Upgrade to a Colour Laser Printer

by : Alan Wilson

So your ready to purchase your first colour laser printer but don't know where to begin.

Colour Laser Printers have seen some of the biggest decreases in cost over the last couple of years of all printer types and the cheapest model from each manufacturer is now little more than you would previously have paid for an inkjet printer.

I have taken the cheapest current model from the following manufacturers for comparison, Canon, Epson, HP, Konica Minolta, Lexmark and Samsung.

Let's get the technical bit out of the way first; colour laser printers come in two distinct engine types. The carousel type printer uses for different colour toner cartridges that rotate over a central drum unit, laying down each colour of toner in turn and making a total of four passes over the drum or imaging unit. Epson, Konica Minolta, Lexmark and Samsung all use a variation of this technique. Canon and HP cartridges come in one complete unit per colour that contains both the toner and drum giving each colour its own drum as opposed to sharing a central unit.

So which system is best? There is no correct answer to this question although I personally favour the option used by the Canon, HP duo. With this system there is no uncertainty as to how long the drum will last, it is replaced with every new cartridge. With the carousel system the life of the drum can be dramatically reduced from quoted figures if the colour content of your output rises over the standard 5%. The more colour printing you do the more passes over the central drum unit, the greater the wear on the unit and the more often it will need to be replaced.

If you are replacing an ink printer it is worth bearing in mind that these colour laser printers are somewhat larger, heavier and noisier, so if desktop space is tight check out the dimensions before committing to a purchase.

The smallest, lightest and quietest colour laser printer is the Samsung CLP300, when it was originally introduced this was probably the cheapest colour laser printer on the market and thus an argument could be made for its purchase. Times change very quickly in this market and a sub ?90 price is no longer bargain basement territory. If you only intend to print colour text and charts then it will perform well enough but the quality of any colour output beyond this will I fear disappoint.

Moving to the dearest will give us the Lexmark C500N. This printer is almost twice the price of the tiny Samsung and in true Lexmark style is also the most expensive to run, in its favour it is network ready and has the fastest mono speed but this does nothing to compensate for its high costs.

The Epson AcuLaser C1100 has been one of my favourite colour printers since its introduction, it is still one of the fastest printers of its type and print quality is still above average, I feel however that it is now getting a little long in the tooth and the new Konica Minolta Magicolor 2530DL now offers several advantages. With an ethernet 10/100 base TX interface for networking and Pictbridge via a special USB on the front for downloading direct from a digital camera this has moved the goalposts and it tries to replicate ink printer facilities closer than seen before on colour laser printers. The standard 64mb Ram is also twice that on offer from the Epson and should ensure capable handling of even the most complex colour work. Whilst print quality is above average, the printer speed, especially for colour disappoints and is this printer's major flaw. Be aware also that both these printers are delivered with low capacity cartridges offering only 1,500 colour prints, these will require replacing all too soon. The upside is that high capacity cartridges are readily available and offer better value with a capacity at around 4,500pages.

That just leaves the HP Color Laserjet 1600 and the Canon i-Sensys LBP5000 to be considered. Both of these printers use the same Canon engine so it comes as no surprise that the specifications match with a print speed of 8ppm and a print quality of 600x600dpi. Neither of these printers has an abundance of memory with the HP the most generous at 16mb, the Canon's 8mb is particularly stingy and may struggle to cope with very complex colour work. The other main difference is in the price, the HP printer can easily be found online at a price under the magical ?100 mark whereas the Canon at ?50 more is competing with the HP's big brother, the Color LaserJet 2600. As is the norm the printers are shipped with starter cartridges which give a maximum yield of 1,000 pages and will need to be replaced fairly quickly, fortunately both HP original cartridges and compatible cartridges are readily available from around ?120 for a full set of cartridges yielding 2,000 pages.

We have used HP laser printers in our own offices for many years and have always found them to be both reliable and economical, especially if compatible cartridges are used. We have noticed some criticism online of a problem with colour bleed with the HP Color LaserJet 1600, we have not been able to substantiate these claims and only a small number of users seem to experience it, I am beginning to wonder if the quality of the paper may be at fault and not the printer. We have tried using some fairly low quality paper in an attempt to replicate the fault but so far have not experienced any degree of colour bleed.

So, if you are looking for your first Colour Laser Printer, and do not want to spend a fortune, look no further than the HP Color LaserJet 1600 - a fine buy at less than ?100.