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Future of inkjet in the office more assured with arrival of 70ppm Officejet Pro X

Issue #1302 – Inkjet technology has never looked so good for office printing. Having applied its Scalable Printing Technology to large format commercial printers for a couple of years, Hewlett-Packard now considers the business/office environment is ready for a genuinely fast inkjet device that also cuts the cost of printing by as much as 50% over laser – the Officejet Pro X family.

In point of fact, there is a combination of related circumstances that have combined to make this the right time for a product of this nature. After all, the company could have developed this product as much as 6 years ago but have held back for several reasons.

Firstly, there have always been concerns about the suitability of liquid ink for business and professional print documents, largely due to the issue of wetness, drying time and resulting crinkling of the paper. Ink technology developments by all printer manufacturers have reduced this issue to a minimum and Hewlett-Packard’s experience with very high speed commercial production printing, using this exact technology, has ruled the prejudice irrelevant.

Secondly, there has always been (and still is) a severe prejudice against inkjet in the office for business documents. This does partly revolve around the wetness issue but also revolves around print speed and goes right back to the emergence of laser technology in the first place. As soon as desktop/office laser printers hit the market in the early 1980’s, every business wanted one and laser technology became the de facto Holy Grail of office printing. No longer was dot matrix acceptable for office printing and the technology quickly slid into obscurity, only maintaining its raison d’être for multi-part form and dirty environment applications. Then, when single-pass colour laser technology arrived in the latter part of the 1990s, every office and business hankered for fast colour printing capability.

Officejet Pro X476dwOfficejet Pro X476dw

Thirdly, in recent years, not only has the print speed achievable by inkjet devices improved dramatically but so has the functionality and feature-set built into them. Whereas inkjet devices used to be single function with just one low-capacity A4 paper source, we now have multifunction devices with many of the features, functionality and capabilities of large laser MFPs – and with dual A4 or A3 paper sources capable of handling up to a ream of paper at one time.

And, fourthly, the severe economic conditions existing since 2008 have pushed many organisations to re-evaluate their attitude and approach to office printing and cost structure, leading to a reassessment of inkjet as the business printing technology of choice.

Hewlett-Packard’s Officejet Pro X family arrives as the flagship to its Officejet range, where we have been used to seeing realistic print speeds approaching 20ppm in what I like to term ‘correspondence quality’. Multifunction inkjet devices from Brother, Canon, Epson and Lexmark have also reached print speeds that are fully acceptable for general office printing.

Pagewide array print headPagewide array print head

A claimed 70ppm, however, has never before been achieved by an office inkjet machine! And, it is this that allows Hewlett-Packard to claim the Officejet Pro X as the fastest desktop colour printer in the world! It really is. To gain faster print speeds from a colour laser device means buying a machines that is floor standing at a light production level.

This groundbreaking print speed has been achieved by taking multiple units of the basic print head used in the Scalable Printing Technology architecture and building them into a print head that spans the entire A4 page in one unit. This means that there is no moving print head that has to run backwards and forwards across the page. Instead, the paper is the only moving object, making operation much more like a laser printer than a traditional inkjet printer. This type of printer then has the fewest moving parts of any office printer, contributing to the device’s reliability.

A little clarification with a proviso is required here though.

Hewlett-Packard does not quote a ‘draft’ print speed for the new family – because that implies low print quality! Whereas historical convention has been for inkjet print speeds to be primarily quoted in terms of the fastest possible print speed – meaning draft quality – print speed specifications for more recent machines are quoted to ISO 24734, which is essentially ‘normal’, or ‘correspondence quality’, mode.

However, print speeds for the Pro X family are defined slightly differently – specifically geared towards the business environment. There are three selectable quality modes – ‘Office’, ‘Professional’ and ’Presentation’. The default mode is actually Professional mode, which is 42ppm for the Pro X551dw and Pro X576dw and 36ppm for the Pro X451dw and Pro X476dw. Figures of 55ppm and 70ppm are the print speed in ‘Office’ mode.

