Brother MFC-J995DW: why not Canon or Epson (reviewish)

I can already tell this write-up might be a little all over the place….. but here goes! (if you’re looking for something specific you may have to scroll a bit).

Background

Our old Brother laser made it almost 9 years. It was time for a new printer. Looking for a laser that was “AIO”-ish this time around (and had cheap toner), I started to get into price regions I wasn’t thrilled with. Thus, I started to look at inkjets this time around.

Wanting cheap ink at least, I unsurprisingly started to look into the “Supertank” printers. This meant Brother, Epson, or Canon.

Based on the title, you already know what I went with, but it was a *really* touch decision. In CAD the prices for the specific “Super Tank” printers I was looking at were around:

  • $200-250 for Brother‘s “mid range” MFCJ995DW
  • $300-350 for Canon‘s “higher end” PIXMA G4210
  • $330-370 for Epson‘s “low-end” ET-2700

These are in CAD by the way: for a rough USD conversion multiply by around 0.75 to 0.80.

Brother MFC-J995DW vs Canon PIXMA G4210 vs Epson ET-2700

Comparing These 3 Printers Based On Our Needs

I’ll try to be clear about what aspects mattered most to me, because your needs might be different. To be frank, if different things are important to you, the Brother may very well be your worst option. So read closely!

Before I begin, I’ll mention that longevity is a pretty big one for me. I want something that will last at least 5 years and hopefully closer to 10. If you make printers that you expect to be in a landfill within 2 years, I probably won’t buy from you again until I’ve rotated through your competitors. Since my last Brother printer lasted 9 years, they get a bit of a boost from the start. Since my most recent Epson/Canon printers lasted less than 5 years (back around 2000 I believe), they begin a little behind the start line.

Yes, I have a long memory.

Note: Where prices are mentioned, they’re in CAD. Multiply by 0.6-0.8 to get a rough ballpark for USD. Prices are at time of writing.

 

Price:

The Brother MFCJ995DW (and similar INKvestment models) all tend to be the cheapest, hovering around $200-250. Note that if you want the “Business” class INKvestments with the massive 11″x17″ support it takes a jump to the $250-400 range (but if those are the ones you’re checking out, keep in mind not all of them do 11×17 scanning here).

Canon PIXMA G-series MegaTanks take up the mid-range ballparking around $300-350 (plus or minus some, depending on model).

Epson ET EcoTank models start at around $350 for the base model, with higher models getting very expensive very fast.

VERDICT: If you only have X dollars to spend on a “Supertank” printer, Brother printers are always going to be among your earliest options.

WINNER: Brother

 

Ink cost:

Canon and Epson both offer hefty ink bottles for refills, while Brother simply has larger-than-normal cartridges. Note that calculations here are based on the “rated” page counts given by the manufacturers and the current price (again… in Canada loonies).

Brother ink will cost you a little over $0.01 per black page and $0.06-$0.09 per color page ($0.02-$0.03 x 3) if you go for the high-yield cartridges. The cartridges aren’t cheap either at $75-85 currently, so if and when you hit the initial 2500-4500 page count, expect to pay a few hundred dollars in cartridges. Brother “chips” the cartridges too, so while you can save a little by buying “non-genuine” stuff, one of the penalties you pay is that the ink level may not display on your printer.

Canon ink bottles will cost you $0.004 per black page and $0.006 ($0.002 x 3) per color page. Yes, that’s roughly half a penny. The bottles themselves are around $20 each (plus or minus a few bucks depending on color or black), which is a fairly small hit on the wallet when you need to run out and grab a bottle. Yes, the genuine stuff is affordable to the point where you may not even want to consider the non-genuine stuff. If you do though, non-genuine stuff can be found for even less: $7/bottle or a 4-pack for $20 which would work out to less than 1/5 of a penny per page.

Epson ink bottles will cost you $0.004 per black page and $0.009 ($0.003 x 3) per color page. Less than half a penny for black, less than a penny for color. The bottles are a bit more than the Canon, with color at $19 and black at $29. Still not a huge wallet hit when you need to pick up a bottle. Again, with each bottle “rated” at 6,000-7,500 pages, there’s less incentive to use the non-genuine stuff. The non-genuine stuff is also more than the Canon non-genuine stuff with packs hitting in the $30-40 range and having less capacity than the genuine stuff.

