Printers on Review
by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. First
in Our Computer Player, December 18, 1992.
There's good news for printer buyers all across the
price range. The
recent release of a number of excellent quality 600 dpi lasers,
Hewlett Packard's LaserJet IV, all in the $1500-2000 range will push
lower on the former standard-- the 8 ppm (page per minute) 300 dpi
As they drop to around $1000, this will push the prices of the 4 to 6
personal lasers lower, which in turn will push prices of inkjet prices,
which in turn will push down prices of 24-pin dot matrix printers.
Already, we're seeing 24-pin dot matrix printers on
sale for under $200,
and that means that the former low-price printers, the 9-pin dot matrix
printers will simply disappear as a category
So let's look at what's current and what's to be
expected in the various
categories of printers.
HORNETS WITH MICROPHONES-- Dot Matrix printers
The traditional start-up system favorite is the
Quality is up, prices are down (new 9-pin models are in the $100-200
Despite this, fewer are being sold each year. Dot matrix printers have
gotten a bit of a bad reputation. This is based on the often low print
quality, the slow speed, and finally, the buzz-saw sound.
Despite these problems, for many people, dot matrix
printers may still
be the best solution. They are still the only solution for users on a
budget, with many models around the $200 mark. As 24-pin models replace
the cruder 9-pin models, print and graphics quality has improved. And
manufacturers, notably Panasonic (also being marketed in BC as the
Raven) have been working hard to minimize dot matrix noise levels. Even
the often cranky paper handling has been improved.
And dot-matrix printers have other advantages. They
can be the cheapest
to run per page. As impact printers, they are the only widely-used
(aside from the even more obsolete daisy wheel printers) that can print
multiple-part forms. If you need to print wide spreadsheets or
information, a wide-carriage dot-matrix printer may be your best bet.
for school and home use, more and more models are supporting colour
You can even print colour, iron-on decals to make custom t-shirts!
Finally, dot-matrix printers got their start as
line printers doing big printouts powered by mainframes. And there are
still printers aimed at that market, such as Facit's new $3,799 (US)
E950. Even if that's a bit out of your price range, you may find a new,
low priced model like Fujitsu's DL5800, Panasonic's KX-P2124, or the
ActionPrinter 3250 worth more than a brief look.
SPLISH-SPLASH: Inkjet printers
These printers work by spraying droplets of ink on
paper. While this
could produce near-laser quality, they were for a long time plagued by
water soluble inks that easily smeared, and by print nozzles that
clogged. In recent years, these problems were solved, and two
Canon, with their BubbleJet series, and HP with their Deskjets, have
filling the gaps between dot-matrix and personal laser printers.
Ink jets now produce good quality output with minimal
noise, and start
at a $400-500 price range that is an often-affordable alternative to
dot matrix printers. Still, as low-end lasers continue to drop in
inkjets may be squeezed off the desktop. Near-laser quality may not be
good enough to compete with the real thing, especially when inkjets run
at half the speed of personal lasers, and can be even more expensive on
a per printed page basis. (Look at cartridge refill kits to help keep
One surprise to many users: an inkjet with 256k memory
can print full-page
graphics at 300 dpi, something a laser will need as much as 2 megs
to do. Despite this advantage, this year has seen a new push towards
inkjets. On the lower priced end, look at the HP Deskjet 500C ($779 US
list) and 550C ($1099 US list). The difference is that the higher
model has two ink cartridges; a colour cartridge that's identical to
500C's, and a black cartridge, like the monochrome 500's. This makes it
possible to print clear blacks, along with rich colours-- on the
model you have to choose between a black cartridge or a coloured one.
you need black and colour on the same page, the 500C simulates black by
mixing inks... the result is a dark olive shade that seems to take
Despite this, the colour output on both Deskjet models
is quite good
for the price... as long as you're patient. An 8 1/2 by 11" page
from a high-colour graphic can easily take hours to print. And like all
inkjets, output quality will vary greatly with the paper used. Some
are simply too absorbent-- inks will wick, spreading out giving a fuzzy
appearance to text and borders.
(By the way, HP is also marketing all the Deskjets
with MacIntosh software
and ports, as the DeskWriter series).
At the high priced end, you can look at colour
printing from the Canon
Bubble Jet BJC-800 (US list $2795) or the HP PaintJet XL300 (US list
which can be upgraded with Postscript and 6 megs of RAM. Though pricy,
these models are a half the price of wax transfer colour printers.
The other place where inkjets are popular is as
portable printers. HP
has recently debuted a portable Deskjet 500, joining offerings from
Kodak, and Brother. All these are monochrome only. Finally, check out
brand new offerings from IBM Lexmark. Their printers are high quality
surprisingly competitive prices, and should give HP a real race.
LASER LIGHT, LASER BRIGHT...
Every couple of years, it seems, Hewlett-Packard
decides to shake up
the printer market, and comes up with a new model packed with new
and priced lower than the less-capable model it replaces. By doing
they leave their competitors behind, and cement their hold as not only
the trend-setter, but also the best seller of the laser printer market.
They virtually created the market for laser printers
as add-ons to personal
computers with their original LaserJet in the mid '80's, then, brought
out the LaserJet Plus and LaserJet II models. Even though pricing on
models slowly dropped, a laser printer was still seen as too high
for personal use. Then HP created the category of personal laser, with
its lower priced (although slower) model the HP-IIP.
When it seemed like dozens of companies were moving in
on the office
printer territory of the HP-II series, they brought out the HP-III,
more fonts, but most signicantly, sharper output. And again, at a lower
price than the older HP-II.
