Even low-cost models in the $100 range make quality photos and do a good job of scanning and copying. Paying more gets you faster output and small improvements in photo quality.

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Epson’s new all-in-one color printer/scanner/copier, the Stylus Photo RX620, shows off the remarkable progress in home printing. Manufacturers are racing to outdo each other by offering more and more features at lower and lower prices, hoping you’ll buy vast amounts of the one thing they don’t discount: replacement ink cartridges.

The RX620 (www.epson.com), which sells for $299, and competing products, especially from Hewlett-Packard and Canon, are so good that you’ll find it hard to resist blowing your budget making gorgeous color photos and finely detailed color copies of documents.

Entry-level all-in-ones, while lacking some of the fancier features, still do a good job and cost as little as $75.

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Prices have come down so much, and quality has gone up so much, that it no longer makes sense for most home users to buy basic inkjet printers. Not when all-in-ones add scanning and copying at virtually no extra cost.

Epson RX620 specs

Maximum Paper Size: Legal

Rated Speed at Default Resolution (Color): 16 ppm

Rated speed at Default Resolution (Mono): 17 ppm

Connection Type (USB or Parallel): USB

Network Connection (Ethernet or Wireless): None

Scanner Type: Flatbed

Scanner Optical Resolution: 2400 ppi (pixels per inch)

Maximum Scan Area: 8.5 x 11 inches

Copier and Fax: Copier

Type: Ink Jet

Source: PC Magazine

Epson grandly calls the RX620, announced last month and just now reaching stores, a “full-featured photo lab.” And it’s not a boast. Here’s just some of what the RX620 does:

• Prints photographs at a maximum resolution of 5,760 x 1,440 dots per inch using a six-color ink system. In my tests using glossy photo paper, the results are just about indistinguishable from traditional chemical prints that come from big photo-processing outfits.

• Scans documents and old photo prints at a maximum resolution of 2,400 x 4,800 dots per inch with 48-bit color. What all these numbers mean is that you’ll get razor-sharp scanned images. A few years ago, a stand-alone scanner this good would have cost considerably more than the RX620.

• Makes copies in color or black and white with the push of a single button, even if the computer isn’t running.

• Scans 35-millimeter slides and negatives using a holder that tucks into the lid when not in use.

• Prints photographs directly from digital cameras, connected through a USB cable, or from camera memory cards by inserting the cards in slots built into the RX620 accommodating every card format now widely in use. You select which photo to print by looking at a 2.5-inch color LCD screen mounted on the front of the RX620. This, too, can be done even when the PC is turned off.

• Crop pictures, using the LCD screen, before printing.

But wait, there’s more! I don’t have room for every trick the RX620 can perform. Some of the more obscure features include the ability to transfer pictures from a memory card to a USB thumb drive plugged into the RX620’s USB port, or selecting from a group of photos on a memory card by printing an index sheet filled with thumbnail images, making black marks next to the thumbnails you want to print, and then placing the index sheet on the scanner.

I tried most of these features and found the RX620 performed largely as advertised.

The RX620 works with Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows 2000 and Windows XP, as well as Macintosh OS 9.2, 10.2 and 10.3. The printer connects to a computer through a single USB cable, which isn’t supplied in the box.

Be prepared for sticker shock, however, when the six ink cartridges included with the RX620 run dry. Replacing them will cost about $60 to $85, depending on how aggressively you shop for the best price.

Among my few gripes with the RX620: The installation CD for Windows litters your desktop with five new icons and doesn’t give you the option to forgo installing potentially unnecessary programs such as ArcSoft PhotoImpression 5 for photo editing and a greeting-card maker. The slender printed instruction manual doesn’t cover every function, and the electronic guide placed on your computer isn’t always helpful.

But overall I was very impressed with how much the RX620 can do. It’s also an improvement over its predecessor model, the RX600, yet sells for $50 less than the RX600 did at its launch a year ago.

Not that competitors are far behind.

Hewlett-Packard (www.hp.com) has two all-in-one models at $299. The Photosmart 2610 also offers six-color printing, a 2.5-inch color LCD screen, has similar printing and scanning resolution, and even fixes red-eye as well as letting you crop from the LCD screen without a computer. The Officejet 7210 doesn’t have an LCD screen but does function as a fax machine and has an automatic document feeder — both very useful for home office workers.

Canon (www.canonusa.com) has the new Pixma MP760 at $299, with many of the same specifications as the Epson RX620 and HP Photosmart 2610. The Pixma MP760 uses a five-ink system, with one type of black ink optimized for documents and another type of black ink optimized for photos.

Other manufacturers offering color inkjet all-in-ones, although mostly models at lower prices with fewer features, include Brother (www.brother-usa.com/mfc), Dell (www.dell.com/printers) and Lexmark (www.lexmark.com).

How to pick an all-in-one that’s right for you? The trade-offs aren’t as tough these days. Even low-cost models in the $100 range make quality photos and do a good job of scanning and copying. Paying more gets you faster output — not a big consideration if you’re a light user — and small improvements in photo quality.

All-in-ones under $200 typically don’t have an LCD screen. That’s not a problem if you first copy digital pictures on your computer and print from the PC. Less expensive models also don’t have adapters for scanning slides or negatives.

I’d recommend a full-featured all-in-one in the $200 to $300 range for anyone willing to spend the money. But even the least expensive all-in-ones will expand your visual horizon.