The Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4590 color inkjet multifunction works quickly and uses cheap ink, but it isn't available through normal retail channels. It's aimed at large businesses that value service and a low total cost of ownership over a low purchase price. Priced at $500 (as of August 13, 2012), the WP-4590 comes with a three-year warranty and is sold only through VARs and other corporate channels. Consumers who are tired of PIB (Printers in Black) might also appreciate this unit's friendlier putty and light-gray coloring.
Accompanying the WP-4590 are the usual competent Epson software and driver installation routine. Since the machine has USB and ethernet, but no Wi-Fi (a bow to security concerns, per Epson), you will be tethered. The control panel sports a 2.5-inch LCD and the usual array of buttons, arranged in a classic and logical manner. If you've ever used an MFP before, you will encounter no learning curve here. The software includes Epson Scan for scanning and PaperPort 9 for OCR chores.
Paper-handling features on the WP-4590 are quite good. It has a 250-sheet tray on the bottom and an 80-sheet rear vertical feed. If that's not enough, you can buy an auxiliary 250-sheet bottom tray for a mere $100. For a laser printer you'd pay at least twice as much for such an accessory. Having the rear feed is especially nice for photos, since it permits the MFP to process heavier glossy paper with minimal bending. The rear feed also allows you to keep two types of paper loaded.
The WP-4590 has a 30-sheet automatic document feeder for scanning and copying longer documents, and it scans in duplex (via a refeed, not with dual-scanning elements). The lid for the letter/A4-size flatbed scanner telescopes about half an inch to accommodate thicker materials. The WP-4590 also supports automatic duplex printing.
The WorkForce Pro WP-4590 is the fastest inkjet we've tested recently, narrowly edging out its consumer-oriented WorkForce Pro WP-4540 cousin. Monochrome pages print at 12.6 pages per minute on the PC and 12.1 ppm on the Mac. Snapshot-size (4-by-6-inch) photos print at 6.2 ppm to plain paper and 1.7 ppm to glossy photo paper. Full page photos print at 0.7 ppm, and copies proceed into the output bin at 6.4 ppm.
The corporate-oriented WP-4590 may be pricier than small-business inkjet multifunctions, but its ink costs are outstandingly low. The unit ships with starter cartridges: a 1000-page black, and 900-page cyan, magenta, and yellow. The 676XL retail replacements are $38.49 for the 2400-page black and $24.49 for the 1200-page cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges. That works out to 1.6 cents per page for black, and 6.1 cents per page total for color. A four-color page would cost a bargain 7.7 cents. The extra-high-capacity 711XXL cartridges listed on Epson's website are slated to be available only through commercial channels rather than retail. Based on the suggested pricing that Epson provided to us, black will cost 1.6 cents per page and each color will cost 1.7 cents per page, for an even lower four-color cost of 6.8 cents per page.
In our tests, output from the WP-4590 was typical Epson--that is to say, quite good. Text appeared sharp and black, and very close (though not quite equal to) laser output when we used its highest-quality setting. Color graphics were good, looking a tad washed out on plain paper, but coolly accurate when we switched to glossy photo paper. Of course, as an inkjet, the WP-4590 is capable of handling thicker photo papers.
Epson rates the WP-4590 for 1650 pages per month. That's the recommended number, not the industry's absurd duty-cycle rating, which people generally ignore these days. Still, 1650 pages is a fair amount of printing.
The Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4590 is a nice, inexpensive alternative to a low-end color laser MFP for smaller corporate workgroups. It's fast enough for most scenarios, supply costs are outstandingly low, and its long warranty is better than what you'll get from a comparably priced laser.
This story, "Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4590: low-cost corporate laser alternative" was originally published by PCWorld.