Color lasers produce for a workgroup's print needs

Color lasers produce for a workgroup's print needs<@VM>These printers do the trick for workgroups of up to 25 users


A color laser printer might be the only printer your office workgroup needs. Seriously.
A statement like that would have drawn laughs a few years ago. But that was before laser printer manufacturers began to take workgroup color printing seriously.

Minolta-QMS' Magicolor 6100 series is rated at 12 ppm color and 24 ppm monochrome, with up to 1,200-by-1,200-dpi resolution, expandable RAM and a 200-MHz processor.
First-generation color lasers for workgroups were big, slow, expensive, and cumbersome to set up and maintain. They pumped out great monochrome text, but their color quality was never better than fair. Given the hefty price tags, most buyers hesitated to trade their fast, inexpensive black-and-white printers for spots of color.

All this has changed. Network-ready color lasers for workgroups have trimmed down in both size and price. Many of them are priced between $2,000 and $8,000, depending on the features you select.

All the printers listed in the accompanying chart include 10/100Base-TX Ethernet cards, allowing the option of 10-Mbps Ethernet connections for small workgroups and 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet connections for larger workgroups with more demanding service requirements.

Up to speed

Speed ratings of between 12 and 24 pages per minute for black-and-white and from 3 ppm to 12 ppm for color are standard in this price range. All of them offer true resolutions of at least 600 by 600 dots per inch; some come with 1,200-by-1,200-dpi resolutions if additional RAM is added to the base unit. Most units include between 32M and 64M of RAM, which can be expanded up to 512M.

Each printer listed also comes with a CPU, typically a RISC processor running at 133 MHz to 200 MHz, a speed which is important for workgroups.

Although less expensive printers can utilize a host PC's processor for running print tasks, workgroup-level service demands that printers have their own processors to avoid unnecessary system slowdowns. Optional or bundled hard drives also help boost printing speed and throughput.

As for color quality, even high-end color laser printers do not provide the same crisp, photo-quality images available from low-cost color ink-jets. But the printers listed in the chart would fill the bill for workgroup print jobs that include spot color, color graphics and even small photographs.

Which features matter the most? In workgroup environments, the focus is on connectivity and speed.

Connectivity. A workgroup printer should be network-ready, meaning it should come with a LAN interface, typically a 10/100 Ethernet card. Theoretically, a network interface card can be added to a base printer for network-readiness, but it's a good idea to select the vendor's option because it often comes bundled with network management software.

The Lowdown

  • What is it? A workgroup color laser printer comes with a network card, its own CPU, plenty of expandable RAM, an optional hard drive, management software and enough speed to make it available as a shared resource for up to 25 users.

  • How does it work? A typical color laser comes with one drum and one laser beam, which can make as many as four passes per page for color images. The laser beam alters the electrical charge on the drum's surface, allowing toner to cling to it.

    When a sheet of paper passes over the drum it is given a reverse charge so that the toner is attracted to it instead of the drum. When the paper is heated, the toner fuses to it, and the final printed product is passed on to the output tray.

    LED printers are close cousins of laser printers that use stationary light-emitting diodes instead of the lens and mirrors used by lasers. This permits a single pass around the drum and provides very fast image transfer speeds.

  • When do I need one? A workgroup color laser printer is ideal for printer sharing among people using spot color and color graphics as part of their document production.

  • When don't I need one? If your print jobs call for lots of photo-quality images, forget a color laser. Use a networkable color ink-jet instead.

  • Must-know info? Color laser printers offer good speed, high resolution, flexibility, fair-to-good color images, loads of options and lots of bang for the buck. The total cost of ownership for color lasers is less than that for multifunction printer/scanner/copiers. But if you're looking for fast color renderings and photo-quality images, look elsewhere.

  • Most color lasers come with serial and parallel ports for standalone workstation connections. Many also provide Universal Serial Bus ports and a few provide optional SCSI ports for connecting to external hard drives or Iomega Zip drives.

    Speed. Most of the printers listed clock in at a respectable 16 ppm for black-and-white. A few, such as Hewlett-Packard's Color LaserJet 8550 series, Minolta-QMS Inc.'s Magicolor series and Xerox Corp.'s Phaser 790, print at 24 ppm or faster. With powerful RISC processors and plenty of RAM, the monochrome text speed of these units doesn't suffer even at 1,200-by-1,200 dpi.

