Sales of color laser printers are expected to increase by 20% annually in the years ahead, while monochrome laser printer sales remain level. What's happening with color laser technology parallels the history of inkjet printers, but on a smaller scale. In a few years, there's a good chance that color laser printers will outstrip monochrome printers in sales. For two years now, manufacturers have been offering some particularly economical models, and HP has even broken new ground by launching a color laser - the Color LaserJet 1600 - selling for less than $300 in mass-retail chain stores.
Beyond the usual distinctions between color and monochrome laser printers, there's another important difference within the category of color models: one-pass versus multi-pass. With a one-pass printer, the page makes a single pass over all four of the toner cartridges that deliver the four primary colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), which makes for faster printing. With multi-pass printers, the same sheet travels a longer path, going through four successive printing phases (one for each color). Multi-pass theoretically reduces the cost of a printer, because there's only a single drum for all the toner cartridges, whereas one-pass printers need a drum for each toner color. But of course, printing times in color are at least four times as long with multi-pass.
This roundup focuses on one-pass printers. While they currently account for only 46% of the market, they're clearly the way of the future, and several entry-level models from HP, Oki, and Canon are one-pass printers. Other manufacturers will have to go the same route very soon if they want to stay competitive.