Alternative PageWide and PrecisionCore Printhead Printers

HP Officejet X576dw Multifunction Printer
HP Officejet X576dw Multifunction Printer. HP

For years, a major difference between inkjet printers and laser-class (both actual laser-based devices and LED-based machines) has been print speeds. Due primarily to the manner in which each type of technology applies consumables (ink or toner) to paper, midrange and higher-end laser-class printers often perform as much as twice as fast, or faster, than their inkjet counterparts. However, a couple of new approaches, such as HP’s PageWide devices and Epson’s PrecisionCore machines, have changed all that, bringing us inkjet printers that are just as fast (and in many cases faster) than their laser-class competitors. And usually much cheaper on a per-page basis, too.

How Traditional Inkjet’s Work

For a long time now, inkjet printers have deployed traveling printheads that move back and forth across the paper, laying down ink a row at a time, repeating the process, row after row, until the page is completed. Laser-class printers, on the other hand, “image” the entire page in the printer’s memory, subsequently burning the page image onto a print drum and then transferring toner to the paper as it passes under the print drum.

Imaging and printing the page in one pass, instead of transferring small bits of data row-by-row, is significantly more efficient—and faster.

The Fixed Printhead

A few printer makers (namely HP and Epson in the U.S. market, that is) have been developing inkjet mechanisms that span the print path, instead of moving little by little across the page. We first saw this approach deployed back in January 2011. The first implementation, known as Memjet, debuted in several printers sold in Europe and Asia, but as yet it hasn’t found its way into any mainstream business (or consumer) printers sold in North America. We didn’t see fixed printhead printers here until HP released its PageWide printers in early 2013.

Fixed printhead inkjets deploy thousands of nozzles on stationary fixtures that transfer ink to the page as the paper passes under it, similar to how the pages in laser-class machines pass under the print drum. HP’s PageWide printhead, for example, deploys well over 40,000 nozzles. Since its debut, a little over three years ago, all the PageWide test data I’ve seen indicates that this technology facilitates the manufacturing of high-volume machines that match and often exceed laser-class print speeds.

HP’s PageWide

In early 2013, HP released a new line of high-end, high-volume single-function and multifunction printers (MFP) based on its newly developed PageWide fixed printhead technology. The product line, dubbed “Officejet X,” was designed to compete directly with high-volume business-class laser printers in the $500 to $1,000 price range. Among them were the top-of-the-line Officejet X models—the Officejet Pro X576dw Multifunction Printer, an all-in-one (print/scan/copy/fax) machine, as well as a single-function, print-only version, the Officejet Pro X551dw Color Printer.

Both models are rated at 55 pages per minute (ppm), and they provide the lowest per-page print cost or cost per page (CPP) we’ve seen from any inkjet printer (1.3 cents each for black-and-white pages and 6.1 cents for color). A printer’s CPP is often the most important buying consideration.

Since 2014, HP has released a new line of printers called PageWide Pro, which has replaced the OfficeJet X models.

Epson’s PrecisionCore

While HP’s fixed printhead technology has so far been deployed in only the high-end and relatively expensive Officejet X line of products, in June 2014 Epson made a much bolder move, by replacing its entire line of WorkForce office printers with machines based on the company’s newly released PrecisionCore printhead technology. PrecisionCore machines use printheads similar to PageWide machines, but their width depends on the printer design itself. The company's new PrecisionCore-based WorkForce machines have wider-than-usual printheads, but they don't span the entire page. Hence, they must move some to cover the entire page. Apparently, currently, the company has decided to use actual fixed-width printheads that span the entire page in its enterprise and industrial printers.

With 11 new MFPs ranging in price from $170 to $500—two "WorkForce" models, four "WorkForce Pro" versions, and two "WorkForce Wide" (13x19-inch output) machines—this new lineup offers a model for nearly every application, from small and home-based offices to high-volume small- and medium-sized businesses. In these machines, Epson combines PrecisionCore ink-nozzle chips on the printhead. The lower-priced, lower-volume models have two ink nozzle chips, where the higher-volume models have four. The more chips, the closer the printhead comes to spanning the page. Again, the printhead must span the entire page for it to actually be fixed.

Quality of Precision Core Comparable to PageWide-Based Models

PrecisionCore devices, while, depending on which machine you buy, they’re certainly fast, they also deliver output quality comparable to PageWide-based models, as well as similarly low CPPs. In addition, the two WorkForce Wide models are capable of printing borderless pages and photographs. So far, no PageWide devices are capable of printing to the very edge of the paper; instead, like laser-class machines, they leave a mandatory quarter-inch margin around the page.

And since these are inkjet printers, they all print photographs with much greater quality than laser-class machines. It’s conceivable that someday all inkjets will be built around fixed printheads. They’re as fast or faster than laser-class machines; they provide excellent value (in terms of cost per page), and they use much smaller cartridges and about half the power than laser-class machines do.

Despite the obvious value, this new technology hasn’t quite taken off yet. In the meantime, though, these latest PageWide and PrecisionCore printers are serious contenders to laser-class printers.