    The speed of color printing is another story. Because laser printers usually have one drum and one laser beam, they require up to four passes to reproduce the primary printing colors of cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Printing a color image can take four times or more longer than printing a typical text page.

    As a result, color printing speeds of 4 ppm to 6 ppm are typical for this class of color lasers. The 12-ppm color outputs of Lexmark International Inc.'s Optra Color 1200N, Oki Data's C7200, Minolta-QMS' Magicolor 6100 series and Xerox's Phaser 1235 are the exception.
    Keep in mind that manufacturers' speed ratings can be deceptive.

    Printer speed tests generally are run in draft mode, running the same page over and over. This method doesn't account for real-world performance measures, which include printer warm-ups, image transfers from computer to printer, the complexities of the page and the percentages of type and color coverage.

    Resolution. True resolution, measured in dpi horizontally and vertically, is the routine measure of printer output quality.

    The 600-by-600-dpi resolution of most color lasers is more than adequate for high-quality text and color graphics. You can increase resolution to 1,200 by 1,200 dpi or higher by adding RAM to a printer with a fast processor.

    Image resolution software, such as HP's ImageREt 2400 and other proprietary technology bundled with a printer, can further enhance both color and black-and-white images, giving the impression of higher resolutions. Some manufacturers fudge the question of resolution by listing their 600-by-600-dpi printers as having '1,200- or 2,400-dpi class resolution.'

    Memory. It's easy enough for a manufacturer to keep the base price of a color laser low by providing just enough memory to get by for 600-by-600-dpi printing. But higher resolutions require more memory, so look for a model with enough expandable RAM to handle your most demanding print jobs.

    Print emulations. Networkable office printers typically make use of print emulations, also known as page description languages such as PostScript or HP's PCL. With these technologies, the host or networked computer sends a description of all the objects on a page'type font, style, images'so that the printer can draw them from scratch. This offloads the processing burden from the host PC and can greatly speed the printing process if the printer is equipped with its own RISC processor.

    Media handling. Paper handling capacity varies from printer to printer. Most color lasers have standard 250- to 500-sheet input trays; many offer an additional tray to boost capacity. A paper collator is an output device that can be added as an option to provide more flexibility. A printer with an automatic duplexing option can print on both sides of the paper.

    If you can get by with letter- or legal-size paper, almost any color laser printer will do. If you use tabloid-size paper'11 inches by 17 inches'pay a little more for a wide-format printer, such as HP's ColorLaserJet 8550 series, Lexmark's Optra 1200N, Minolta-QMS' Magicolor series, Tally Printer Corp.'s SpectraStar T8204/8204+ and Xerox's Phaser 1235 and Phaser 790.
    A printer's ability to handle a variety of paper stocks can make a difference for workgroups producing reports that need heavy paper for the covers.

    Duty cycle. Check manufacturer specifications for the volume of work, measured in sheet output per month, that a printer can handle without significant operator intervention. A workgroup color laser printer should offer a duty cycle of 25,000 to 100,000 pages per month, depending on its speed, print engine, processor, memory and paper-handling capability.

    Toner cartridges. Small toner cartridges that need to be replaced more frequently than high-capacity cartridges can be more expensive in the long run and add significantly to the total cost. If this is a concern, check your manufacturer's specs for high- capacity cartridges.

    J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at

    CompanyProductVital StatisticsAdditional InformationPrice

    Brother International Corp.

    Bridgewater, N.J.



    600 by 600 dpi, 4 ppm color, 16 ppm mono, 32M to 288M RAM, 167-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    350-sheet input, 2,400-dpi class image resolution, no hard drive, optional auto duplex


    Canon U.S.A. Inc.

    Lake Success, N.Y.


    C LBP 460PS

    600 by 600 dpi, 4 ppm color, 16 ppm mono, 32M to 192M RAM, 133-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card
    Up to 850-sheet input, auto image refinement, optional auto duplex

    Hewlett-Packard Co.

    Palo Alto, Calif.


