Conclusions and ratings
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We know that you, the reader, will value certain aspects of a product more than some other individuals. This is why we instead of numbers or percentages, which can be interpreted very differently by different reviewers and readers, our rating system presents values on or above a median. It's a bit like ABC exam scores, where A or A+ is the best, C is the minimum pass and F is, well, failure.
Although a subjective quality, it's doubtful the C84 would be short-listed for the top prize in a beauty contest. That's currently Canon territory, but the C84 isn't hard on the eye either. The combination of satin metallic grey plus shiny black and amber panels looks neat and functional. The shiny plastic does show up fingerprints and dust, though. Tall paper feed rest can't be retracted when not in use.
The C84 is a no-frills printer. Unlike some of its fancier Epson siblings, you won't find roll paper support, a built in paper cutter, nor stand-alone printing capability. The Photo Edition version of the C84 does come supplied with a 6-in-1 memory card reader compatible with all the main memory card types, except xD cards, which require an adapter. Connection to a host PC or Mac is via a standard 12Mbits/sec US connection rather than the usefully faster 480Mbits/sec USB 2.0 Hi-Speed standard now supported by most new PCs. Incidentally, the C84 maintains a parallel printer port for compatibility with older PCs, though the Photo Edition memory card facility requires a USB connection.
But the C84 has one big feature and that's its Durabrite ink technology. This makes the C84 a formidable plain paper printer - even printing photos on plain paper surprisingly well, ensures excellent water resistance and long photo print life on suitable print media.
A good software bundle is provided by Epson. PhotoQuicker 3.4 is a user-friendly utility that lets you select a number of different images for printing, the number of prints from each image and the size of each image. It also has basic image editing capabilities. Beginners will love it.
There is nothing heavyweight about the construction of the C84. It's a budget category printer and the build reflects this. Plastic parts are generally thin gauge and more flexible than you'd like. But the bits are screwed together well enough and we weren't concerned that the unit would fall apart.
In the past, low cost Epson printers have tended to offer less noise insulation than their more solidly built, pricier, siblings. In the case of the C84, happily I can report that noise proved not to be an issue. The C84 isn't a super-quiet printer but the noises it makes are reasonably muted with few sharp edges.
Ease of use
Setting up the C84 is certainly not difficult, but it is a lengthy process that involves printing four alignment sheets - five if you include an optional nozzle-check print. Automatic alignment calibration is now featured on an increasing number of HP and Lexmark models.
The C84 printer driver presents itself by default to you as in simplified form, using thumbnail images to help you choose the correct settings. But more advanced users can switch to advanced mode, providing detailed access to printer settings. All the printer maintenance functions are easiliy accessible and used.
Photo print quality
The photo print performance of the C84 can be told from two perspectives. Considering the C84 is a four-colour printer, without the luxury of additional lighter shade 'photo' colour inks, photo results are relatively excellent. Indeed, print quality is as good as I have seen from a 3 colours, plus black, ink-jet printer. Traditionally, pigment ink printers have not been able to match the colour gamuts exhibited by dye-based printers, leaving photo prints washed out and dull. Epson's work on its professional Ultrachrome pigment photo inks has clearly rubbed off on the C84's second-generation Durabrite inks. And the new Durabrite glossy paper is a neat final touch. Many people will not find the photo printing capability of the C84 wanting.
But the second perspective is from the view of a photo perfectionist. The harsh reality is that if you handed anyone two photo prints, one from the C84 and one from Epson's cheapest dye-based photo ink-jet printer and I'd lay odds that they would choose the dye-based print over the C84 print. Colour accuracy and range, black density and overall sparkle are all superior in a dye-based print, especially on glossy paper. Epson said the new Durabrite ink would lose less of the gloss on Durabrite media. Technically, they are right, though I'd argue the Durabrite glossy finish isn't very glossy in the first place, though bronzing, which is synonymous with pigment ink photo printing on glossy paper, is not a significant problem.
