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When my fiance moved in with me he brought his Lexmark printer with him, I don't know about you, but I hate Lexmark printers. While they are primarily ridiculously cheap to purchase, once the ink has run out it is often cheaper to buy a new printer rather than replacement cartridges. As the ink running out nicely coincided with me receiving a new laptop for Christmas, rather than buying cartridges for the Lexmark, I decided to splash out on a brand new printer.
My particular requirements weren't particularly taxing, but were perhaps a little on the specialist side. I knew that I wanted an Epson, having previously owned models from their range, I knew that although the printer itself is more expensive, the fact I could buy cartridges for next to nothing, meant that it would be far more economical in the long run. Along the same lines, I wanted a printer with multiple colour ink cartridges, as then I would only need replace the colours that were empty rather than a single cartridge where only one colour out of three might have run out. My final major requirement was that the printer was capable of printing direct to a CD or DVD. What I didn't need was a scanner (I've kept the old Lexmark for that), Wi-Fi, memory card reader or screen, my Laptop has a fantastic screen for viewing pictures on any memory cards I place in it's built-in card reader and the printer was to be placed close enough to where I work for me to simply use a USB lead.
After a little research on the Epson website I decided on the Epson Stylus Photo P50, an inkjet printer which Epson claims will produce 'better than lab quality' photo prints up to A4 size with borderless technology as well as fulfilling all my requirements. After a little more research I found Play.com were selling the P50 for a very reasonable £64.99, snapped it up and have been using it daily for the last 6 months.
The P50 arrived securely packed in a fairly large box, along with an installation disc, instruction manual, quick start guide, six ink cartridges and very handy pack of Epson Glossy photo paper. What was not included was a USB lead, but this is standard with most printers so I had already made sure I had a spare AB USB lead handy. Preparing the printer for first use was a touch on the convoluted side with an inordinate number of pieces of blue tape needing to be removed, but I guess it was these that kept the printer from becoming damaged during transportation.
The printer itself is a fairly hefty affair, weighing in at 5.5kg and measuring 45cm x 29 cm x 19cm it's certainly not the smallest printer I've ever owned and needs to be placed on quite a solid table or desk. But it does look oh so much fancier than any other printer I've owned with a glorious glossy black finish.
Installation itself was a simple matter of inserting the disc and then following the on-screen instructions, and although at the time Windows 7 wasn't specified as a supported operating system, I had no problems with compatibility. The only required specifications I have been able to find is that the computer must be running Windows 2000 (or above) or Mac OS X 10.3.9 (and above), so as long as your computer is fairly modern then I can't see you'd have any problems with installation.
As I said the complete installation was completely idiot-proof as long as the step-by-step instructions were followed. Personally I felt that it was actually broken down into too many steps, but even the computer-illiterate should have no problems. Along with the actual drivers, a monitoring utility and two easy-print programs are installed but unlike with some peripherals these are actually quite handy. All-in-all installation and set-up took less than ten minutes (including fitting the ink cartridges) and then the printer was ready to go.
Over the last 6 months I've used the P50 extensively for many purposes and in the main it's performed admirably. Loading paper of various sizes is easy and I have loaded up to 100 sheets of plain A4 into the feed without any problem. Similarly, I've loaded smaller sheets of photo paper without problem, the edge guide is easy to position to ensure that the paper doesn't feed in at an angle. There hasn't been a single occasion where the paper has jammed or gone through the printer crooked, which is a vast improvement on some other printers I've used.
Black and white text is always clear and bright with no smudging or bleeding even when using the cheapest of cheap paper and compatible inks. Speed wise, I would say though that the advertised 37 pages per minute is somewhat overly optimistic, 100 A4 sheets with perhaps 50% coverage take on average 10 minutes while adding colour extends this considerably.
