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This is the fourth and final installment in a series of buyer's guides that focus on consumer-oriented PC printers. We cover some of the most popular black-and-white, or monochrome, laser printers, including two multi-function copier (MFC) models. We also look at a single printer that handles tabloid-size pages for those with plus-size output needs, in keeping with our emphasis on units suitable for home or SOHO use. Our previous installments covered 11 Color Inkjet Printers, 16 Multi-Function Inkjet Printers, and 12 Color Laser Printers Explored. Be sure to check them out as well.
The basic mechanics of a monochrome laser printer are much simpler compared to color, because only a single laser is needed. With a monochrome laser printer, pages are printed with only a single pass of a laser across a photosensitive receptor. To begin with, a rendering engine takes a digital document and makes one pass across its surface to create a rasterized version of its contents, page by page. Consider this the input phase of the printing process. Second, a single laser creates a charge on a rotating photoreceptive drum, which in turn transfers that charge to an output page. This causes a fine granular powder made of black pigment and plastic to stick to its surface. The charged page passes through a fuser that melts the plastic in the toner, causing it to adhere to the page, and to create the final printed image Compare Prices on Monochrome Laser Printers.
Because lasers can be very tightly focused, the resulting beam that tracks on the photoreceptive drum is incredibly fine. The beam supports high output resolution for laying down the charge to attract the toner that will ultimately be fused to the printed page. This helps to explain why laser printers, both color and monochrome, support fairly high resolutions nowadays. Typical monochrome (black print on paper, usually) ranges from 600x600 to 1200x1200, either of which is plenty good enough to create crisp, clear type on a printed page down to font sizes between 2 and 3 points.
Color and black-and-white laser printers work roughly the same way, except that color pages use four types of toner - black, cyan, magenta and yellow (following the CMYB color model - and black-and-white or monochrome lasers use black toner only. Most so-called monochrome laser printers do indeed have lasers that they use to lay down a charge on the drum to pick up toner; some so-called laser printers use LEDs for the same purpose as the laser (to lay down a charge). However, the printers that use LEDs rely on a fixed array across the width of the page instead of a moving laser beam. Print quality is about the same either way, though close examination through a magnifying class shows that LED printers have more of a tendency to rasterize sharp edges, angles and curves at the edge of type or graphics than do lasers. For most requirements, laser- and LED-based printers of this kind are interchangeable.
Laser printers have lots of advantages over inkjets. For one thing, they are faster, because a laser can move much more quickly than a print head with dozens to hundreds of inkjets that must squirt micro-droplets at individual stops along the print path. Lasers are also more precise because of the tight focus that lets them work at high resolutions. Laser printers are also more economical than inkjets because toner cartridges can usually print many thousands of pages before a refill is needed, whereas ink cartridges are depleted more quickly and must be replaced more often. The downsides are that laser printers cost more than inkjets up front, and when toner cartridges need to be refilled or replaced, they usually cost somewhere between $60 and $100 each. But when it comes to cranking out lots of pages, laser printers generally produce them at a lower per-page cost and do so more quickly than inkjet alternatives.
The black-and-white laser models we cover here that include MFC functionality extend the rasterize-and-print model that all laser printers use to include support for scanning original documents. In some cases, they can be used for communicating rasterized images via fax modem. This scan-and-print functionality turns a printer into a copier, and the ability to send rasterized images across a phone line turns a printer into a fax machine. Thus, an MFC laser is simply an ordinary laser printer that also includes scanning and fax capabilities.
You would think this would add substantially to the cost of an MFC laser as compared to a plain-vanilla laser printer. But the cost differential is not great, though it will limit your choices in a monochrome laser to a smaller subset than if your needs are for printing only. Nevertheless, MFC functionality is very attractive to lots of buyers and probably explains why the MFC models in this guide (and on the market in general) are among the most popular of the offerings in this category. You'll also find a tabloid-size (11" x 17" pages) printer in this group, the GCC Elite XL40, for those who might wish to print their own broadsheets, newsletters and so forth.