Desktop color laser printers are here, but for whom?

PERSONAL COMPUTERS

June 28, 1993|By PETER H. LEWIS

The first desktop color laser printer has been introduced by QMS Inc., and it's only $12,499.

At that price, the printer can produce color even before it's ordered. The accountant will turn gray, the boss will see red and there will be smatterings of envyish green and jaundiced yellow among people now using conventional black-and-white laser printers.

On the other hand, the QMS Color Script Laser 1000 does represent a breakthrough. Until now, such machines have sold for $20,000 to $40,000.

"It's what the market has wanted ever since they accepted the concept of the laser printer," said L. Mills Davis, president of Davis Inc., a consultancy in Washington.

Davis noted that the new QMS printer has not broken the $10,000 barrier and predicted that the price would have to drop below $5,000 before it appealed to individual users.

Still Davis called it "significant for the growth of color printing in the office," adding: "Unlike inkjets, it's a dry technology. It uses toner, so there's no muss and no fuss. It has Postscript" -- a page-description software language that determines how the computer and printer work together -- "and it cables to different machines. It costs a little more to print in color than in black and white, but not that much more. This is clearly a solid step, the first of a wave of developments between now and 1995."

Color adds appeal

There's no question that color can add to the appeal of business documents and presentations. Some analysts believe, however, that the future for desktop color laser printers is not so rosy. That is because corporate buyers can find a lot of reasons to buy a far-less-expensive -- $2,000 or less -- black-and-white laser or color inkjet.

"The general business population is quite innocent about color output and color technology," said Michael Zeis, editor of the Color Business Report, a newsletter published in Uxbridge, Mass. "When end users tell us they want a color laser, they often have an 8-page-per-minute, $2,000 product in mind. Generally, those who haven't looked at color lately, or who have never looked at color, are spoiled by the value that monochrome laser printers offer."

Some newer color inkjet printers produce impressive documents with near-laser quality at a fraction of the cost. Hewlett-Packard Co., for example, recently introduced two color inkjet models for the office. The Desk Jet 1200C (list price $1,699) and the Desk Jet 1200C/PS, ($2,399) with Postscript technology, are close to the color laser in speed, convenience and print quality.

Hewlett-Packard contends that the 1200C models are the inkjet equivalents of its Laser Jet 4 printers. The 1200C can produce seven pages a minute, on plain paper, with a print resolution of 600 dots an inch horizontally and 300 vertically.

It has the same 45 built-in type fonts as the Laser Jet 4, and it has a slot for a Laser Jet font cartridge. The 1200C/PS adds 35 Adobe Postscript fonts and has 4 megabytes of system memory; the 1200C has 2 megabytes of memory.

So it would seem that the 1200C is a respectable t black-and-white office printer, with color as a bonus. Yet, as price would suggest, it is less sophisticated on numerous counts than the QMS machine. The 1200C's print resolution for color images drops to 300 by 300, and the printing speed falls to about a page every minute or two, depending on the complexity of the color image. By contrast, the QMS color laser is a speed demon, at two color pages per minute.

The inkjets also do not have the same ease of use as laser models. They have four ink cartridges that must be changed regularly. But the life span of those cartridges is more than 1,000 pages, double the capacity of earlier inkjets.

The QMS does it better: Its four color cartridges have a projected life of 2,000 pages each. And unlike earlier color lasers that required a technician every few weeks, the QMS is friendly, and users can replace the cartridges easily.

Drawback of inkjets

Another, more annoying drawback of inkjets is the lack of solid networking features, which are a strength of the QMS color laser and other laser printers in general. The QMS can be used by different types of office computers, including Macintosh, Windows and DOS. And it can sort out the different types of print files automatically. The Desk Jet 1200C can also sort different file types, but it requires a manual change of cabling to serve Mac and Windows users.

The QMS printer also has enough paper capacity to serve a group of workers, while the inkjets are typically suited only for individual users.

It probably won't be long before the Desk Jets match thnetworking features of the Laser Jets. Meantime, the QMS is better-suited to be shared by a large number of workers in an office.

Of course, for the cost of a single QMS Color Laser Script 1000, an office can buy five H-P Desk Jet 1200C/PS printers, or seven 1200Cs, and scatter them about.

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