Where this printer really does excel, is in printing photos, Epson's claim that this gives better results than a photo lab aren't that much of an exaggeration. Using the ink cartridges that came with the printer and the supplied photo paper combined with a 10MP camera results are glorious. Do you remember that snow we had at the beginning of the year? Well I have a photo on my wall that was taken during that snow and then printed out using the supplied Easy Print utility in black and white, and it looks absolutely fantastic. In fact some visitors actually thought it was a professional print we'd bought. Even with compatible inks and budget glossy paper, photo prints look at least as good as if I'd got them printed at Boots and Easy Print makes choosing and laying out your prints incredibly easy. Let me just say that since getting this printer I've not bothered going to Boots to get my photos printed, because this does such a fantastic job (and a lot cheaper too) and there hasn't been one complaint over quality and my walls are covered with photos I've printed out of my children. Again the printer doesn't quite manage to hit the advertised speed of just under 20 seconds for a 10cm x 15cm, but in best quality it still takes under a minute.
For me the main selling point of the P50 was it's ability to print direct to printable Cds and DVDs. Again I can't help but admire the results I get from this, they are clear, vibrant and look almost professional. Designing my own CD fronts is easy using the supplied software as is importing designs from such websites as Cdcovers.cc. It can be a bit of a kerfuffle inserting the special DVD tray to begin with but with a little practise it soon becomes second nature. I've used the CD printer to create some lovely personalised presents for Grandma, including photo Cds with a picture of the baby on them.
My only real complaints with the printer in use, are the amount of noise it makes and the fact that if it is on an even slightly unstable surface it will wobble in quite an alarming manner. It is a far from silent printer and can be heard even in another room.
As the P50 uses a total of 6 different ink cartridges, each of which can be replaced separately, no ink is wasted. Gone are the days that a 3 ink cartridge needed replacing just because one colour had run out even though the other two are still half full. This in itself is a great money saver, but when you add the fact that compatible cartridges can be bought for a ridiculously low price, you've got a printer that is very cheap to run. Although Epson, themselves, don't recommend that you use compatibles (and doing so can even void your warrenty), I've never had a problem with them and 2 full sets of ink set me back just under £13 (and last ages).
Whether using Epson or compatable cartridges I get a fairly good number of prints for my money. I can't tell you exactly how many prints per set of cartridges I manage for the simple reason that I do a variety of different types of printing. But they do seem to last very well, with me being able to print literally hundreds of pages including many photos and Cds before I need to change them. When it does come to changing the cartridges, Epson has once more made it as easy as humanly possible, with a step-by-step guide along with monitoring utility that tells you how much ink is left in each cartridge. Again things are not quite perfect, there has been an occasion where a cartridge has run out half way through printing an A4 photo and this can be annoying especially when using premium paper.
Over the last 6 months I've used my P50 extensively and so far have not had a single problem with it. While the glossy surface can do with an occasional wipe down it still looks as good as new. As I've said previously I've not experienced a single paper jam and every print still looks as good as the first. Epsons I've owned previously have had an issue with ink drying onto the heads when not used for a period of time, but so far I've not had this issue. But there again I do periodically do print head checks and run the cleaning facility, basic but vital maintenance in other words. If I were to leave the printer unused for more than a day or so I'd be tempted to remove the ink cartridges as a further failsafe.
===Price And Availability===
Although the P50 has now been discontinued it is still readily available, Amazon is selling it for £84.99 as are Play.com. Replacement ink cartridges are even easier to find and available on both the High Street and Online, personally I buy Jetplay compatables at £12.95 for 2 full sets including delivery.
Although I hadn't actually bought this printer for the specific purpose of printing photos, I have to say it does an exceptional job at this particular task as well as the tasks I actually bought it for. While it is in no way the fastest or cheapest option for printing out text, it is more than adequate with excellent results. The ability to print Cds and DVDs is something that once tried soon becomes an essential way of personalising special gifts. Yes there are cheaper brands of photo printer on the market that may or may not do as good a job at printing, but these are often a false economy with replacement ink cartridges costing as much (or more than) the actual printer. And there are fancier models, with scanners, memory card readers and wireless connection, but I simply didn't require those extras. The Epson P50 does everything I need and more and I can't recommend it enough. Even using cheap glossy photo paper (Tesco's Basic) and compatible inks, the resultant photos are at least as good as from a photo lab and when using premium glossy paper they are out of this world. So what are you waiting for go and buy one now.