range, and a real alternative to A4 only, by launching a high capacity cartridge set that pushes nominal Cost Per Page right down very close to that of the A4 Officejet Pro and WorkForce WP ranges, Hewlett-Packard and Epson have essentially positioned their 75xx ranges not as general office machines but as specialist A3 devices.

Brother
MFC-J6510DW
Print area up to A3
€430.56

Print speed
 
Copy speed
Network
Paper input
 
ADF
Duplex print
Display
Supplies
 
 
 
Other
 
Correspondence – 12ppm mono / 10ppm colour
Draft – 35ppm mono / 27ppm colour
Fastest – 23ppm mono / 20ppm colour
10/100Mbit wired / Wireless b/g/n
250-sheet standard feed
Single sheet rear bypass feed
A3 – 35-sheet
Automatic A3
8.3cm widescreen LCD display
LC1240 series (K=600 pages; C/M/Y=600 pages)
LC1280XL series (K=2400 pages;
      C/M/Y=1200 pages)
Ships with LC1240 series
Ships with ScanSoft PaperPort; Reallusion®
      FaceFilter Studio
Epson
WorkForce WF-7515
Print area up to A3+
€273.63
Print speed
 
Copy speed
Network
Paper input
ADF
Duplex print
Display
Supplies
 
 
 
 
Other
Correspondence – 15ppm mono / 8.4ppm colour
Draft – 34ppm mono / 34ppm colour
Not quoted
10/100Mbit wired / Wireless b/g/n
250-sheet standard feed
A3 – 30-sheet
Automatic A4
6.3cm LCD display
T129x series (K=385 / C=474 / M=378 /
      Y=616 pages)
T130x series (K=945 / C=765 / M=600 /
      Y=1005 pages)
Ships with T129x series
Ships with Presto! PageManager
Hewlett-Packard
Officejet 7500A
Print area up to A3+
€219.00
Print speed
 
Copy speed
Network
Paper input
ADF
Duplex print
Display
Supplies
 
 
 
Other
 
Correspondence – 10ppm mono / 7ppm colour
Draft – 33ppm mono / 32ppm colour
Fastest – 33ppm mono / 32ppm colour
10/100Mbit wired / Wireless b/g/n
150-sheet standard feed
Legal – 35 sheets
N/A
6cm LCD display
HP 920 series (K=420 pages; C/M/Y=300 pages)
HP 920XL series: (K=1200 pages;
      C/M/Y=700 pages)
Ships with K=420 pages; C/M/Y=250 pages
Web connectivity with downloadable Web Apps
Ships with ArcSoft® Scan-n-Stitch™ Deluxe

As we move into the associated costs in more depth, in order to offer the closest comparison over the three brands available, we have been able to choose the bottom end of each range from Brother (MFC-J6510DW) and Epson (WorkForce WF-7515) to match with the only Hewlett-Packard model (Officejet 7500A).

We must point out at this stage of the game that Brother in Germany is still generally attempting to charge a very significant premium for all of its A3 inkjet MFCs, despite the fact that there has been some degree of competition for nearly 18 months now and serious competition as of the launch of the two Epson WorkForce models in November/December 2011. I feel sure that the time has come when the price of these models must fall to be in line with the rest of Europe and the competition.

It is true that specifications are still clearly superior to the direct A3 competition but the price premium exceeds justification. Around Europe, we see a slightly different situation, with prices for the MFC-J6510DW ranging roughly as follows.

A price range of around €180 to €550 in Germany compares with:

  • €230 to €330 in France
  • €200 to €320 in Spain
  • €200 to €350 in Italy
  • €180 to €275 in the Netherlands
  • and a massive range from around €180 to €380 (currency equivalent) in the UK.

Therefore, when reading ‘hardware purchase price’ for the Brother MFC-J6510DW, it should be remembered that buyers in European countries other than Germany should be able to pay less for the hardware – but, they will probably pay a little more for the ink.

Hardware Purchase Price

Median Street Price inc. tax – Germany


This places the MFC-J6510DW as the most costly machine to buy in Germany by a long way – as much as 102%! But, I would maintain that its hardware value is worth every cent of that. And, in countries other than Germany, the differential should be lower.

At the other extreme, though, we see the nominal Cost Per Page for Brother black printing coming in at 51% lower than Epson black printing and 25% lower than Hewlett-Packard black printing.

Supplies Cost – Nominal Cost Per Page

Based on Median Street Price inc. tax – Germany


Then, when printing in colour, the nominal CPP differential from Epson is 31% and from Hewlett-Packard is 18%.

Remarkably, the net result is that, with a fairly nominal business print volume of 800 pages per month, the Brother MFC-J6510DW actually works out less costly to own over three years than either of the competing machines! The MFC-J6510DW beats the Officejet 7500 by 16% and the WorkForce WF-7515 by 28%.

Total Cost of Printing – A3 Office Inkjet

Based on Median Street Price inc. tax – Germany


Note that for this level of machine, the mixed mono/colour CPP over three years shown in the chart above is calculated on the basis of printing 800 pages per month; 70% pages in mono and 30% pages in colour; is based on the use of maximum capacity supplies; takes into account any standard, or starter, supplies shipped with the device; and also includes the cost of purchase. All prices are Median Street Price with tax, sourced in Germany.

What this means is that a user could buy the mid-level MFC-J6710DW (at a median price of €489) and save 14% and 26% respectively over the other machines in a three-year period – or, buy the top of the range MFC-J6910DW (at a median price of €560) and still save a very healthy 10% and 23% respectively over three years!

Incredible!!

This is emphasised by the chart below where we see that the only time the MFC-J6510DW is not the most economical device is when monthly print volume is below 500 pages per month. Below about 250 pages per month, the MFC-J6510DW also ceases to be more economical than the Epson WorkForce WF-7515.

Total Cost of Printing – A3 Office Inkjet

Based on Median Street Price inc. tax – Germany


Note that the mixed mono/colour CPP over three years shown in the chart above is calculated on the basis of printing 70% pages in mono and 30% pages in colour; is based on the use of maximum capacity supplies; takes into account any standard, or starter, supplies shipped with the device; and also includes the cost of purchase. All prices are Median Street Price with tax, sourced in Germany.

However, this again emphasises Brother’s targeting of the A3 range for general office printing against more specialist targeting by the other manufacturers. Many companies putting all of their office printing through the MFC-J6510DW will find it relatively easy to rack up a monthly print volume that will give them this overall saving. And, the higher the volume, the better the saving.

So, let’s just quickly draw a comparison with the group of A4 business inkjet AiOs explored in our previous article ().

Amazingly, the MFC-J6510DW is beaten only by the ultra-economical Epson WorkForce WP-4535DW and Hewlett-Packard Officejet Pro 8600 Plus – which I would expect, given the relatively high hardware purchase cost of the Brother A3 machine. It is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for the added benefit of A3 printing.

Total Cost of Printing – A3 vs A4 Inkjet

Based on Median Street Price inc. tax – Germany


It would actually not take a massive drop in Hardware Purchase Price (to €340 – perfectly achievable) to bring the long-term Total Cost of Printing of the MFC-J6510DW down to the level of the Officejet Pro 8600 Plus. It would take a rather bigger drop (to €175 = 50%) to bring the long-term TCP down to the level of the WorkForce Pro WP-4535DWF, however.

This is impressive and it is just plain disappointing that the competing A3 machines from Epson and Hewlett-Packard do not support the low-cost cartridge sets that would place them in a truly competitive position. They would also both require a more commanding specification to compete fully.

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