Wide-format printers are a wonderful addition to any home or office thanks to the ability to make large prints and signage up to 13 x 19 inches in size. These printers let you decorate your walls with massive family photos or cover a city block with posters advertising your business.

Unfortunately, wide-format printers usually come at a significant cost in terms of the initial price and the cost of ink. The Epson WorkForce 1100 might just change all that thanks to a starting price as low as $150 at some retailers. Is this low-cost wide-format printer as good as it sounds? We took a closer look to find out.

WORKFORCE 1100 SPECIFICATIONS

  • Print speeds: up to 30 ppm black/17 ppm color
  • Laser quality print speeds: up to 13 ppm/5.5 ppm
  • Print resolution:  up to 5760 x 1440 dpi
  • Large prints up to 13 x 19 inches
  • Paper capacity: up to 100 sheets or 10 envelopes
  • Smudge, fade & water resistant DURABrite Ultra pigment inks
  • Energy Star qualified
  • Hi-Speed USB 2.0 connectivity
  • One-year warranty

BUILD AND DESIGN

The Epson WorkForce 1100 looks like a close relative of the rather massive Epson Stylus Photo R1900, and for good reason: The WorkForce 1100 and Stylus Photo R1900 are “almost” the same printer. The 1100 tips the scales at 26.3 lbs. while the R1900 weighs in at 26.9 lbs.  The dimensions are virtually identical at 24.3" x 31.4" x 16.4" with the paper trays open and  24.3" x 12.7" x 8.5" with the paper trays closed. In fact, the only real differences between the 1100 and the R1900 are the fact that the 1100 uses less expensive DURABrite inks rather than UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 inks, the 1100 is limited to a minimum ink droplet size of 3 picoliters rather than 1.5 picoliters, and the 1100 lacks the tracks for printing on CDs or roll paper holders for larger prints.

The combination of dark gray and light gray plastics is much easier to keep clean than the glossy plastics found on cheaper printers, but the overall look is still very modern. Both the input and output paper trays fold into the printer to keep it compact when not in use.

The top panel controls are extremely basic on the 1100.  The control panel consists of just four buttons, much like the R1900.  While that might sound like too few buttons, it keeps things remarkably simple, and the Epson printer software allows you to make all the needed adjustments electronically rather than manually with buttons on the printer.

The back of the 1100 uses the same Spartan layout we’re used to seeing on Epson wide-format printers. This is where you’ll find the typical USB 2.0 port for connecting the printer to your computer, but I wish the WorkForce 1100 included Wi-Fi connectivity as well. This printer is targeted at small businesses and home offices that need a low-cost wide-format printer for creating presentations and promotional materials. Most modern offices (even small home offices) are setup with Wi-Fi networks, so there’s simply no reason for Epson to leave Wi-Fi out of the equation. Sure, that would probably make the 1100 more expensive, but this printer can be found for a price as low as $150 and I would gladly pay a little extra for wireless connectivity.

One very minor annoyance with the design of the 1100 is the lack of a built-in card reader or front USB port for transferring files directly to the printer for immediate printing. I’m sure this was another cost consideration, but it would have been nice if you could just plug a USB flash drive into the front of the printer and print all of your documents. Again, this is a pretty minor issue and it’s completely understandable for the price of this printer. Just be aware that you’ll have to print from your PC since there’s no way to print directly from the printer.

As previously mentioned, despite the apparent external similarity between the R1900 and the WorkForce 1100, one of the biggest differences is inside the printer. The WorkForce 1100 uses low-cost Epson DURABrite Ultra pigment ink rather than the expensive Epson UltraCrome Hi-Gloss 2 pigment inks. This is great from an ink cost standpoint, but it also means that the 1100 lacks the Advanced MicroPiezo print head seen on the R1900. This is why the 1100 is limited to a minimum ink droplet size of 3 picoliters (twice the size of the R1900). While that might sound like a horrible problem, the reality is that the prints from the 1100 look virtually identical to prints from the R1900 when viewed by the naked eye. We didn’t notice any difference in printed details until examining the prints side-by-side with a magnifier.

It’s worth pointing out that we’re still talking about quality pigment-based inks despite the fact that the WorkForce 1100 uses lower-cost inks. Unlike dye inks that suffer from short-term color shifting and “chroming” problems, the pigment inks used in the 1100 provide immediate color stability so colors look the way they should as soon as the print comes out and the colors stay that way. Epson claims these pigment inks last up to 105 years under glass.

WORKFORCE 1100 PERFORMANCE

WorkForce 1100 set up
The most difficult part of setting up the WorkForce 1100 is finding a desk big enough to hold it and a USB cable long enough to reach your PC. Assuming you can handle those issues, it’s a simple matter of installing the ink cartridges and installing the drivers and optional software from the included CD. After that you’re ready to print… and print big. Total time from cutting open the box to making the first print was less than 10 minutes (if you don’t count the time it took for me to find a long enough USB cable).

