- ✓Cartridge-free, refillable design
- ✓Includes ink for 18,000 mono/7,700 colour pages
- ✓USB, wi-fi and Ethernet connectivity
- ✓Very low running costs
- ✕Modest performance for colour/photo printing
- ✕High initial purchase price
There have been few significant developments in office printing technology in recent years but, as we reported recently, the traditional business model for office printing has begun to change, reflecting an increased focus on running costs and environmental sustainability.
Epson started the trend a few years ago, with its range of EcoTank printers. These printers no longer used expensive ink cartridges, replacing them with large internal ink tanks instead. This new design means that the initial purchase price of the EcoTank printers is higher than that of conventional inkjet printers. However, the internal ink tanks can easily be refilled using low-cost, recyclable bottles of ink, which drastically reduces running costs and total cost of ownership (TCO) throughout the lifetime of the printer. And now Canon has joined the 'low-TCO' crowd with its own range of MegaTank printers.
Pricing & options
There are several models in Canon's MegaTank range, starting with the Pixma G1510, which costs £132.50 (ex. VAT; £159 inc. VAT or $179.99) and is designed as an affordable home printer. The two top-of-the-range models -- the Pixma G5050 and G6050 -- are aimed at small businesses, home offices and retailers that need a reliable printer for everyday use.
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The Pixma G5050, reviewed here, is a single-function colour inkjet printer, priced at £191.65 (ex. VAT; £229.99 inc. VAT), while the G6050 is the multi-function alternative, equipped with a scanner/copier unit, which costs £249.99 (ex. VAT; £299.99 inc. VAT). And, for offices that only require black-and-white printing for letters and other text-based documents, there's a mono model called the GM2050 -- although, somewhat oddly, that has the same price as the four-colour G5050 (and doesn't support Macs, as the other models in the range do).
Options for US customers are more limited, with a smaller range of MegaTank printers that have only recently become available for pre-order. MegaTank printers also seem to have different model numbers in the US, with the G5020 and G6020 providing similar features to their UK counterparts, and prices of $250 and $300 respectively.
Features & design
The need to house the large internal ink tanks means that the G5050 is somewhat more bulky than a conventional inkjet printer. It measures a full 403mm wide and 369mm deep, although without the top-mounted scanner of the multi-function G6050 it only stands 166mm high. It's not the sort of printer that can just sit on a shelf, and weighing in at 6.5kg, you'll need a fairly robust desk to stand it on.
The initial setup process is also a little more complicated than simply inserting a set of cartridges into a traditional inkjet printer, as you have to pour the four bottles of ink by hand into their individual tanks located on the right and left sides of the printer. Thankfully, Canon has designed the bottles with a small nozzle that fits into an input valve on each tank, reducing the risk of spillage. Still, you might still feel safer with an old newspaper placed on the desk, just in case.
Aside from the refillable ink tanks, the G5050 is a fairly conventional inkjet printer, although it does boast a useful set of features for office use. It provides 4800-by-1200dpi resolution for printing, with USB and wi-fi connectivity, as well as Ethernet for a wired office network. The main, front-loading paper tray holds 250-sheets of A4 paper, while the rear tray holds a further 100 sheets of A4, or other types of paper such as glossy photo paper or envelopes, so you can choose different media while still sitting at your desk. The printer supports automatic two-sided (duplex) printing, with AirPrint for Apple's iOS devices, Google Cloud print, and Canon's PRINT app for Android. The one obvious omission is a scanner/copier although, as mentioned, the more expensive G6050 model adds a 1200-by-2400dpi scanner for users who prefer a multi-function printer for their office.
An initial purchase price of £230 (inc. VAT) is relatively high for an inkjet printer but, of course, Canon claims that the refillable design of the MegaTank range offers much lower running costs.
Like Epson, Canon includes a set of bottled inks with its refillable printers, with the G5050 including three bottles of black that should deliver 18,000 pages for mono printing. There's also a single set of coloured inks -- one bottle each for cyan, magenta and yellow -- for an estimated 7,700 pages of colour documents. That works out at less than 1p per page while using that initial set of inks, which is very cost-effective even for plain mono printing. It could easily cost hundreds of pounds to print that many pages when using conventional ink cartridges, so the G5050 will certainly earn its keep if you need a printer for regular, everyday use.
Canon was oddly coy about the cost of replacement inks, which was unhelpful, given that this is the USP for the entire MegaTank range. However, ink costs from third-party retailers suggest that bottles of black ink will cost around £10.40 (ex. VAT; £12.50 inc. VAT), while the three CMY inks cost £7.16 (ex. VAT; £8.49 inc. VAT) each.
That works out at 0.2p per page for mono printing, and 0.4p per page for colour -- similar to the running costs of Epson's EcoTank printer, and far less expensive than using conventional ink cartridges.
Quality & performance
Those running costs are certainly attractive, although, like Epson's early EcoTank models, the Canon MegaTank printers offer relatively modest print speeds. Canon quotes a speed of 13 'ipm' for mono printing (referring to 'images per minute', rather than pages per minute or ppm) and 6.8ipm for colour printing. Mono printing did prove quite respectable, with our selection of text-only PDF and Word documents reaching a speed of 12ppm, which should be perfectly adequate for most small offices. However, documents combining text and colour graphics dropped to a more modest 4.5ppm. And while Canon quotes a speed of just 37 seconds for 10-by-15cm (postcard) photo prints, our test photos took a rather more leisurely 90 seconds.
We couldn't fault the print quality of the G5050, though. Canon's pigment-based black ink delivers crisp, smooth text that can give a laser printer a run for its money. Colour graphics are good too, and while photo printing is relatively slow, our test photos were bright and finely detailed, so the G5050 can certainly turn its hand to presentations or marketing materials when required.
The relatively high initial purchase price of the Pixma G5050 might deter some users, but the bottled inks included in the price still provide very good value for money. The provided inks could last for several years in many small offices before you need to buy your first set of replacements. The G5050 also provides very good quality for text, graphics and photo output, although the relatively modest speed of colour printing means it won't be ideal for busy offices requiring a lot of colour printing. But, if you work in a small office or retail location that needs a workhorse printer for primarily text-based documents, the G5050 will quickly earn its keep.
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