Will HP Trigger a Resurgence of Ink in the Office?

By Marlene Orr, Senior Analyst, Printers/A4 MFP, December 11, 2012

Not too long ago, both Kodak and Lexmark made public their plans to leave the inkjet market; HP went the other direction in late October, announcing its PageWide inkjet technology, which promises to bring the best of laser and ink to business users. HP claims the new Officejet Pro X series printers and MFPs (scheduled for Spring 2013 availability) will deliver speeds of up to 70 ppm (in General Office mode; up to 42 ppm in Professional mode) at about half the cost per page for supplies of competitive color lasers. Can HP deliver on these promises and how will these products fit into business environments? Though the products won’t be on the market for months, BLI saw the products in action at a recent analyst event and has taken a closer look at the technology and what it could mean to the office printing market.

PageWide Array: What it is and What it Does…

PageWide technology is a series of staggered, overlapping dies (groups of ink nozzles) that, as the name implies, span the width of the page. Rather than travelling back and forth on a carriage to deliver ink dots across the page as with traditional inkjet printers, the new HP printhead is stationary; the page moves under it during the imaging process. The most obvious advantage of having a stationary printhead is, of course, speed (case in point: one of the fastest desktop inkjets available, the Epson B-510DN, advertises a draft speed of 37 ppm, though BLI found actual tested speeds in default mode to be much slower). Another key advantage, according to HP, is quality, as it eliminates the banding that occurs from the back-and-forth motion, especially at higher speeds.

While HP’s now discontinued EdgeLine MFPs used four staggered printheads with five dies each to image the page; each printhead delivered two colors of ink via 5,820 nozzles per color. The new array uses a single wider printhead with 10 dies (for a total of 42,400 nozzles). Another key difference is that while the EdgeLine products used a clear fixing agent plus four inks, the new Officejet X series uses only the four fast-drying pigmented inks.

Ink as a Viable Force in the Office?

For many years, vendors have been introducing business-class inkjet models as entry-level color devices. These desktop machines delivered a low upfront cost, acceptable quality and a better cost per page than sub-$500 color laser models. But they were slow, generally maxing out at about 10 ppm in the real world, making them ideal for only low-volume usage. And if the best quality output was needed, speed would slow down even more and cost per page would increase.

With the announcement of this new technology, HP promises to deliver the speed and affordability of a workgroup laser device, with the quality and low power consumption of an inkjet device. Although final firmware is not ready yet, a casual look at the image quality samples provided by HP showed it to be almost on par with the output of laser devices in the small to mid-size workgroup range (output did not undergo a lab evaluation). Pricing is still not set and so BLI cannot yet calculate cost per page or do any kind of lifecycle analysis, but the ink tanks are rated for several thousand impressions each, making their yields comparable to that of laser devices. In terms of performance, HP claims time to first page from ready is less than 10 seconds (which seemed to be on target based on the demonstration we saw). To put this in perspective and show how the new technology can compete in speed, BLI recently tested a comparable color laser device and found the first-page times in the 9 to 12 second range.

So, at first glance, the Officejet Pro X series seems likely to be a viable competitor to laser products. Although Lexmark and Kodak are both planning to leave the inkjet market, HP will certainly have a monopoly on ink technology. Epson continues to manufacture and introduce business inkjet products that tested well in BLI’s lab and offer very good overall economy. Most notably, BLI calculates the supplies cost per page for the Epson B-510DN printer at just over three cents for a full-color page. In the European and Asian markets, Memjet has licensed its wide printhead technology to such firms as LG, Lenovo and Lomond, who market the printers and all-in-ones as offering rated speeds of 60 ppm. And in the German market, Brother has just announced the 100-ppm monochrome inkjet printer, the HL-S7000DN, designed to go up against large workgroup and departmental monochrome laser printers. So, clearly, ink technology has not seen the end of its days in the office.

The new Officejet Pro X series printers and MFPs borrow the robust body and paper drawers from the LaserJet family of products. Once they become available in early 2013, BLI will put the devices to the test and provide a full assessment of how they stand up to the rigors of a busy office environment, so stay tuned for more in the coming months.

This article was originally posted on Buyer's Laboratory.

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