Ease of use
As a single-function inkjet, usability is pretty straightforward with the 1100. After a quick driver install, we put our review unit to the test, sending test prints from several common applications – Photoshop, Microsoft Power Point, Adobe Lightroom, and even Microsoft Word. Not surprisingly, we had no problems getting the output, in terms of size and quality, we were looking for regardless of what application we chose.

Speed and quality tests
One thing we've come to expect with wide-format printers is not to expect extremely fast print speeds. Still, the Epson WorkForce 1100 is faster than the Canon iX7000 we recently reviewed. The 1100 doesn’t waste too much time prepping the ink tanks and print head before printing a photo on the best photo quality setting.  Plus, the Epson doesn’t use a dedicated clear ink, so it finishes printing that much faster. Printing an 11x17 print on 13x19 paper using Photoshop CS3 at best photo quality, the WorkForce 1100 took just a few seconds more than three minutes.  In comparison, the Canon iX7000 took more than 10 minutes from a "cold" startup while prepping the ink tanks to final output the color image on semi-gloss photo paper.

Text quality looks nearly as good as what you expect to find from low-cost laser printers, and image quality rivals cheaper wide-format photo printers. Again, 11x17 and 13x19 photos look virtually identical to photos from the Epson Stylus Photo R1900 as long as you’re not using a magnifying glass.

Ink control tests
The one major complaint we have with the Epson WorkForce 1100 in terms of ink is the same complaint we’ve made in the past when reviewing Epson wide-format printers: the ink cartridges are too small.

Although the 1100 is a well-calibrated printer that uses just the right amount of ink to produce fantastic 13x19 prints, it uses the same size ink cartridges as a standard printer. Granted, this means it’s easy to find replacement ink cartridges at an office supply store, but the obvious problem is that the 1100 consumes more ink than a smaller printer simply because larger prints require more ink.

How much more ink? Well, we printed four 11x17 color prints and one borderless 13x19 print using the “best photo” setting (which provides the best print quality but uses the most ink). After making those five prints the Epson ink management system reported that the cyan (blue) ink cartridge was down to approximately 75% capacity. At that rate of ink consumption the WorkForce 1100 would have required a new ink cartridge after printing only about 20 large photos using the “best photo” setting.

In our standard ink control tests, we exhaust (printing until the color runs out) a new set of cartridges; exhaustion meaning the printer will not print another “quality” document without a cartridge replacement.  We print at a ratio of three 8.5x11 inch pages of black and white text to one full page of color.  We decided on the 3:1 ratio because we felt that the average user is printing more text than color.

At the ratio of 3:1 in Epson’s Standard Printing mode, the Epson 1100 printed 497 pages before the magenta ink cartridge expired (ran out of ink).  The printer software does give several warnings before the cartridge expires completely, and it’s worth noting that the Epson software said the magenta ink was exhausted at least a dozen pages before we noticed loss of print quality. Bottom line, the WorkForce 1100 does a fine job with ink capacity for standard 8.5x11 inch prints in the default print mode, but if you select the “best photo” quality and print large documents then don’t expect the ink to last long.

Energy tests
The WorkForce 1100 is definitely energy efficient; in ready mode it uses only between 2 W and 4 W of power.  In warm up, it fluctuates between 9 W and 12 W consumed before dropping into ready mode.

Depending on the job printing, energy consumption varies.  For smaller jobs or jobs printed in high quality modes, the printer slows down and uses between 14 W and 17 W of power before returning to ready mode.  For large jobs or jobs printed in standard and draft modes, the printer works harder and uses between 18 W and 26 W of energy.

These figures all point to the same conclusion: the WorkForce 1100 is a very energy-efficient wide-format printer.

PROS:

  • Feeds multiple paper types with no paper jams
  • Excellent print quality
  • Prints up to 13x19 inches
  • Low cost

CONS:

  • Runs out of ink when making quality huge prints
  • Limited paper capacity
  • No wireless connectivity

CONCLUSION
The Epson WorkForce 1100 makes a fantastic alternative to more expensive wide-format printers. If you’re running a small business or home office and want to make large photos, posters, or charts for client presentations then the WorkForce 1100 is a great value considering the retail value of $199.99 and a street price as low as $150.

My biggest complaints about this printer boil down to the limited ink capacity when making large prints at the best photo quality, the limited paper capacity (100 sheets of plain paper isn’t much for an office), and the lack of Wi-Fi. Despite these issues the Epson WorkForce 1100 is one of the best values in the wide-format printer market.

PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
The Epson WorkForce 1100 Wide-format printer is available now on Epson.com for $199.99.

Supplies, such as ink and paper, can also be found on Epson.com; a set of of color cartridges (magenta, cyan, yellow) retail for $50.99 while a dual pack of black ink cartridges retail for $37.99.

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