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Are Kodak's printers really that cheap to run?

Kodak's recent TV adverts have pushed how cheap its inkjet printers are to run, so we decided to investigate if this is really the case with the company's ESP 7 multifunction inkjet.

While we found that the ESP 7 can be cheap to run, the prices quoted in recent TV and web adverts don't tell the whole story. The printer uses a dedicated black ink cartridge for text printing, but a combined-colour cartridge for photo and colour document printing, which means that you'll have to replace the whole thing as soon as any one colour runs out. This is unusual for a printer that costs over £150.

The ESP 7's colour cartridge comprises pigment-based cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink, along with a clear overcoat for photos. Quoted print costs [are] often [different] from what your home printer will actually cost you, since it depends on what you print. For example, if you went on holiday to a rain forest, your photos will probably be primarily green. With a combined cartridge, you'll need to replace it when the yellow and cyan inks are used up (since these combine to form green), even if there's plenty of magenta and black ink left. This is clearly a waste and makes the printer more expensive to run than printers with separate ink tanks for each colour; here, you'd only replace the cyan and yellow cartridges.

Kodak has calculated its figures by the book. It hired independent testing firm Quality Logic to use the industry-standard ISO/IEC 24711 methodology to test the printer's page yield and costs. This standard provides a common point of comparison for the ink consumption of different printers. We confirmed Kodak's pricing when we calculated page costs using Quality Logic's page yield figures. Our calculations revealed a cost of 2p per black (text) page and 2.6p per three-colour page (photo or colour document). Adding these together produces a remarkably low mixed-colour total of 4.6p. Don't forget that, as ever, these figures don't include the cost of the paper.

When we test printers in Shopper's labs, we don't use the ISO/IEC 24711 test, as it uses specially-created documents. These tests have 20 per cent ink coverage of a sheet of A4's surface with an even volume of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks used. Our tests use real documents and photos, which we believe are more representative of what home users print, that don't use ink evenly. We also test with a text document to see how much these pages cost.

We were impressed with the cost of text printing. Using a standard Kodak Black Ink Cartridge (£6.99 inc VAT), we calculated print costs of 2p per page. In our colour tests, using a Kodak Color Ink Cartridge (£9.99 inc VAT) we managed to print 152 pages before the printer ran out of one colour and prompted us to change the cartridge. This gave us costs of 6.6p per page of colour and 8.6p per mixed-colour page.

Our tests highlight how print costs can be significantly raised by combined cartridges that force you to replace every ink at once, regardless of the current level. While individual ink cartridges could lower print costs, it's interesting to note that the ESP 7 still manages to have competitive print costs, when compared to other printers we've reviewed recently, despite being potentially wasteful with ink.

Finally, there's no standardised test for photo printing yet but Kodak quotes a photo yield of 173 6x4in prints per colour cartridge. This equates to an ink cost of 5.8p that, with Kodak Ultra Premium photo paper at 24p per sheet, gives a total photo cost of 29.8p. This is a little more expensive than most of the photo printers in our recent photo printer group test.

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