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Primary Colors

Are you boring your customers with black and white? Wake 'em up with a color laser printer.

Color always catches the eye. If you need to rev up tired marketing materials, or even your letterhead, consider buying a color laser printer.

Is a color laser printer a luxury item? It depends. These machines can produce the highest-quality color and black-and-white printing available. That's nothing to sneeze at if you're concerned about your business's image and are eager to present a crisp, professional impression.

You may feel your office budget can't stretch that high since list prices for these machines average $6,000. But when you realize just one advantage is reducing the money you spend to have commercial designers and printers create your color ads, training guides, graphics, newsletters, charts, letterhead and other promotional materials, the investment makes a lot of sense.

The lowest-priced printer featured in our chart, the Tektronix Phaser 350 bills itself as a "laser-class color printer" because it uses a unique, solid ink technology combined with offset-drum printer technology that is used in laser printers. The result is a fast printer whose continuous tone quality is comparable to that of color laser printers. We've included it because its price and function are geared specifically to the small-business owner looking for a high-quality, low-cost model.

Convenience and design control are two more reasons to purchase a color laser printer. Besides giving you control over printed materials by allowing you to do them in-office, you can make last-minute changes in graphics, text and colors without incurring the wrath--and extra fees--of an outside printer.

The newest models are network-ready for group sharing. Another feature on most new models is compatibility with Macintosh, PC and Unix operating systems.

One advantage of the laBODY machines is that you can produce multiple originals instead of printing one color original and having to duplicate it on a color copier. You'll enjoy considerable cost savings by being able to produce a small volume of color documents in your office, avoiding the high-volume minimum press runs usually required by commercial printers.

Consider these features when shopping for a color laser printer:

  • Speed: Faster than last year's models, new color laser printers spit out an average of four color pages per minute and as many as 14 pages per minute in monochrome. True, higher speed means higher prices, but the time saved may be worth the extra bucks.

  • Memory: Just like your computer, a printer has memory (RAM) to enable the printer to retain information about the document you are working on. If you print dense-color or extra-large documents, you'll probably want to add extra RAM; some machines are upgradeable to 72MB RAM.

  • Resolution: The sharpness and clarity of an image is measured in dots (or pixels) per inch (dpi). The higher the number of dots, the sharper the picture or text. Most black-and-white
    laser printers have a 300 dpi resolution; the resolution on color laser printers can range from 600 to 2400 dpi, but 300 dpi can also produce high-quality color printing if enough colors are used, giving an illusion of intensity. Some printers produce millions of different colors, mixing them to produce custom-color documents.

  • Paper sizes and capacities: Most new color laser printers handle letter- and legal-sized documents and transparencies. Some models also print 11-x-17-inch documents, 51|2-x-81|2-inch notepad-sized sheets, labels on letter-sized sheets, and envelopes. Most color laser printers have trays that hold 250 sheets of paper; some models offer a second, optional 250-sheet tray.

  • Standby mode: This energy-saving feature lets you leave your printer turned on, and, if it's not being used, it will "sleep" until you need it, then power up when you click on the print command. The standby mode is useful for network printing; the machine can print documents at the command of someone in the next room or even in another country whose daytime may be your nighttime.

  • Costs per page: Printing in several colors costs more than printing in black and white. It's difficult to gauge costs per page because you must take into account color density, number of colors used and paper size. However, a black-and-white page on the Xerox XPrint costs approximately 13 cents to print; a color page 32 cents; and a color transparency about 91 cents.

  • Maintenance: Laser printers periodically need toner and developer cartridges and, less frequently, drum replacements. Warranties on most color laser printers are for one year.

One final word: It's wise to review actual color samples that are printed as you watch so you can judge the print quality, speed, color smoothness and balance, color matching and clarity.

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This article was originally published in the May 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Primary Colors.

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