The budget ink-jet printer market is filled with models that promise a lot in exchange for modest sums these days: fast printing times, laser-sharp text prints, quick drying inks, multiple media output, memory card readers, etc. The Epson C120 falls in the under $70 category, but brings some impressive features (and quirks) to the budget home business and family printer category.
The exterior of the Epson C120 is a handsome shiny black enclosure with a modest footprint in it's non-use closed form. The plastic itself is a bit thinner than we'd prefer, but that's the norm in the price range. One thing we didn't like was how easy it was to mar the pristine shiny case with fingerprints, but that's because we're neat freaks. If you purchase a C120, be sure to keep a non-smudging cloth around. Beauty takes some upkeep.
Epson's C120 uses a 4+1 ink cartridge system, with two black ink cartridges that provide quicker printing times and more cost-efficient replacement. We're very fond of the individual ink system sometimes absent from some other brands, as we've often found ourselves out of magenta, while having plenty of cyan and yellow left with an all-in-one cartridge system. Upon sending a print job, Epson's installed software brings up a handy ink monitoring window which might give you second thoughts about whether to print those Google map directions in normal instead of draft mode:
Print options are wide, with a myriad of controls for speed, ink, sizing, border/borderless printing and even a "quiet print mode". The printer is extremely quick, spitting out letter size text/image webpage printouts in seconds. We also tested the unit using a photographic source at the printer's highest "Best Photo" setting, not only to monitor the speed, but also test the DURABrite Ultra inks, that are advertised as smudge and water resistant.
I printed out this 4" x 6" photo in just over 3 minutes at the C120's highest setting, which produced a smudge-proof print that was immediately dry to the touch (the prints are also rated for high fade resistance, which we're currently testing by leaving our photos in direct window sun for the next few days). We immediately took this print to the sink and tested the water resistancy to very impressive results. Not only did they not run or smudge, the photographic quality of the print was near solid-toner with excellent tonal transitions with good colour reproduction matching with a calibrated monitor.
One other printing characteristic we noted was that the printer mechanism leaves very small, but still noticeable dot tracks across the print. After several minutes, these marks disappear from normal view, but are still visible when light is reflected across. This does not seem to be an issue with either non-gloss or text print outs.
Overall, the Epson C120 is a gem of a budget inkjet, even with its minor quirks. Compared to our current HP budget printer, the C120 was quicker and put out better photo/text prints, but was slightly noisier (but that's what the quiet print mode is for). For users like ourselves who use their printers for printing out moderate amounts of text and the occasional high quality photo print in a home office setting, the Epson C120 is solid budget buy we'd recommend.
Pros: Fast 37 ppm black text printouts/20 ppm for color in draft mode, compact and handsome form, excellent ink system and output, priced competitively.
Cons: Noisy in normal mode, no USB cable included, OS X Leopard drivers need additional update, minor printer marks on colour photographic prints.