Family members 36ppm 42ppm
Single function Pro X451dw Pro X551dw
Multifunction Pro X476dw Pro X576dw
Officejet Pro X576dwOfficejet Pro X576dw

What this means is that Hewlett-Packard’s ‘world’s fastest’ claim is based on the fastest speed achievable rather than normal, default, correspondence mode. To compare strictly with a laser device, the comparison should be taken at the default, ‘Professional’ level – i.e. 42ppm and 36ppm – in which case the Pro X is not the fastest colour printer. Apart from a number of A3 devices (which we can ignore as not being comparable with the A4 format of the Pro X), there are two A4 single function colour laser printers that are faster than the Pro X’s 42ppm – Xerox Phaser 6700 and Epson WorkForce AL-C500 (45ppm), both built on a Fuji Xerox engine but roughly costing between 85% and 160% more to buy than the higher level single function Pro X551dw. Moving to multifunction devices, there are three faster A4 devices – Xerox ColorQube 8700MFP and 8900MFP (solid ink) and the Lexmark X792. However, these start at a minimum of about 3x the cost of the Pro X576dw and can hardly be described as ‘desktop’ devices!

Therefore, the big question is, what print quality is required for business printing and which print speed relates best to ‘correspondence quality’? The only way to answer this question is to show some examples.

HP OJ Pro X - Text - Office
Text – Office Mode (70ppm)
HP OJ Pro X - Text - Professional
Text – Professional Mode (42ppm)
HP OJ Pro X - Lines - Office
Lines – Office Mode (70ppm)
HP OJ Pro X - Lines - Professional
Lines – Professional Mode (42ppm)

Quite clearly, print quality achieved at 70ppm is not as good as that achieved at 42ppm. For many business users, it will be a toss-up as to which is most important – print speed or print quality.

Because the default setting is Professional quality, at 42ppm, my guess is that it is unlikely many users would be inclined to alter a machine’s default settings to achieve the full 70ppm rated speed. There is also the consideration that the majority of print jobs are only single page or a matter of two or three pages in length. This means that the full 70ppm print speed, as opposed to 42ppm, is pretty much irrelevant for most print jobs.

Perhaps the main exception to this would be the printing of 60/70/80-page reports or proposals in a situation where maximum quality is somewhat less important than getting the hard copy out (the financial advice sector perhaps being an example). Alternatively, the rapid production of simple fliers or posters might justify the reduced print quality.

When viewing print samples at normal reading distance, it is actually rather difficult to discern which sample is which. There is absolutely no doubt that Office mode will be perfectly adequate for many applications. Some users may even consider that it is good enough for correspondence – but not all.

What this means is that the comparable print speed for the Pro X is actually 42ppm. However, the fact remains that the Pro X family is the world’s fastest A4 desktop colour printer (at 70ppm) and a very exciting development in the market. It opens up the way for inkjet technology to be much more widely adopted in the office environment and will certainly go a long way towards breaking down the old prejudices and resistance to ink technology.

So, what about prices and costs ?

There are two ways of looking at this. Firstly, how does the Pro X compare with existing flagship business inkjet devices and, secondly, how does it compare with typical comparable laser devices?

There is absolutely no doubt that Hewlett-Packard’s claim that the OfficeJet Pro range offers colour printing at up to 50% of the cost of comparable laser devices. We’ve seen in the past that they can be as aggressive as 60% lower.

Hardware pricing of the Pro X family is actually set at a level just a little lower than most laser AiOs – manufacturer’s SRP £567 for the Pro X576dw, compared to laser AiOs ranging up to £807.

In the chart below we see the total expenditure over three years for the Officejet Pro X576dw compared to six equivalent colour laser AiOs. This situation is slightly unrealistic because the Pro X is not properly available through dealers and retailers yet and, therefore, it is not yet possible to make a true street price comparison. Therefore the selection of laser devices is based on those manufacturers that display SRP pricing on their UK web sites as being the closest comparison currently available.

Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet Pro X576dw vs
Average of 5x competing Laser AiO

Note that for this level of machine, the Total Expenditure over three years shown in the accompanying table is calculated on the basis of printing 70% of pages in mono and 30% of pages in colour; 5% coverage per 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 Manufacturers’ SRP excluding tax, sourced in the UK from the manufacturers’ websites.

What this selection process would actually do would be to include a machine from Dell, which is effectively priced at a street price level because Dell’s web site is a primary direct-sell operation. So, this model (Dell C3765dnf) has been left out of this comparison because it would skew the result. When full street pricing is available through the channel, it will be possible to run a comparison that could include all competing laser devices.

Therefore, the laser AiO models used here (ranging from 20ppm to 35ppm) are:

  • Brother MFC-9970CDW
  • HP Laserjet Pro 400 Colour M475dw
  • HP Laserjet Pro 500 Colour M570dw
  • Lexmark CX410de
  • Xerox WorkCentre 6605 v/dn

So, that aside, the Officejet Pro X576dw (most expensive flagship model) is at least 50% less costly to run over five years when printing upwards of 3,000 pages per month. There is a band between 2,000 and 3,000 page per month where the savings range between 47.5% and 50.9%, simply depending on the precise page count (and therefore the number of cartridges bought) used to take the comparison.

What this means is that 2,000 pages per month is the basic starting point for 50% savings and it is physically impossible for the Pro X576dw to cost more than the average laser cost, even at an exceptionally low page count. It would be expected that when a full street price comparison can be made, percentage savings will increase.

Moving on to a comparison with existing flagship business inkjet models and we find a very interesting scenario.

We see from the comparison below (again based on website-published manufacturer SRP) that the Pro X sits reasonably comfortably against even the current Officejet Pro 8600 Plus and Epson’s WorkForce Pro WP-4535DWF – the two machines that have been identified in the past as being unbeatable for Total Cost of Printing.

In fact, the only reason the two existing business inkjet machines are less costly over the period of ownership is that they are less expensive to buy in the first place! The Officejet Pro X is brand new technology, either opening up a new printer category or pushing deep into the established business laser category (depending on how you look at it), and is a heavy duty machine, meaning that its build cost is inevitably higher than a technology that has a history of more than two decades and designed for rather lower print volumes. The cost of ink between the Pro X and existing devices is essentially comparable – with ink for the Pro X costing only 10% more on average.

Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet Pro X576dw vs
Best Existing Business Inkjet AiO

Note that for this level of machine, the Total Expenditure over three years shown in the accompanying table is calculated on the basis of printing 70% of pages in mono and 30% of pages in colour; 5% coverage per 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 Manufacturers’ SRP excluding tax, sourced in the UK from the manufacturers’ websites.

One of the reasons the Pro X range is rated for a maximum of 75,000 pages per month, is that it has been designed by the Hewlett-Packard laser group. Therefore it benefits from the experience of feeding paper at high speeds and the sort of durable engineering normally associated with laser devices rather than inkjet devices.

These combinations put the Officejet Pro X family in a formidable position in the market. It is fast, durable, capable and low cost for business environments where speed and volume have historically demanded a laser-based machine.

It is very interesting to note that another recent addition to the market (in Germany) is a mono inkjet printer from Brother that is capable of 100 pages per minute – MFC-S7000 series!! But, this has to be the subject of a separate study.

Having used the device ‘hands-on’ (Pro X576dw), it is clear that this is a stunning piece of equipment. It is extraordinarily fast, appears reliable, superb print quality and thoroughly usable. In addition, setup is extremely easy with very rapid installation of the driver. Installing software takes a while longer, of course.

I would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending the Officejet Pro X family for offices and any other organisation with work groups (such as subject departments in educational establishments) where print volumes can be significant. I would even go so far as to recommend it for general classroom/pupil use in schools and colleges – the low Total Cost of Printing makes it ideal for that type of high throughput environment.

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