Attractive Features: General-Purpose Inkjet Printers

The Four Manufacturers

The world leader is an American manufacturer. After having cornered the laser market, HP has been king of the inkjet castle for several years now, with about 40% of the market (except in Japan where they arrived only recently and only have 10%). Their printers have a reputation for reliability and robustness. They are also renowned for their printing quality. The range launched this summer is the direct descendant of its predecessor. Above all, the latest models can pride themselves on their quality, which is equal or better than the previous models, and on their faster motors.

Epson, the former leader from Japan, is now second and must make do with a share ranging from 20% to 30%, depending on the month. Although long opposed to the separate ink cartridge system, now a standard feature thanks to Canon, the Japanese manufacturer has recently adopted it for its two top-of-the-line office models. Still, their main strength is speed. The C80 blithely spits out 20 pages per minute. While these two models behave as general-purpose printers, the most recent Stylus Photo, the 820, is optimized, as the name implies, for photo printing. Note that Epson accounts for 40% of the Japanese market.

Next in the ranks is Canon, which is sometimes second, more often third, and whose desire to "play God" is constantly hammered home by its agents. It accounts for 15% to 25% of the world market, depending on the month. In previous times, its printers were often condemned for the quality of their print, but the introduction of a new type of ink early this year has reaped universal praise. The manufacturer's reputation has reached new heights in 2001, in particular with the release of the S600 this spring. This model was unanimously commended in the IT trade press. Like Epson, Canon has about 40% of the Japanese market.

Lexmark, the fourth in line, represents about 10% of the world market, with a bit more in Europe where it is sometimes equal to Canon. Like HP, their printers have print-heads integrated into the cartridges. This is supposed to be a quality asset, but the real strong point here is its claim to offer the fastest inkjet printers in all price ranges. The Z53 is thus the only printer around $100 which can print out 16 pages per minute.

Sharp and Xerox are some of the less significant players - both had hoped that the launch of models in 2000 would make 2001 the year they broke into the inkjet market. But in fact, their models were not yet mature, and their standing at the year's end is not impressive. The main points of criticism focus on the high cost per page and middling print quality (these mostly have to do with following models: Sharp AJ-1800 and 2000, Xerox M750 and M760).