New color printer a useful alternative to the big boys

Computer file

December 30, 1991|By Richard O'Reilly | Richard O'Reilly,Los Angeles Times

My holiday letter to family and friends this year featured a gaily decorated Christmas tree printed in pleasing tones of green, yellow, red and gray.

The design was clip art in Ami Pro 2.0's word processing software, but what made it colorful was Hewlett Packard's new DeskJet 500C color ink jet printer.

With a suggested retail price of $1,095 and a street price around

$700, the DeskJet 500C is an alternative to a laser printer, offering the same high-quality 300-dot-per-inch resolution plus color.

It contrasts with HP's $995 PaintJet in offering higher resolution text printing, but its color capabilities are not quite as sophisticated.

The DeskJet 500C and its Macintosh-compatible twin, the DeskWriter C, cannot produce a true black when operating in color mode, while the PaintJet can. And they cannot produce the Pantone system color matching hues of the PaintJet.

But the PaintJet, with its 180-dot-per-inch resolution, cannot yield the laser-sharp printing of the DeskJet.

Choosing between the two is fairly easy. If you work mostly with text, but sometimes want to dress up a report with a few color charts or maps or you occasionally need to create overhead transparencies in color, the DeskJet is the best choice.

But if you work mostly with graphics software instead of word processing and spreadsheets, the PaintJet is better.

Neither model yields the color saturation and photo realism of more expensive thermal wax transfer or dye sublimation printers, however.

The DeskJet 500C operates just like its black-only DeskJet predecessor when you have the black ink jet cartridge in place. It becomes a color printer when you substitute the color ink cartridge, which contains the three primary colors used in color printing -- cyan, magenta and yellow.

With color cartridge in place, the printer creates black by printing all three colors on top of each other. The result isn't really black. It's dark gray and it's a matter of personal choice whether you like it or not.

Because the print-head must make three passes across the line to print composite black with the color cartridge in place, the printer is about three times slower printing plain text that way.

The two-page holiday letter with its 2-1/2 inch high Christmas tree at the top took five minutes to print in color, but a little less than 1-1/2 minutes with the black-only ink cartridge.

A full-page color picture printed with Windows Paintbrush software took more than 10 minutes, partly because of the software and partly because of the printer. Hewlett Packard says the 500C can print a full-color page in four minutes, but actual performance depends on how dense the color is and the efficiency of the software being used.

The result, printed on special coated paper that Hewlett Packard recommends for best appearance, was pleasing. Colors were rich, with distinct shades of oranges and reds, and blue gradations from indigo to purple.

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