Given the strong graphics printing and speedy scans of the Brother DCP-150C, its big Brother, the Brother DCP-350C, had a lot to live up to. However, the Brother DCP-350C took noticeably longer than other units we tested this month to start up and ready itself. The Brother DCP-350C's initial set up process was at least straightforward.

With a top resolution of 6,000x,2,400dpi, we weren’t surprised the Brother DCP-350C took nearly four minutes to show us its best effort at A4 photo printing – and the results certainly impressed. But our graphics test revealed the Brother DCP-350C's weakness for streaking at faster settings.

The same applies to text: documents were crisp at the highest-quality settings, but the Brother DCP-350C's draft mode was neither fast nor impressive.

Scanning was a zippy affair, and the Brother DCP-350C offered plenty of impact with bright, crisp scans. Colour copies, however, were dull, washed out and somewhat grey. Mono copies were simply too dark.

Both Brother models enjoy excellent space-saving design qualities: each has its power plug on one side, allowing them to be backed up against the wall. Individual ink wells help to get the most out of your consumables, and the cartridges are conveniently replaced via a door at the front. We also liked the Brother DCP-350C's silvery looks and durable build, although the paper tray feels fragile. A seven-in-one card reader and PictBridge port are included, along with a 2in flip-up colour LCD. Separate buttons for routine maintenance, direct photo printing, copying and scanning are clearly labelled. The scanner lid is sturdy and won’t slam. However, the Brother DCP-350C routinely failed to recognise paper edges – a fault we thought we’d left in the last century.

Verdict

The Brother DCP-350C gives slow but top-quality photo prints. Graphics are less impressive, but the Brother DCP-350C is a great scanner and provides so-so copying.

Buying advice - August 2007

Multifunction devices - also known as all-in-ones, MFDs or multifunction printers - have a reputation as a dull but functional computing essential. Being saddled with such a pedestrian, practical moniker has hardly helped; neither has the fact they used to have a reputation as a compromise product. You'd buy an MFD only if you had neither the space, nor the financial means, to have a separate printer, scanner and copier (some also have fax facilities).

More recently, these less-than-glamorous devices have grown in popularity. You no longer have to jeopardise print quality and, with improved resolutions and some canny marketing ploys, multifunction photo printers have caught the attention of digital photo enthusiasts.

For home use, a combined unit makes sense. Not only is it far less expensive to purchase an MFD than it is to buy separate devices, but it's a good way of saving space in an increasingly gadget-strewn home. The MFD is ideal for students in cramped lodgings, or for family environments where you need to print, scan and copy documents quickly and cheaply. Many manufacturers have even begun integrating wireless capabilities into their MFDs, enabling family members to access the printer from anywhere in the house - rather than having to use a PC to print and scan.

In most cases, a printer manufacturer's range of MFDs starts with printing, scanning and copying features; step-up models offer wireless and/or Bluetooth, networking and fax functions. As well as increased resolutions, the pricier products may offer useful document collating, duplex printing and transparency adaptor support - so you can scan in slides and negatives.

Choosing a multifunction photo printer

Print resolutions in the increasingly competitive photo MFDs market are impressive, with most of the models in our round-up boasting 4,800x1,200dpi (dots per inch) and some offering 6,000x1,200dpi.

But as so many all-in-ones today offer high print quality, it can be hard to choose between them. With specifications so similar, your choice may rest with the extra options that each offers. But, as with any other sort of printer, running costs should be a major consideration when choosing an MFD. There's no point buying a cheap model if it costs a lot to replace the inks when they run out. And it's worth checking whether the printer comes with inks or photo paper, as this can influence the initial setup price.

Although most all-in-one printers are compatible with Apple Macs and Windows PCs, check on this if it's to be used in a cross-platform network. And Linux users need to be wary, too. Somewhat surprisingly, not all multifunction printers (or PCs, for that matter) support USB 2.0, so check on connectivity too.

Your photo printer's dimensions and weight may be important too. You'll want something neat and compact if space-saving is a priority, but should consider the trade-off between a lightweight model that can easily be repositioned and the unit's robustness.

Also, check what paper weights and finishes the printer is willing to accept. Most multifunction devices can print on various different sizes of photo paper, while some can also print on specialised media such as envelopes.

Bundled software

The quality of printing, scanning, copying and image-enhancing software that comes with multifunction photo printers varies. Epson's comprehensive Creativity Suite enables you to produce some professional results, but others, such Lexmark's Imaging Studio, sell themselves on one-touch enhancements and fixes. Some bundled applications even have special capabilities that can apply effects such as sepia or black and white to your photos. Whether these effects are of value to you depends on your needs, of course.

Models usually come with basic software to enhance, crop and rotate images. Features such as autostraightening slanted images, or cropping at a document's edges, can be invaluable time-savers and are common inclusions since it's tricky to align a document to scan perfectly first time.

One piece of software we recommend you look out for with your printer bundle is an OCR (optical character recognition) program. Scan in a report or a book you want to quote from and the OCR application will translate the page into editable text.

Canny connections

Many all-in-one printers have ethernet cards. Ethernet is used to connect to a network, but for home environments you may prefer a Wi-Fi setup. Built-in wireless printing sends photos straight to print from the PC, with no cables required.

PictBridge is worth looking out for. Cameras and printers that support PictBridge are able to 'talk' to one another, allowing you to print directly from the camera without needing to copy images to your PC. You can select the print size, number of copies, layout and even the type of paper from your printer's onscreen menu.

Even if your multifunction printer doesn't support PictBridge, it may offer useful features such as borderless printing, index proof sheets - where thumbnails of all your images are printed out on a single sheet - as well as scaling, all from dedicated buttons on the device itself. HP's models even offer document filing, where scanned images are sent to specific folders and locations. If your PC has memory card slots, you may not need to print from your computer at all - provided the photos you've taken don't need editing.

Brother DCP-350C: Specs

  • Maximum printer resolution: 6,000x1,200dpi
  • maximum optical scanner resolution: 600x2,400dpi
  • quoted print speeds: 30ppm (mono), 25ppm (colour)
  • actual print speeds: 9.2ppm (mono), 5.6ppm (colour)
  • photo to print time: 213 secs
  • copy time: 28 secs (mono), 41 secs (colour)
  • scan speed: 29 secs (300dpi), 1 min, 29 secs (1,200dpi)
  • USB 2.0
  • ink cost: B = £18, C = £10 x 3
  • cost per page: 3.5p (mono), 7.5p (colour)
  • supports: CF, MS, MS Pro, SD, xD, MMC
  • PictBridge
  • 398x351x150mm
  • 7.3kg
  • Maximum printer resolution: 6,000x1,200dpi
  • maximum optical scanner resolution: 600x2,400dpi
  • quoted print speeds: 30ppm (mono), 25ppm (colour)
  • actual print speeds: 9.2ppm (mono), 5.6ppm (colour)
  • photo to print time: 213 secs
  • copy time: 28 secs (mono), 41 secs (colour)
  • scan speed: 29 secs (300dpi), 1 min, 29 secs (1,200dpi)
  • USB 2.0
  • ink cost: B = £18, C = £10 x 3
  • cost per page: 3.5p (mono), 7.5p (colour)
  • supports: CF, MS, MS Pro, SD, xD, MMC
  • PictBridge
  • 398x351x150mm
  • 7.3kg

OUR VERDICT

The Brother DCP-350C gives slow but top-quality photo prints. Graphics are less impressive, but the Brother DCP-350C is a great scanner and provides so-so copying.

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