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Color Laser Printers
Ready for the Home?

Black and white laser printers have been available at reasonable prices for quite a while, and used to be popular for home use. Then printer makers figured out how to make inkjet printer that could print superb text, and the laser printer, which was always more expensive, became passť for home use. For the office, where mostly black text documents are still printed, the laser printer is still dominant. But for the home, the inkjetís ability to print colored text and pictures made it a much more attractive deal than the black and white laser. Of course, color laser printers existed, but had severe drawbacks: 
  • They were hideously expensive
  • They were huge
  • They were noisy
  • They produced mediocre color prints

Thatís all changed. Several companies produce color laser printers at the $800 price point. Thatís still a lot more expensive than most inkjet printers, but itís a lot closer to reasonable than earlier color laser printers. And they have certain advantages over inkjet printers: 

  • Theyíre much faster
  • They produce pages that arenít wet and wrinkled
  • They may be cheaper to operate, although Iím not exactly sure how to figure that out

I decided to see how well some of the current color printers work. I set off for CompUSA, which I figured would have the best local selection of higher-end printers. I was right. I found color laser printers from Hewlett-Packard, Minolta/QMS, and Okidata ó all priced at the $800 point. Helped by a salesman, I ran off test documents from all three printers. I grant you thatís not totally conclusive, but it was probably the best I could do under the circumstances. So how did they compare? 

  • The Hewlett-Packard color LaserJet 1500 was my first stop. Although not small by inkjet standards, its stylish curved case didnít take up too much space. HP LaserJet 1500The printer printed its test page faster than the much more expensive Hewlett-Packard color laser printers we use at my workplace. The text was superb; after all, thatís what lasers do best. The test page didnít include any colored text, so I couldnít tell how it would look. Graphics on the test page appeared quite grainy, however. There was no banding within solid color areas, which can be a problem with both inkjet or laser printers.
  • QMS was one of the pioneers of color laser printers, and I expected their magicolor 2300L to perform very well. And it did. It was perhaps a smidgen faster than the Hewlett-Packard printer, but not hugely so.QMS 2300L Text was great, including the colored text it printed. Graphics were a little grainy, but less so than the Hewlett-Packard. I saw no banding here, either. A built-in Ethernet connection makes it possible to hook the printer directly to a network.
  • I hadnít seen an Okidata printer in quite a while. Okidata made my first dot-matrix printer, and it was quite a workhorse, so I was familiar with the brand; however, it seemed to have dropped out of sight years ago. The first thing I noticed about the Okidata C5100N printer was that it was a pretty large unit; maybe 20% larger than the Hewlett-Packard. Okidata C5100NWhen I printed the test page, however, the differences were not subtle; the colors were brilliant! Color in both text and graphics was much brighter than the other two printers. And it seemed faster than either of the others, although not by a huge margin. Like the QMS printer above, the Okidata printer has a built-in network connection. And the text, was, predictably, great.

So should you buy one? Or stick with your inkjet? That depends. Inkjets are cheap, and produce excellent color and text (well, some of them do). They are fairly speedy. One drawback is the high price of inkjet cartridges. In contrast, color lasers are very fast, donít produce pages that are sopping wet and wrinkled, and at least two of the three have network interfaces included. It was once axiomatic that laser printer toner was much cheaper than inkjet ink, but color toner cartridges are pretty expensive; $100 each for the Hewlett-Packard, while the Okidataís are $120 each. I donít know how many pages the toner cartridges will print, so I canít compare their costs to inkjets. But you have to replace four cartridges to completely replenish the toner, which can be pretty expensive.

Although the output of the color laser printer is attractive, I wouldnít say they surpassed a good photo inkjet printer at printing photographs. And the color laser printers are pretty large, compared to inkjets.

If one of the two factors I mentioned earlier: speed and dry pages appeals to you, a color laser printer may be a good investment. Otherwise, I suggest you consider a really good inkjet printer.

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Alamo PC Organization, Inc.
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