Look at all the pretty colors. Warhol paintings. A bag of Skittles. Care Bears. Your next printout. There's a reason they don't make black-and-white TVs anymore. We've been watching the same slow phase-out with gray-scale-only inkjet printers. Color inkjet printers are the beasts of burden of choice in many small businesses. The initial investment is cheap; every company and their dog makes one; and you can dress them up with fax, copy and scanning functions. For our nefarious purposes, we'll stick with straight-up, printing-only color inkjets.
We're not trying to steer you away from a laser printer. If your business can afford one, go for it. They're usually cheaper to keep up in the long run. An inkjet may cost $99 in the bargain bin, but soon you're bound to notice how you have to shell out $60 for new cartridges every other month to feed its insatiable appetite for ink. They may look cute and fluffy, but you have to shop smart to keep them from biting your budget.
Higher dpi resolutions make for higher-quality printed images. This doesn't matter much when you're just printing out a memo or invoice, but it makes all the difference when it comes to graphics and photo-printing. All the printers we assessed come with ink cartridges and the appropriate software drivers, and cost less than $300. The Canon, Hewlett-Packard and Epson will work with your Mac as well as a PC if you spring for an optional USB cable or, in the Canon's case, an optional USB kit.
HP Deskjet 882C
Model: HP DeskJet 882C
Street price: $249
The 882C moves along at up to 9 pages per minute (ppm) in black and 6.5 ppm in color. While the HP DeskJet 882C claims only a 600 dpi black resolution, it boasts "photo-quality" color printing with PhotoREt II color layering technology. It connects to your Windows 3.1/95/98/NT or MS-DOS machine through a parallel port or to your Mac with OS 8.1 or higher through a USB port. The software bundle includes Microsoft Picture It! Express, Professor Franklin's Instant Photo Effects and Mindscape's PrintMaster Gold Publishing Suite. It may be one of the most expensive printers reviewed here, but Hewlett-Packard has a solid inkjet reputation, and their PhotoREt II technology should give good results on graphics and photo projects.
Model: Lexmark Z51
Street price: $249
Phone: (888) LEXMARK
For your Windows 3.1, 95, 98 or NT 4.0 machine, this little Lexmark provides a hefty 1,200 x 1,200 dpi maximum resolution. That spiffy resolution will come in handy if you need to print out high-end graphics or digital photos. For those times when looks aren't everything, its Quick Print mode automatically sets to 600 x 300 dpi. The Lexmark Z51 sports a fairly speedy 10 ppm in black or up to 5 ppm in color. A 100-sheet input tray means you won't have to baby-sit the paper feed all day. It can also handle up to 25 sheets of labels or transparencies. A one-year LexExpress next-business-day exchange warranty comes standard.
Nec Superscript 650C
Model: SuperScript 650C
Street price: $130
Phone: (800) NEC-INFO
Somewhere down at the lower end of the price pile resides the SuperScript 650C. It comes ready with 1,200 x 600 dpi resolution and prints up to 6 ppm in black and 2 ppm in color. It's a little slow, but hey, it's cheap! The 120-page input tray spits out to a 60-page output tray, and the SuperScript 650C works with Windows 3.x/95/98. The software bundle includes PhotoFinish, Calendar Creator, Student Research and Writing Center, Madeline's European Adventure and, best of all, Sesame Street Art Workshop. However, you can choose only one program to keep. As you can probably tell, this printer is aimed mostly at the home/family user, but if you don't mind the not-real-useful software bundle, you probably won't find resolution this high at a lower price.
Street price: $150
Compaq's top model inkjet printer is the second-lowest-priced shown here. Still, it features a high 1,200 x 1,200 dpi max resolution. At 7 ppm in black and 3.5 ppm in color, it's no slouch in the speed zone. An optional photo cartridge ($44.99 street) can be purchased to increase the printer's color range for more accurate photo printing. The bundled software package includes Corel Print House Magic 4.0 Select and ArcSoft Photo Printer V2.OLE (Web enabled). Requirements include Windows 3.1/95/98/NT 4.0.
Epson Stylus Color 740
Model: Stylus Color 740
Street price: $199
Phone: (800) GO-EPSON
This printer gets around. Its USB connection is good to go for any USB-equipped PC or Mac. It can also hook up to a parallel port PC or regular Mac serial connection. Adobe PhotoDeluxe and Broderbund's Print Shop PressWriter are included on CD-ROM. A nice 1,440 x 720 dpi max resolution keeps you covered on both the type and graphics fronts. The print speed of 6 ppm in black is just slightly slower than most other printers shown here. Color printing still matches up with 5 ppm. Paper feeder capacity is 100 sheets of paper and up to 10 envelopes. Also, this Epson is the only printer here that's compatible with older, non-USB Macs.
Street price: $249
Phone: (800) OK-CANON
The BJC-6000's maximum resolution of 1,440 x 720 dpi requires special photo glossy inkjet paper. But for most purposes, you probably won't need to print at 1,440 x 720. At lower dpis, this printer clocks in with up to 8 ppm in black and 5 ppm in color. By purchasing an optional Canon USB kit ($69 street), this Windows 3.1/95/98/NT 4.0 printer becomes a Mac printer. It has a 130-sheet paper capacity and comes with a host of software, including Adobe PhotoDeluxe Business Edition, Design Essentials, Office in Color and Web-Record. The BJC-6000 comes with a one-year warranty.