Imagine this. You're pulling an all-nighter for your last university assignment. The clock hits an ungodly hour of the morning as you desperately try to put the finishing touches on your essay. Finally, you let out a sigh of relief as you type your final sentence and then hit print, but lo and behold, your printer doesn't respond. Nothing at all.
In a mad panic before the clock hits the deadline for submission, you're racing around trying to find a printer — nothing fancy — just something cheap with a few extra bells and whistles. Enter the Epson Stylus Photo T50, undoubtedly a printer that many people will buy on a whim because of its price (AU$179) and because of the recognised brand name.
Design and features
This little black box is an inkjet printer — no fancy multifunction device here — that can print on CDs, DVDs and produce standard photo prints. It's a relatively lightweight unit at just 5.5kg, a feather-like relief after an array of cumbersome multifunctions that have passed through the CNET offices of late. It's coated in piano black plastic with a silver trim and is quite spartan in terms of extras — there's no LCD screen here. Connectivity is taken care of by a single USB cable, and that's all.
Consumables are either loaded from the back (paper) or the top panel (ink) that lifts up from the printer body. The paper catching tray at the front extends down but doesn't quite sit flush with the surface it rests on, thanks to the oddly positioned front decal. There's hardly any exterior fanfare, with no PictBridge connections for memory cards, and just three solitary function buttons at the front.
With six individual ink tanks the T50 definitely sees itself as a photo printer, using either standard or high yield cartridges. In the box you're provided with the printer itself, a USB cable, six ink cartridges to get you started, a CD/DVD printing tray, plus a software CD and installation guide. The rest of the documentation is provided on the CD.
Software provided includes Epson's Print CD (no prizes for guessing what this one does), Web-To-Page, Easy Photo Print, and Print Image Framer that lets you decorate your photos with all manner of objects. At the time of writing, there were no drivers available form Epson's website for Windows 7 or Snow Leopard.
Performance and running costs
We performed a number of tests with the T50. First, a 12-page PDF document with two colours and black text. From sending the document to the printer, to the first page emerging, took 43 seconds. After that the T50 averaged 13.6 seconds per page — not a quick result by any margin, but good enough for home use.
Text quality was average, letters were not as crisp as a number of other inkjets we've seen and had slight bleeding around the edges of letters on plain paper. The printer also struggled with smaller font sizes, causing them to become skewed. Images on documents (as opposed to photos) suffered from visible print droplets and there was a small amount of banding across these images.
For photo performance, we printed on three types of Epson branded photo paper (Premium Glossy, Ultra Glossy and Matte) and the results were fairly similar. Blacks were nice and deep but the T50 did like to saturate the reds and magenta hues a little more than average — which may be a result of having two magenta ink tanks. The T50 printed a border-less 10x15cm photo print on high quality settings in two minutes 20 seconds which is a far cry from the 12-second claim stated on the box. On matte paper, there was an area of discolouration down a line through the middle of our picture on A4-sized paper which was fairly noticeable even from a distance — this didn't seem to be an issue on the 10x15cm sized photo paper. Overall, the photo quality from the printer was very nice, with sharp and crisp images, and mostly accurate colours.
Each high yield cartridge retails for around AU$27 (at the time of writing) and will print approximately 860 pages (colour) or 540 (black). Considering you'll need to purchase six of them, the cost of ownership of this printer does begin to escalate fairly quickly — you'll almost be buying another T50 if you purchase it all in one go (AU$162).
Service and support
Epson offers a standard one-year warranty (return to base) on the T50, with the option of purchasing an additional extra two-year warranty.
The T50 is not a bad impulse buy if you want a capable photo printer that can also dabble in CD printing and the occasional document, but for presentation purposes, the text quality is not great. For a little more you can get a multifunction printer that's just as good with photos, can scan, copy and fax, plus does a better job on plain text documents.