Monochrome printing was also a disappointment, with a pronounced colour cast on our test print.
If photo quality is your prime consideration, the C84 is not for you. However, if you need reasonable looking photos that won't fade or you need all-round performance on both plain paper and photo paper, the C84 will probably suffice.
Plain paper printing quality
The first attempt at plain paper printing we made was not that impressive - the C84's draft text mode may be fast, but it prints grey rather than black characters. There is only one other pre-set plain paper mode and although it slowed printing speed by half, this time print quality was very good, especially in terms of black density. Many ink-jet printers come with a pigment black ink specifically for printing text onto plain paper because the print is less fuzzy and density is preserved. Even the colour inks on the C84 work this way so colour printing on plain paper is impressive. We printed colour photos on plain paper and were very impressed by the result too. Epson claims plain paper printing is free of warping and 'cockling' effects exhibited by rival printers as less moisture is laid down. There is less warping, but the standard plain copier paper we used did warp a little and there was a small amount of print through in particularly dense areas. A better quality 'ink-jet' plain paper should fix these issues.
Photo printing speed demonstrated by the C84 is reasonably good. Our 10x7.5 inch test prints were completed in just over two minutes in the standard photo quality mode. Best quality mode more than doubled the printing time, but on balance the improvement in quality is worth it for all but the least demanding prints.
Plain paper text printing in draft mode is very fast, with the printer snatching each sheet from input stack and then thrusting them through to the output rest. Our test document went through in a tad over 5 seconds, an impressive rate of 11 pages per minute. Alas, draft mode quality is poor, with the text more grey than black. Standard text mode quality is much improved, with impressive black density, but this time each print takes 12 seconds, or only 5 pages per minute. That's an average performance.
Third party photo paper compatibility
There are few off-the shelf photo paper type options supported in the C84 printer driver. Epson's Durabrite glossy paper was specifically developed by Epson printers using Durabrite inks and you can also use Epson's excellent value Heavyweight Matt paper. Epson's staple Premium Glossy is not supported and nor would you want to use it as the Durabrite pigment ink would destroy the high gloss finish. Based on the printer's excellent performance on ordinary plain paper, I'd expect any uncoated paper or lightweight card will work well with the C84.
Epson has gone to some great practical lengths in order demonstrate to us the toughness of Durabrite inks and paper and so who are we to disagree? Nothing else in this price bracket competes under this category.
Value for money
Although the C84 has a budget specification, it's not sold at a super-cheap price. The unique qualities of its inks just about justify the price tag, but it's not in bargain territory.
More of a concern is the cost of the inks, though this is alleviated by the fact that each colour has its own replaceable cartridge.
Photo print longevity
Ink resistance to water damage
Excellent plain paper printing
Prints dry quickly
Ease of use
Good quality software
Reasonably refined in operation
As good as any other 3 colour plus black ink-jet at printing photos
Parallel port ensures compatibility with older PCs
Reasonably good print speed
Photo quality, while not bad, still no match for 'true' photo printers
Durabrite glossy paper isn't very glossy
Lightweight build quality
Lengthy set up routine - no auto head alignment
Chipped cartridges - Canon's ink out detection system is superior
Paper input rest can't be hidden easily when not in use
Question mark over running costs
At the C84's sub-£100 price point there simply isn't anything else, apart from the cheaper (£69) and slower C64, that will print genuinely fade-resistant photos. In this respect the C84 and C64 are unique. If your sensitivity to ultimate print quality is not too taxing, the C84 has a strong case. Add to that its excellent plain paper printing capability and it's easy to see why many might be tempted by the C84.
However, the photo print quality compromise may be too much for photo enthusiasts. The C84 isn't a budget A4 format alternative to the Epson's exceptional Stylus 2100 A3 format pigment ink photo printer. For something akin to that, you'll have to look to the forthcoming Epson Stylus R800.
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