And this fall, they've done it again. Just as a number
of their competitors
began to bring to market models with the enhanced 300 dpi (dots per
output of the HP-III, Hewlett-Packard announced the next generation.
the HP-IV (couldn't you have guessed that?), this model produces output
at 600 dpi, which can be improved even further through resolution
And of course, this model lists for less than its predecessor. It can
be bought as a postscript model, the HP-IVM (for Macintosh, although it
will work with PC's as well).
Even though they weren't the first printer to break
the old 600 dpi
standard, this new model from HP is the one to beat. It boasts a
footprint (no more projecting paper tray), and a standard 2 meg of
(upgradable to 32 meg, using SIMMs... no more memory boards needed). 35
Intellifont scalable fonts are built in, but there's an extra treat for
Windows users: 10 built-in TrueType fonts to speed up Windows printing.
If you opt for the postscript upgrade, you get the standard 35
fonts and the postscript interpreter on two SIMMs, for fast
Automatic switching between postscript (if installed) and PCL modes,
serial, and AppleTalk support. Even a fast, two-way enhanced parallel
just waiting for your computer's parallel port to catch up with it.
The HP-IV is the big news at the end of a year that
has seen over 100
new printer models. As always, HP has started a trend. Suddenly, most
its competitors' model seem old hat; by next year, we should expect
600 dpi output will be standard on most laser printers.
HP doesn't have the market sewed up, however.
Competitors continue to
offer interesting and innovative products. Some to look at include:
-- LaserMaster WinPrinter 800 ($1595 US list). This 4
ppm printer uses
your computer's memory and CPU to produce sharp, 800 dpi HP emulation
Postscript. The catch is you must be working from Windows (hence the
If you already have an HP LaserJet, you can add the same capabilities
LaserMaster's WinJet 800 add-on ($795 US list).
-- IBM Lexmark LaserPrinter 6P and 10P are 6ppm and 10
ppm models (at
$2295 and $3795 US list) that come with postscript and a choice of 300
and 600 dpi output along with their own breed of resolution
A Windows accelerator driver is also included from this suddenly
-- NEC SilentWriter 95 is 'only' a 300 dpi model, but
it's very affordable
($1749 US list) for a printer that boasts both postscript and HP
It automatically senses what language you're printing in, and switches
modes as necessary. For an additional $599, it can turn into a
quality fax machine, and can operate as a printer and a fax at the same
-- Apple LaserWriter NTR ($2199 US list) is the first
printer from Apple
to include a PC-standard parallel port. Is this Apple's way of saying
It's a 4 ppm postscript printer, but isn't as HP compatible as the NEC
or other printers. On the higher end of the scale, take a look at the
IIg ($3499 US list), with 8 meg of ram, and PhotoGrey, for 65 levels of
-- Kyocera Ecosys a-Si ($2395 US list) is trying to be
the 'green' printer
in the pack. It sports a non-throwaway drum and photoconductor, to
laser-trash. It also releases less ozone than its competitors, and the
lowest price per page of any laser. It's a 10 ppm HP-III compatible,
I suspect will lose out despite good intentions, in the stampede to 600
Finally, if you need a big, fast printer to run on a
network, take a
look at Compaq's PageMarq 15 or 20. Compaq had never sold a printer
but got it right on their first try with these expensive ($3999-5499 US
list) 15-20 ppm postscript and HP compatible printers.
If that's a little out of your range, there's one more
HP model to take
a look at: the IIP Plus. With a $1299 US list, it's at the high end of
the low end, but this price will certainly come down as the HP IV
prices across the board. It's fast and capable, and you can even add
On the other hand, it may be worth waiting to see if HP comes out with
a IVP model anytime soon.
TO POSTSCRIPT OR NOT TO POSTSCRIPT...
If you're looking at laser printers, one big decision
is whether to
get postscript or not. A few years ago, it was easy... postscript added
at least $1000 to the price of a printer, and was difficult to justify
unless you either used a Mac, or were a graphics professional. In
case, postscript was compulsory.
Then Apple and Microsoft put aside other differences
to wage war on
Adobe, owner of the postscipt standard. In order to survive, Adobe
prices, and opened up one-time secret standards of font hinting. Font
dropped as a result, as did the price of real postscript printers. Now,
postscript is surprisingly affordable.
But is it necessary? Maybe not. If you're working
primarily with text,
on a PC, TrueType, standard with Windows 3.1 provides a workable
font standard. Yes, there are only a few hundred TrueType fonts
available, compared to the thousands of postscript fonts, but these may
be all most users need. While TrueType on the Mac got an early
as being slow, Microsoft has made it print faster than postscript in
And postscript fonts can be added to any Windows program by using Adobe
Type Manager, which is inexpensive or free if you purchase many
So we're back where we started. If you use a Mac, if you work
with graphics (ATM does not provide postscript's graphics
or if you produce output that will ultimately be printed on a
resolution Linotron (up to 2400 dpi), then postscript may be the only
to go. But if that's not the cases, it's probably not needed.
More quality for less is as true for printers this
year as with computers
in general. No matter where in the price range you look, you'll be able
to get output that would have cost double only a couple of years ago,
it was available at all. Should you buy now, or should you wait a while
to see if things get even better? Maybe that depends how much longer
can put up with the buzz of that old 9-pin printer that's sitting on
floor. If you want to see the full range of printers for yourself,
over to THE PRINT CONNECTION, at #200-242 East 10th Avenue, in
(604-879-7776). As the areas only retailer specializing in computer
they carry the widest selection, and can certainly answer your
and find the model to best suit your needs. (Tell Cal that 'Our
Player' sent you!) Happy printing.