If size meant quality, the new Lexmark Z51 ought to be pretty good. Lexmark’s new top of the range colour ink-jet is almost twice the size of its slimline predecessor, the 5700. With the Z51, Lexmark has introduced a new colour ink cartridge which can deliver the smallest ink droplets yet – just 7 pico-litres each. This means the printer can achieve photographic print quality without the need for a more expensive, dedicated ‘photo’ cartridge. Lexmark printers use ink cartridges which have built in laser-fashioned print-heads. This is good because you don’t have to worry about the print head wearing out. On the other hand, cartridges are slightly more expensive and each time they are installed, they must be calibrated.
By redesigning the colour cartridge for the Z51, Lexmark was able to build on its 1200 dots per inch resolution lead over its rivals by making the dots finer still. This has improved plain paper printing and markedly improved photo quality printing using photo paper over the old standard colour cartridge. It’s still not quite as good as the dedicated 7-ink photo cartridge for photo printing, but it’s not easy to tell results apart at a glance. Unfortunately, the £30 photo cartridge is not supplied as standard with the Z51.
Paper handling over the old 5700 is noticeably faster; the paper is almost wrenched from the 100 sheet paper feeder, though we never experienced a jam, even with 200gsm card. Monochrome text pages can be printed at up to a claimed rate of 10 pages per minute. The Z51 is also a commendably quiet printer, reminiscent of some Canon printers which whisper as they work. There are no negatives to report in the ease of use department, either. The plug and play printer driver installed with the minimum of fuss and the printer control application is one of the most comprehensive we’ve seen. You get a graphical representation of the progress of a page as it’s being printed, bar graphs to show how much ink is left in the tanks, plus easily accessible controls to clean the print heads, calibrate them and print test pages.
Our tests determined that the lower resolution 600dpi option should mostly be left unused. It is quicker than the 1200dpi mode, but it is let down by fine but visible banding. This is a shame, because if you ignore the banding, the underlying image quality is much the same as the slower 1200dpi mode. The Epson Stylus Photo 750 is the tough benchmark for photo-quality printing and the Lexmark is no Epson-beater in this respect, even with the photo cartridge. But results on photo paper are actually very good and will satisfy many. At 1200dpi, an A4 print with a one inch border took just over ten minutes to emerge, which is about average.
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