VERDICT: On a per-page level, Brother black ink costs approximately 2.5x as much as competitors, with color being approximately 10x as much. To be frank, Brother should probably be excluded/disqualified from the “Supertank” category before Lexmark 1.0 comes back and puts a “tank” in all their $20 printers so they can sell them as “Supertanks” too. Anyway, Canon and Epson are neck-and-neck, with Canon having a slight upper hand.

WINNER: Cannon and Epson (tie).

 

Print Quality:

Scouring through everything I could find on the web… both for the specific MFC-J995DW / G4210 / ET-2700 models AND for the INKvestment/Megatank/Ecotank models in general, the only real general conclusion I could find was that the Brother MFC-J995DW has the worst print quality of the J995DW/G4210/ET-2700 bunch (particularly for images). “Print quality” seems to be a prevailing complaint for the Brother INKvestments, while technical issues tend to be the prevailing complaint for the Canon MegaTank and Epson EcoTank models.

VERDICT: Overall, most people seem to be happy or content with the quality from the Canon/Epson models listed, with some exceptions being people doing higher end photo-level work.

WINNER: Canon or Epson (unsure)

Connectivity, AirPrint/GCloudPrint, etc:

The Brother MFCJ995DW has “the kitchen sink” covered. USB/SD card scanning, Wifi and Ethernet, AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, WiFi Direct, scan to cloud services, scan to FTP/etc… You name it, Brother probably has it. When browsing through the various Brother models I half wondered if these things are all just considered standard features.

The Canon PIXMA G4210 was specifically chosen as a contender because it’s one of very few Canon Megatank models that have AirPrint/GoogleCloudPrint. I did come across a claim that it had an Ethernet port but wasn’t able to verify that. However, one major item it lacks is scanning to USB / SD card.

The Epson ET-2700 is really slim on options. No Ethernet, no AirPrint. GoogleCloudPrint appears to be available but based on the manual it’s a bit of a cumbersome setup.

VERDICT: Brother just loads their printer up with options.

WINNER: Brother

 

Standalone Ability:

By “standalone ability”, I’m referring to the ability to administer most (or all) of the functions directly from the printer, instead of having to connect via software. 

The Brother MFC-J995DW is a typical Brother in that everything can be done from the printer itself. Scan, copy, print from media, clean heads,  see estimated pages remaining, configure, etc. If you use solely iOS/Android devices and Macs, you won’t ever have to actually install anything on your computer or devices to print to it. The touch display works well, and is intuitive/quick to use when browsing through options. The software to auto-crop/separate scans (ie multiple photos on the scan bed) is built into the printer and can be used to scan to USB.

The Canon G4210 is one of the few PIXMA MegaTanks that have the ability to perform almost all (if not all) operations from the printer itself. Like the Brother, if you use solely iOS/Android devices and Macs, you shouldn’t need to install anything on your computer to use it (though I have not verified this). However, if scanning, the Canon software becomes somewhat mandatory as it contains the bits needed to perform tasks like auto-cropping/separating scans (ie multiple photos on the scan bed). 

The Epson ET-2700 just has the basic usability/functions available from the physical printer. You need a Windows or Mac machine to perform a “Power Clean” for example.

VERDICT: With Epson clearly not in the running, it becomes a choice between Brother/Canon. Brother gets a positive bump because their touch display makes things quick and easy to use, and another because mutli-photo scanning is possible without installing software on a machine.

WINNER: Brother

 

OS Support:

All 3 printers have drivers for Windows (Win7 to Win10), Mac OS (10.11 to 10.14), and Linux.

The Brother MFC-J995DW has AirPrint/GoogleCloudPrint to cover iOS and Android. They also have drivers for Windows Server 2012/2016 and even have the Brother iPrint&Scan program for Windows Phone.

The Canon PIXMA G4210 has AirPrint/GoogleCloudPrint to cover iOS and Android. MacOS drivers go as far back as 10.10. One big plus for Canon is they also have the source code available for the Linux drivers.

The Epson ET-2700 has GoogleCloudPrint claimed as covering iOS as well as Android in their documentation. Windows drivers go back as far as Vista and MacOS drivers as far back as 10.6.x (Snow Leopard… crazy!). A “Remote Print” driver appears to exist for XP, Windows Server, and MacOS 10.5.x. Note that while the website states that Epson does not support Linux, Linux drivers and utilities are available: you’re simply funnelled off to another section of the website to obtain them.

VERDICT: Each has *something* the others don’t appear to.

WINNER: Draw

Hidden time bombs

Sadly, all 3 manufacturers include a hidden time bomb. If you happened to read the page title you may already know what that is: the Ink Pad Absorber.