    Color LaserJet 8550N/b>

    600 by 600 dpi, 6 ppm color, 24 ppm mono, 64M to 512M RAM, 200-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    Wide format, up to 1,100-sheet input, multiple OS drivers, HP ImageREt 2400 image resolution


    Color LaserJet 8550DN


    Same with up to 3,100-sheet input, auto duplex unit, 3.2G hard drive


    Color LaserJet 8550GN

    Same with 300-MHz processor

    Same with RIP-once technology for fast multiple prints, JetDirect 600N 10/100Base-TX internal print server, sRBG and HP ColorSmart II color matching


    Color LaserJet 8550MFP


    Same with panel display, auto paper sending sensor, color sensor, color calibration, support for up to 58-pound bond paper weights


    Konica Business

    Technologies Inc.

    Windsor, Conn.



    600 by 600 dpi, 3 ppm color, 15 ppm mono, 32M to 96M RAM, 133-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    Up to 800-sheet input, EFI RIP-While-Print technology, 1.4G hard drive in the N+ mode

    $3,195 to $4,495

    Lexmark International Inc.

    Lexington, Ky.


    Optra Color 1200N

    600 by 600 dpi, 12 ppm color, 12 ppm mono, 64M to 128M RAM, 200-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    Wide format, up to 850-sheet input, manual duplex only, up to 1,200 dpi image resolution


    Optra Color C710N/DN

    1,200 by 1,200 dpi, 3 ppm color, 16 ppm mono, 32M RAM,
    200-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    Up to 850-sheet input, MarkNet 2100e Print Server, optional memory upgrades, optional 2.1G hard drive, auto duplexing unit with the DN model

    $2,180 to $3,500

    Minolta-QMS Inc.

    Birmingham, Ala.


    Magicolor 6100 N

    600 by 600 dpi, 12 ppm color, 24 ppm mono, 64M to 384M RAM, 200-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    Wide format, 1,250-sheet input, Qcolor color correction, Pantone color matching, optional duplexing, optional 2.2G hard drive


    Magicolor 6100 GN

    1,200 by 1,200 dpi, 12 ppm color, 24 ppm mono, 192M to 384M RAM, 200-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card



    Magicolor 6100 EN


    Same with auto duplexing


    Magicolor 6100 DP

    Same with 384M RAM

    Same with increased paper-handling capacity


    NEC America Inc.



    SuperScript 4650N/NX

    1,200 by 1,200 dpi with PostScript, 3 ppm color, 16 ppm mono, 96M to 256M RAM, 200-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX
    Ethernet card

    500-sheet input, 2.1G hard drive, automatic interface monitor, SCSI connection for Zip drive

    $2,680 to

    Oki Data

    Mt. Laurel, N.J.



    600 by 600 dpi, 12 ppm color, 20 ppm mono, 64M to 1,024M RAM, 400-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    Up to 1,100-sheet input, high-capacity toner cartridges, up to 1,200 dpi image resolution


    Panasonic Communications and Systems Co.

    Secaucus, N.J.



    1,200 by 1,200 dpi, 3.5 ppm color, 14 ppm mono, 80M to 192M RAM, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    350-sheet input, hard drive, second cassette


    Tally Printer Corp.

    Kent, Wash.


    SpectraStar T8204/8204+

    600 by 600 dpi, 4 ppm color, 16 ppm mono, 64M to 384M
    RAM, 150-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    Wide format, 750-sheet input, Tally Color Correction,
    optional token ring, SCSI interfaces, 2.1G hard drive
    with 8204+ unit

    $4,499 to

    Xerox Corp.

    Stamford, Conn.


    Tektronix Phaser 750 Network

    1,200 by 1,200 dpi, 5 ppm color, 16 ppm mono, 64 to 256M RAM, 200-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    850-sheet input, Pantone color matching, optional 6G hard drive


    Tektronix Phaser 750 Duplex

    Same with 128M to 256M RAM

    Same with auto duplex unit


    Tektronix Phaser 1235
    Color Printer

    1,200 by 1,200 dpi, 12 ppm color, 20 ppm mono, 64M RAM, 366-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    Optional auto duplex, single-pass technology,
    handles tabloid-size paper


    Tektronix Phaser 790

    600 by 600 dpi, 6 ppm color, 26 ppm mono, 64M RAM,
    266-MHz processor, 10/100Base-TX Ethernet card

    Wide format; ICC, ICM and Pantone color calibration; online printer management

    $6,349 up

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