Why should your small office buy a low-end color laser for $400 to $500 when you could opt for the $150 (as of March 25, 2012) Epson Workforce Pro WP-4020 color inkjet printer instead? Good question, especially when you compare it to models like the $450 HP Laserjet Pro 400 Color M451nw. The Workforce Pro WP-4020 offers superior speed and color graphics, near-laser-quality text, and more features, plus a significantly lower price per page.
The Workforce Pro WP-4020 sports USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi connections. Installation is straightforward, though the display-free, minimal control panel means that you must connect via USB or ethernet to set up the Wi-Fi. The control panel provides buttons for power, cancel, Wi-Fi off/on, and the cleaning routines for the black and color printheads. There are also low-ink warning lights. The print driver dialog is nicely laid out and easy to understand.
The Workforce Pro WP-4020's generous paper handling features include a 250-sheet letter/legal main input tray (which sticks out the front a bit if extended to accommodate legal-size paper) and an 80-sheet rear feed that has a gentler paper path of less than 90 degrees (compared to the 180-degree turn that the main tray requires) that works especially well for thicker media such as envelopes and photo paper. The WP-4020 automatically duplexes (prints on both sides of the page), saving money and trees.
The WorkForce WP-4540's output quality is first-class overall. Text is black, smooth, and precise, even with relatively intricate fonts. Color graphics have the usual (for an Epson inkjet) slightly pinkish cast, but the effect looks natural. Grayscale graphics are exceptionally good, with only the darkest areas rendered a tad muddy. Color scans are good, too, though a tad fuzzy.
You get plenty of speed with the Workforce Pro WP-4020. Documents consisting primarily of plain black text (with a few simple grayscale graphics) printed at 12.6 pages per minute on the PC, and only slightly slower (12.3 ppm) on the Mac. Snapshot-size, 4-by-6-inch photos flew out of the unit at 6.2 ppm on plain paper, but that rate slowed to 1.75 ppm on glossy paper. Full-page photos printed on glossy paper arrived a bit faster than average at 0.7 ppm.
Epson makes the Workforce Pro's replacement cartridges available only in high-yield versions. Black costs $38.49 and lasts for a whopping 2400 pages, which works out to a mere 1.6 cents per page. The separate cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges cost $24.49 each and last for 1200 pages. That's 2 cents per page for each color, and 7.6 cents per page for a four-color page--sweet for volume printing. Epson ships the unit with starter cartridges that last for 900 pages.
The one-year warranty accompanying the WorkForce Pro WP-4020 is one of our very few complaints about this model, and that's not enough to keep it off the growing list of color-laser killers in the new generation of business-minded inkjets. If you want all of the WorkForce Pro WP-4020's features and a scanner, too, check out its inkjet MFP cousin, the equally impressive WorkForce Pro WP-4540.