Basically, any time an inkjet cleans the jets, it dumps a bunch of ink through it. That ink has to go somewhere other than on your desk, so there’s a little compartment with a pad to absorb it. After enough cleanings, the printer determines the pad is probably soaked and then stops working with an error message. “5b00” on Canon, “Ink Absorber Pad Full” on Brother, and “Ink Pad has reached the end of its service life” on Epson.

Manufacturers vary on the specifics, but this pad:

  1. Is usually considered a “consumable” part, not necessarily covered under warranty.
  2. Despite being “consumable” is somehow not generally considered a user-serviceable part, is not available at any retail outlets, and requires replacement at an “authorized” location.
  3. Often costs almost as much to have replaced as buying a new printer.

Yes, even if you treat your printer well, manufacturers have ensured it will inevitably die when a counter rolls over. This seems to have hit a number of people just over 1 year after buying. There aren’t official/sanctioned ways to reset the counter even if you’ve cleaned/dried/replaced the pad in a DIY fashion. However…

Brother printers have a hidden method to reset the counter (though it’s a cryptic mess of settings).

For Canon you can try your luck with some unlock programs available on eBay for a fee.

For Epson you can try your luck with some unlock programs available on eBay for a fee.

VERDICT: Manufacturers could very easily incorporate a removable tray out the side of each printer which holds the pad. When the tray is opened, it could easily trigger a switch and then ask “did you replace the pad?” on the printer before resetting the counter and continuing. They don’t. Evidently they like their brand names plastered all over landfills. That said, because the average person can probably manage a web search for their error code and muddle through the Brother purge count reset instructions for their machine, Brother does get the edge here.

WINNER: Brother

 

Plugged up ink jets:

If you print a lot (daily), this seems to be less of an issue. Note that leaving the printer on all the time *might* be helpful here, depending on the printer. Note that I scoured the web for a number of following details, and you should thus question the accuracy of what follows.

The Brother INKvestments seem to be less susceptible than the others when it comes to plugged jets. Note that Brother recommends leaving the printer on all the time, as it will perform a daily check and do a nozzle clean if necessary. From the info they provide it looks like humidity and possibly temperature have an impact on how frequently a cleaning cycle will be run, so it’s possible a humidity/temp sensor exists internally.

Canon MegaTanks seem to be somewhat prone to plugging. However, it looks as though the print head might be somewhat accessible and removable for a manual soaking/cleaning if things get so bad that printer-fired cleanings do not work.

Epson Eco-Tanks appear to be at least as bad as the Canon variants. Epson printers in general are notorious for having the ink heads get plugged up. Part of this appears to be due to their print-head design, and part due to the fact that they often use the higher-quality but more-likely-to-plug pigment-based inks instead of dye-based inks. However, from the looks of things, the EcoTanks might only have pigment-based ink for the black.

VERDICT: Brother seems to be the safer bet here.

WINNER: Brother

 

Seeing Ink Levels at a Glance:

The Brother shows ink levels on the LCD display. You can touch it for an estimation of remaining pages that can be printing for each color too which is nice. Unfortunately when the machine is asleep, that ink level indicator is gone.

Canon has the ink tanks in plain sight. Every time you walk by the printer you have the opportunity to notice if the ink is getting low.

Epson also has the ink tanks in plain sight. Again, you’re probably not going to run low on ink without noticing.

VERDICT:  The ability to see the ink level in plain sight uses no additional electricity, and would make it very difficult to run out of ink without noticing. Seeing how many pages can still be printed via 2 sceen taps is nice, but given the choice I’d probably rather have the silent visual reminder if and when I’m below 50% each time I walk by.

WINNER: Canon and Epson

 

Moving On…

The items above were areas I put a lot of consideration into. As you probably noticed, Brother either WON or TIED just about everything except for these 3 items:

  1. Print Quality
  2. Ink Cost
  3. Visual Ink Indicator

Brother didn’t just lose the first 2, they lost them badly. And let’s be honest, the first 2 things are kinda important things.

 

So why did I go with the Brother?

