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Consumers Like Color Laser Printers, As Long As They Can Afford Them

12 Color Laser Printers Explored
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Sales of inkjets at the low end of the market outnumber those of lasers by a ratio of three or four to one, primarily because the entry price for a laser printer ranges from $200-300 while that of an inkjet printer is under $100. That said, those buyers who do need heavier duty cycles, or for whom print quality is paramount, will find a lot to like about laser printers, both color and monochrome. A survey of consumer color laser printers indicates that they number over 140, with only about 1 in 7 sporting MFC capabilities. Our selection of an even dozen of the best-selling models from major vendors thus represents a little under 10% coverage for the whole market space. We do end up covering a disproportionate number of MFCs, thanks to the sometimes strange statistical effects of working with small numbers.

We also think that color laser printers represent a compelling demonstration of how inexpensive serious technologies can sometimes be. The printers we include in this article range in price from under $300 to no more than $1,200, yet offer outstanding monthly duty cycles (ranging from 24,000 to as high as 100,000), outstanding page rates (from 4 to 25 for color output, and 8 to 35 for monochrome output), and large paper tray capacities (none less than 150 pages, and some as high as 650). All of this information is summarized in the table that follows, along with other speeds, feeds and interesting data.

Item Low High Typical Explanation
PPM.c <10 >20 18-24 Pages per minute rates printer output speed, which is usually lower for color (c) output
PPM.b <10 >30 20-25 Pages per minute rates printer output speed, which is usually higher for black&white (b) output
Resolution.b 600 1200 600 Monochrome resolution; normally the same for horizontal and vertical; translates into 600x600, 1200x1200, etc.
Resolution.c 2400x600 9600x1440 4800x600 Color resolution is typically greater in the horizontal dimension than the vertical one
Scanres.o 600x600 4800x1200 2400x1200 Scanning resolution often resembles color print resolution, but not always (applies only to MFCs)
Scanres.e 19200x19200 19200x19200 19200x19200 Enhanced resolution tends to be the same for all MFC printers (applies only to MFCs)
Colors CMYK/RGBK CMYK/RGBK CMYK/RGBK Three primary colors (RGB) or their complements (CMY) are needed to print color, most color lasers add black (K) to reduce color toner consumption
Paper handling LL LLA4pe+ LLpe* All printers handle legal and letter size paper, but high end units add numerous photo and envelope sizes (pe+), mid-range units offer basic photo (3x5, 4x6) and envelope support (pe*)
Fax PPM 10 20 10 Price and fax output rate appear strongly related (applies only to MFCs)
Copy PPM   30 21-30 Copy output rates vary across a wide range (applies only to MFCs)
Tray Capacity 150 650 400 Many laser printers can accommodate a second paper tray to double overall capacity
Typical interfaces USB USB, parallel, RJ45 USB, RJ45 Most modern color lasers can connect to a computer (USB) or a network (10/100 Ethernet via RJ45)
Table 1: Common value ranges for color laser printer features and functions

The low end of the color laser printer appears to start at around $300, though you can find deals in the $250 range from time to time. Be prepared to spend at least $60 and as much as $100 for toner cartridges for these printers, though you'll replace black cartridges (about $50-75) more frequently than color ones (which normally cost $60-100). In return, you'll get major output capabilities, great looking color and monochrome printed pages, and good costs per page for consumables.

Keep Things Tidy And Clean

One optional purchase that at least some printer users find helpful is a printer stand. These office furniture items offer a handy place to park your printer (generally on top) and include drawers and/or shelves where you can keep paper, envelopes, cartridges and so forth. You can spend as little as $20 to $30 on a plastic tabletop model, or over $150 for free-standing cabinets or racks. Either way, they provide a great way to keep your printer and its supplies organized and available. The casters or wheels on freestanding models also make the whole thing easy to move around when rear access or outright relocation is necessary.

By design, laser printers use a heating element to melt toner granules into liquid form onto the paper to lay down text, color and images. Toner granules do tend to go astray from time to time, so the paper path in laser printers can get a little dirty. You can purchase special cleaning kits for these printers that include supplies and information to help you keep your printer clean and working properly. We strongly urge you to purchase and use these, because they will keep your print output looking good and reduce wear and tear on your printer.

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