Epson has continued their long line of L-series printers, along with its ink-tank systems, which dates back to 2011. There’s no doubting the success of this range, having dramatically cut ink usage and costs using their patented system, much loved by both the consumer and business user. The company launched its new range of six-colour, photo printers in South Africa some two months back, 11th March 2015. The L850 was launched alongside the L1800, and although there are some glaring omissions, but, being built specifically for printing photos, it does its job, and does it well.
Build and Design
Apart from its Ink-Tank System (ITS), the L850 follows many of the modern printer design templates. In fact, if you look back at previous printers from the range, the L850 presents itself as a cross between the L800 and L550, but the result is a lot more pleasing. The L850 is a mix of matte and glossy black finishes, with a texture scanner lid. The unit folds neatly into the standard box look, with a retractable feeder tray behind the scanner bed on the rear and output paper tray on the front, along with an adjustable control panel as well. While the ‘floating’ control panel isn’t a new idea, Epson has streamlined its look with larger touch buttons and a larger display. The display now measures 6.9cm diagonally (or 2.75”), although it does lack the touchscreen capabilities, it proves more than useful when viewing images for printing when not connected to the PC. The larger buttons also make it easier to select any particular function, but soon realised that using them in the dark proves quite tricky, as they are not backlit.
The ITS module is located outside the main body on the right-hand side. The module is quite loosely attached, as it hooks onto the printer’s side, so some caution should be applied when moving or transporting. Other aspects to take note of when printing is to make sure that output tray is opened beforehand. Although it seems trivial, and something that should either flip open when printing starts or sends an error if it isn’t open, none of these apply. Printing will continue with the paper being jammed on the inside, after which opening the tray reveals a ruined print.
As is always the case with the ITS, setup of the L850 is quite a bit different from other printers. If you’re familiar with any of the Epson printer range in recent years, then this shouldn’t be an issue for you. If this is your first time using ITS, it may not be as straightforward. For starters, instead of removing the cover and inserting a cartridge, users will receive bottles of ink to fill each of the 6 tanks with designated colours. It is worth noting that it would be best consulting the included manual to prepare the bottles for pouring and starting up the system, but it shouldn’t be much trickier than following the simple instructions. Once this is completed, users can leave the printer to its own devices as it performs its check and initial setups before printing a test page.
What’s great about the L850, and a few other Epson models, is that is doesn’t necessarily require a PC to print, if at all. The printer has a USB port and microSD card slot, as well as scanning and copying options at the user’s disposal. What is notably lacking are the LAN and wireless connectivity options such as Wi-Fi, NFC or Bluetooth. Although this isn’t a train smash, by today’s standards and the growing desire for efficiency and ease of use, it’s something to consider. If, however, you’re looking for the USB port to connect to your PC or laptop, if you haven’t consulted the manual, it may take a great deal of searching before its located, as it’s situated beneath the scanning bed, hidden from site. While it would seem an attempt to clean up the areas for cables, it makes no real difference as the cable still needs to run out from behind to your PC. And in addition to making it tricky to locate, it’s also a little tricky to connect, especially if you don’t have the necessary nimble, small hands.
The L850 is equipped with Epson’s Micro Piezo technology, which supports a resolution of up to 5,760×1,440dpi. In addition to this high level of clarity, the unit has 90 nozzles for black and a further 90 nozzles for each colour. Furthermore, the printer is also capable of variable-size droplets for better accuracy. While the detail is quite immense, under default settings, the unit is capable of printing roughly 3000 pages of black text, and 1800 colour photos.
Specifications aside, the L850 is capable of great photo prints thanks to its 6-colour (5+1) Ink Tank System, over the previous 3+1. With the option of using 5 different colour inks, it makes it more capable of matching and representing colours. These extra colours, light magenta and light cyan, are used to rid itself of half-toning, the method most printers employ by using less ink to create the lighter shade of an image. The lighter colour, thus, means that the accuracy on areas where lighter shades are required, especially of similar, but different colours, is much higher. Epson suggests that its new range of printers, including the L850 can come close to, or even match, the print quality observed on professional prints.
The use of a dye-based ink also reproduces more vibrant colours. Although dye ink is more prone to smudging after the initial print (while the ink is still ‘wet’), the brighter colours are worth the additional caution required when handling higher DPI prints. In turn, this means printing isn’t as fast as many other inkjet systems using conventional inks. Since the L850 was designed, first and foremost, for photo printing (specifically aimed at photographers and artists), the extra delay versus accurate image reproduction is trivial. While results vary, full DPI, borderless A4 photos will take up to 5 minutes to complete. Yes, this is painfully slow, but, to re-iterate, the quality far outweighs the requirement to print in a rush.
As mentioned previously, the unit is able to scan and copy without the need for a connection to a PC or laptop. This means that users can scan an image directly to their microSD card or flash drive. The scanner is capable of a 1200dpi resolution, and when you consider that the results of a good quality photo will be in the region of 600dpi, the L850 more than adequately meets this requirement. Using the full 1200dpi for scanning is seldom used due to the high-resolution image and file size it produces, and is often only used when extremely large prints are required or images need to be finely edited. The L850 is capable of producing both jpeg and PDF documents for the print. In addition to the scan and copy features, the printer is also capable of producing CD/DVD prints. When printing from a flash drive or microSD card, users have the capability of adjusting the photos based on a few presets, with more advanced options including red-eye removal, contrast, saturation and sharpness changes, as well as a few filters such as black and white, sepia, etc.
Given that the Epson L850 is almost a dedicated photo printer, it’s not ideally recommended for business use where high-volume prints are required in the minimum amount of time, unless, of course, your business involved printing photos. The unit is more than capable of printing your family portraits with ease and produces high-level, borderless A4 prints. With the ITS, users can expect a large number of prints before having to replace, or rather top up, any of the ink tanks.
At an RRP of at R6 900 (excluding VAT), the unit isn’t the most cost-effective from an initial expense but should pay off itself off as an investment over time. It is, however, a concern that there aren’t many network connectivity options on the L850, although, if you do require this printer on your work network, users are able to bypass this by means of using a single PC and making it available to the network via that PC. With 6 inks used instead of Epson’s previous 4, the level of detail on shaded images is much higher, in addition to reducing the costs of refilling the ink tanks. At the end of the day, the L850 is great at printing, but not much in the line of optimisation and ease of use, and that’s just fine.