Why not the Canon or Epson? A few reasons…

  1. Scan to USB: The couple times a year I need to scan 20+ things, I don’t want to be swapping between the items, printer, and computer. How Canon and Epson have omitted this, I don’t know. The ability to place multiple photos on the flatbed and have automatically crop and separate them out was really helpful too.
  2. 2-sided printing: If I wasn’t saving money much money on ink, maybe I’d at least save a bit on paper (Canon models did not have this).
  3. Lower clogging, and documentation on their website telling me a bit about how the auto clean cycle operates: I’m fine leaving the printer on all the time to reduce clogging if it doesn’t use much power, and Brother *does* give power consumption for their printers in their manual (3.5w in Ready Mode and 1.2w in Sleep Mode).
  4. Resetting Ink Pad absorber: This was a big one. If Canon/Epson had instructions available for this, it would have gone a long way towards pushing me towards them. Mind you, I did have to figure the exact process for this model out (a slight bit of trial and error to see what codes were used and how the touchpad interface works).
  5. AirPrint / Google Cloud Print: Any time I can print without installing drivers or software, I’m a little happier.
  6. Positive past experience: As I said in the beginning, my old Brother laser made it 9 years: quality has deteriorated but it still works.

There were other more minor reasons as well, but these were the areas I just could not get past when trying to make a case for the G4210 and ET-2700+.

All that said, if you’re someone who prints oodles, the Canon or Epson price premium will pay for itself at the 1st refill. Buying the high-capacity Brother cartridges separately (1 of each), the total comes to about $320, compared to about $56 worth of Canon/Epson ink for the same number of pages. That’s a $264 premium.

To give you a rough idea as to how much printing that is, it’s about 10-12 reams of paper if your printing follows the ISO standard. That’s typically 1 standard box of paper (10 reams per box).

 

Now That I Have It, Let’s Review This Thing: Brother MFC-J995DW

Initial setup was pretty simple. Plug it in, it starts and tells me to put in the ink. Plug in the cartridges, it spends a few minutes priming the system. Then it walks me through a few questions, time setup, connects to the WiFi, etc. Finally it prints a test page and asks me to make sure everything looks okay. All pretty basic and intuitive.

After making sure I could reset the purge counter (details at the end), I tried a photocopy. Then I tried printing via MacOS AirPrint. Then I tried some scanning.

There were 3 issues I came across when scanning:

  1. When scanning multiple pictures on the flatbed (enabling cropping first), depending on the positions of the pictures it would sometimes only scan 1 image. According to the manual and examples, as long as I have at least 10mm space between the pictures it should work fine: I did. After doing musical chairs with the pictures it worked. I haven’t yet figured out why certain positions do and don’t work.
  2. When scanning to USB, after each scan it tries to load a preview for each one. This takes an annoying amount of time. I can’t just skip the preview and tell it to save. I have to wait… and wait… and wait…
  3. The file counter got mixed up at some point and after it scanned it gave an error message about a duplicate file name. To address this I had to go to the options and change the file name format briefly.

Worth noting a few things if you do use the scanner:

  • Default is set to 200ppi. You can up this to 600.
  • You can save your settings (JPG vs PDF, scan resolution, auto crop, ADF, etc) as a new default which you will inevitably want to do to match whatever settings you normally use. They reset to default after each successful scan.
  • If scanning multiple images from the flatbed and wanting to save to separate files, you have to enable Auto Crop and can not use ADF. Brother has a manual (which I haven’t opened), but they also have one online and it’s really useful.

When it came to scanning/printing a photo and photocopying a picture… I can definitely see why people aren’t always thrilled about the quality. You can make out all the grainy dithered dots and it’s not unlike the basic inkjet quality from the 2000-2010 era. Overall print quality is sufficient for what I use it for, but if you’ve grown accustomed to the really nice photo printer output that some inkjets are capable of, you will definitely notice that this is not the same thing.

As far as physical build quality goes, nothing feels rugged. Most of the printer has that cheap plastic feel to it.

Printing via my Android phone and via MacOS Air Print was really quick and easy. I still haven’t installed any drivers. Note that 2-sided printing seems to get enabled by default so watch for this if you *don’t* want it.

With the bit I’ve printed (probably 10-15 pages just messing around and testing), changing the “Page Yield” setting to show based on my usage it predicts 2500M, 2600C, 1800Y, and 4500BK pages left. So no, the included cartridges are not the high-capacity variant, and at this rate I’m looking at 3 reams of paper before the yellow needs to be replaced and 5 reams before I get to the other colors.

 

Overall my first impressions are that it’s been easy to set up and use, the touch interface is pretty good, and thus far it has been relatively hassle-free (exception being scanning quirks).

Due to the ink cost and the 100-page tray, I don’t think it would be a great investment if you print a lot. But for use that qualifies as a little more casual I suspect it will suffice. Time will certainly tell!