Recently I murdered my beloved Canon IP4000, which I have used for disc printing since that model 1st came out. I decided to take a walk on the dark side, and try out an Epson R280. This printer is virtually identical to the R380, minus the LCD screen and memory card reader. It uses the Epson 6-ink system.
As my Canon is quite dead, (please don't ask), side-by-side comparisons of identical disc print projects are not possible, but I was able to go back and re-print about 6 disc labels which were previously done with the Canon, on a variety of media.
My reasons for choosing the Epson were that the newest Canon model, IP4500, is not yet available in stores here. (USA) Also, both brands now use chipped ink tanks. The Epson has compatible tanks available with re-set chips on them already, the available Canon compatibles require chip replacement and fiddling. So apart from the chip issue, the Epson was readily available in stores, and was also cheaper.
So here are some observations, I'll try to group them by category:
The Canon uses a 5-tank system, with dye-based inks for photo black and colors, and pigment black for documents and plain paper. The Epson uses a 6-tank system, incorporating photo-cyan and photo-magenta and a single black, all are dye-based. The Canon tanks hold approximately 12 cc when empty, the Epson tanks hold approximately 13 cc. Prices on compatibles are about $4.50 each for the Canon's newest models, $5.00 for the Epson. I don't have a comparison on the 2 for how much is left in the tank when the printer stops printing due to low ink. 2 cc is probably a fair guess in both instances.
COSTS OF PRINTING:
Too close to call. Unless you do massive amounts of disc or photo printing, don't worry about it. Both are cheap to operate using compatible inks, and costs are likely to be comparable with OEM ink as well. Also note that the Canon uses a pigment blank tank that is nearly 2x the size of the color and photo black tanks, which cuts costs significantly if you print a lot of documents.
The Canon CD LabelPrint program is robust and quite adequate for all but the most demanding user. Custom text is easy to create, with many adjustable features like shadows, distortion and bending. Access to the printer driver settings is seamless for adjusting print settings.
The Epson Print-CD program is adequate for basic users. Options for custom text are very limited. There is access to the printer driver for manual adjustment of the print settings, but thus far I have been unable to get this to actually work. In other words, you can access the manual print settings, but it does little or nothing. There is access to a basic saturation slider in the print dialog, which does work well. Epson also offers 2 settings for printable media, a basic "CD/DVD" and "premium surface CD/DVD". It appears that "premium surface" simply increases the saturation further.
The Canon printer driver is also very robust, and offers fully customizable settings for media types, color profiles and color settings. The Epson driver offers most of the same settings, although the layout is a little "clunky". I have also noted that the Epson driver tends to lose it's settings and revert to default, though this is not consistent.
The Epson offers excellent color matching right out of the box, slightly better than the Canon, although the differences are slight. I find I get better results from the Epson by skipping the use of the Epson "auto photo enhancer" settings, and using the Adobe RGB setting with 2.2 gamma and slight bumps for saturation and contrast. I used similar settings for the Canon. The Epson tends to be slightly under-saturated with default settings. Also, the Epson offers fewer choices for media types. (paper) Comparing a series of high-res and high color photos from both printers resulted in only a slightly lower saturation of greens and reds on the Epson, but not objectionable. The Epson appears to produce slightly sharper photos, but again the difference is very small.
I've not yet seen any real difference between the 6-color and 5-color ink systems as far as the output is concerned, except maybe that the Epson tends to be under-saturated in comparison. I can see where some photos that have fine gradient colors might benefit from the 6-color system. I noted on some photo prints that the darker colors were identical, where the lighter color tones were less saturated on the Epson. (Less saturated than the same areas when viewed on my monitor)
I'm hard pressed to see significant differences between the 2 printers. Out of the box, the Epson is again slightly under-saturated, but this is easily corrected by using the premium disc setting and increasing saturation slightly. Both printers produce discs that are nearly dry immediately, but slightly tacky with darker labels. Color matching with both printers is excellent, only saturation and contrast require adjustment. Epson claims that their inks are more water proof than the competition, and last longer. I find that the opposite is true. Using compatible ink, the Canon-printed discs are not easily smudged with a wet finger, but smudging is certainly possible. The Epson ink is easily wiped off with a wet finger, leaving only a dark grey outline where the ink was. This is noted particularly on TY silver-printables. On TY Watershield, smudging of the ink itself is not possible with a wet finger, only the finish is affected with both printers.
The Epson was printing disc labels slightly off-center (0.1-0.2mm) out of the box, minor adjustment with the provided sliders worked well. The Canon never required centering of the label. The Epson does appear to be remembering the centering adjustment, and no further adjustment has been needed.
I've tested Memorex white matte CDR (CMC), Verbatim printable dual layer, TY white matte CDR and TY white matte DVD, TY silver and TY Watershield. Results on all of these are excellent, with no obvious differences between the 2 printers. I again note that the Epson ink is noticeably easier to wipe off with a wet finger on all media except the Watershield.
I further note that results on the TY Watershield are stunning, rivaling even high quality photo paper. The Epson MAY produce a slightly sharper image on the Watershield, but it's not easy to discern. I've yet to see a Watershield disc come out looking bad on either printer.
On all tested media, use of the Epson "premium CD/DVD" setting is recommended based on my tests.
GENERAL PRINTING DUTY
Here, the Canon clearly wins, hands down. With full auto-duplexing and dual paper feeds, it's a workhorse. I've become very reliant on the Canon printers for the dual paper feeds, keeping different paper stocks in each feed for flexibility.
The Epson lacks auto power-on and power-off, making it clumsy to use if you're used to having that. Canon employs fully automatic power-on and off. Epson recommends leaving the printer turned on 24/7 if you use it daily. Epson does have a manual "direct driver update" feature that is very nice, just click a button and your driver is up to date. The Epson does not have an automatic ejection tray opening function, so if you forget to open the exit door the paper will get wadded up behind the door. The Canon will refuse to print if the door is not open. (Some Canon models have an automatic door opening function)
As a stand-alone printer, (your only printer), the Epson leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to Canon models. The price is lower, so if you want a 2nd or 3rd printer for nothing but discs and/or photos, the Epson is a good choice. If you need one printer with maximum flexibility, duplexing, etc, get a Canon. With 2 other Canon printers in my stable, (one PIXMA and one laser), I can live with the limitations of the Epson.
The fact that the Epson ink is so easily wiped off with a wet finger is disconcerting. While the Canon compatible ink I have used is less so, it's still an issue with all discs I fear.
The Epson disc printing software is a bit crude and limited, but is still functional for basic needs. I essentially just copy disc labels and do very little custom design, so it's not a huge issue. If you have to go buy label software to suit your needs, the cost of the Epson goes up, so again Canon might be the better choice in that regard.