Epson’s L-series photo printers have always delivered some of the best photo printing for a reasonable price. The L-series range was updated back in March 2017 with the release of three new additions in the L382, L386 and L486. I cannot speak much of the naming and numbering conventions of these printers, but with each fitted with Epson’s Ink-Tank System (ITS), you’re assured to get good value for your prints in addition to the excellent quality the company is known for. Epson provided us with the L486 inkjet photo printer for a few weeks and I more than happily put it through its paces.
Build and Design
As with many, many inkjet printers, the overall design is not dissimilar to the average printer. More still, the L486 follows the same core design with many of its Epson siblings with the same multifunctional capabilities. As always Epson’s ITS stands out from other brands of printers, which despite adding additional bulk, adds quite a lot more in terms of value. Looking across the previously released L-series printers, the design also follows suit here. The scanner bed is covered by a thin lid, with a segment of the top also opening to allow users to view some of the internals if need be.
As with many of the more premium L-series units, the L486 has a ‘floating’ main panel, which can be tilted up or pushed back depending on your preference. This main panel includes a number of buttons including the on/off, home, navigational, cancel and maintenance buttons. Most of these are quite self-explanatory, and easy to understand and use without the need for the user manual. The panel also includes a 1.45″ colour display, which is operated by means of the navigation buttons.
The L486 includes an SD card slot, the, almost mandatory, storage medium for many photographers. Looking back at the L850, which includes both the SD card slot and USB 2.0 interfaces, I’m a bit curious as to why this wasn’t an option on the L486 as well. I know it may add some overheads to the overall costs, but how significant would the costs for a USB interface be?
The ITS module, once again, is fitted on the right-hand side of the unit, although the connection to the main unit has been stabilised somewhat since my last Epson printer review, and something which I alluded to previously. Epson, then, aware of customer and reviewer feedback has made some minor changes to the build quality, and something potential buyers may appreciate. With an overall weight of 4.5KG, it’s half the weight of the L850. The L486 adds wireless capabilities to its list of additional features, whereas the L850 has two additional coloured inks for better colour reproduction on prints (I’ll discuss more of the comparisons in the performance section). The L486 does well to reduce the weight by such a substantial amount, even when you consider the additional ink slots within the tank, which wouldn’t make up the difference.
One of the great features of the modern printer is its efficiency during the setup phases. While you may still have to do a few checks upon the first start, you can almost literally complete your first photo print within five minutes, without ever having to setup up your PC. While we will always recommend installing the latest drivers and software designed for the specific use of each device, it isn’t a must in this case, as Windows 10 was easily able to install the required drivers in the background without my manual intervention.
The only real annoying part of the whole setup process was the typing interface on the main panel, which I had to use to connect to my home WiFi. The keyboard interface was rather bizarre, and almost the opposite in modern keyboards, even on non-touch devices. Once I successfully added the printer to the WiFi network, I was able to print directly from my phone by simply installing the Epson iPrint app. Once installed, I could simply choose which photo I wanted to print, and it would start printing within five seconds. In addition to printing over WiFi by means of the app, wireless printing also includes support for Epson Connect (iPrint, Email Print), Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print. Given the seamless and quick printing via the app over WiFi, I can’t say that having the support for NFC is a requirement here.
To cut straight to the chase on quality, the L486 delivers some really stunning results on borderless photo prints. It is worth noting, however, that the correct paper quality is essential. I bought three different quality of photo paper in A4 and A5 sizes, one matte, one premium glossy, and another a more generic glossy photo paper. While the printer delivered brilliant and accurate colour reproduction on all prints, the were some differences in the quality of the different paper selected when, literally, put under the spotlight. On the cheaper, generic paper, there were four lines running down each page, without fail. It may not be noticeable looking at it normally, but placing it under direct light or any kind of magnification and you’ll be able to notice it more clearly. All other paper used didn’t replicate the results.
Comparing the specifications of the L486 against the L850 you’ll notice a few changes. For starters, the L486 includes 180 nozzles for black, 59 nozzles per colour, whereas the L850 90 nozzles for black and 90 nozzles per colour. Having a few prints still left from the review of the L850, I noticed the L486 had better contrast and much better deep blacks on the darker printer. The reproduction was quite brilliant on these deep blacks, and I managed to print a few darker posters to test it out to the full extent. Where the L850 stood out, however, was a slightly better colour range, which had to be compared side by side to notice any difference.
Printing resolution was the same for both units at 5,760×1,440 DPI, while the print speeds did vary. Both units remained within a few seconds of the speeds reproduced in the real world compared to Epson’s factory spec. The L48 achieved speeds of 33 pages/min Monochrome (plain paper 75 g/m²), 15 pages/min Colour (plain paper 75 g/m²) and 69 Seconds per 10 x 15 cm photo (Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper). The L850 on the other hand faired slightly better at 37 pages/min Monochrome (plain paper 75 g/m²), 38 pages/min Colour (plain paper 75 g/m²) and 12 Seconds per 10 x 15 cm photo (Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper). Given the two additional colours added to the ITS on the L850, the results are to be expected.
I put the L486 through a much more rigorous test after the initial and comparative testing was complete, running up to 20 10x15cm prints at a time, in addition to 10 high-quality A4 prints on four separate occasions. For the most part, the printer didn’t break much of a sweat, as the regular methodical nature of the back and forth of the printer head didn’t change at all even after more than an hour printing at one point. On the one occasion, the printer did break the pattern was a result of a slight fold in one of the papers I didn’t previously notice, resulting in about a centimetre of out of sync printing and a slight rainbow effect. Once the particular photo had been printed, the printer continued as per normal as if nothing strange had occurred.
In total, I went through more than 100 different types of prints, from standard to high quality, matte to glossy, premium to generic paper, and A4 to 10x15cm prints. Minus the one irregular print, the L486 effectively had more than 99% accuracy.
Copy and Scan
We shouldn’t forget that the L486 also offers some high-quality scanning and copying capabilities via a manual feed flatbed scanner, with a resolution of 1,200×2,400 DPI. Users can choose to copy a page via a print or saved to the SD card. What’s new on the L486 via the smartphone app is the ability to scan pages directly to your phone’s storage, while also being able to control the copying functionality directly from your phone as well. The ability to copy pages directly to your smartphone is a great addition and cuts out the need for a PC in transferring a scanned file to the PC and onto your phone, saving you a good few minutes of your time. This addition also means that now there really isn’t a need to have a PC in order to use the full suite of the multifunction printer.
Whether you’re comparing the Epson L486 to the L850 or on its own, it’s able to stand up to all the tests you can throw at it. What’s great about the comparison is that it shows the strides made in Epson’s printing division in less than a year since the release of the previously launched units from the L-series, producing lighter and more accurate printers. While the L850 does offer the additional inks and support for DVD printing, the lower cost of the L486 makes it a more enticing buy. Not to mention the fact that I haven’t used a DVD in over a year, and haven’t burned any blank DVDs in almost two years.
At an RRP of R4,500, the L486 is nearly R2,000 more affordable than the L850, with the addition of WiFi printing, better black and white photos, deeper blacks, and a much lighter frame, making the latter a far better value proposition for buyers.