For 25 years, I’ve always had a laser printer at my disposal. I got my first one, the original Hewlett-Packard LaserJet, in 1984. I was handling the technical integration between Rolm and IBM at the time, and I was writing a lot of memos. I used an IBM PC and Microsoft Word for that. Rather than having my secretary retype the memos, I printed them on an Epson MX-80 dot matrix printer and sent them out in the intracompany mail. All the other memos floating around Rolm were typed with IBM Selectrics or Executives. Ken Oshman, while recognizing the efficiency of my process, commented disparagingly on the aesthetics of my dot-matrix documents. When the LaserJet was announced, I saw a way to not only catch up with the output quality of a fancy business typewriter, but to leapfrog it. I was one of the first LaserJet customers, plunking down $3500 of IBM’s money. There was no pleasing Ken, though: before a staff meeting, he waved one of my memos (replete with italic and boldface fonts, meticulously proportionally spaced, and justified) at me, and asked, “What did this cost?”
When the LaserJet II came out in 1987, I bought one for my house. Not many people did that. The ComputerLand salesman, when he found out I was taking the printer home, said, “Are you sure you want to do that?” I also purchased some third-party soft fonts, which was also unusual. My wife was getting an advanced degree in nursing at the time, and she used the LaserJet to print her papers. One of them came back with no markings but a grade (an A) and the note, “Nice font.”
Since then I’ve had a progression of laser printers, most of them from Hewlett-Packard. My current printer is a Xerox 6250, purchased about five years ago. It’s a big hulking thing, with two 500 sheet trays stacked under the main print engine, making the whole thing 2 feet high. It produces good text, fair graphics, and is fast.
It has an ongoing trait that appeared about two years after I bought it: every 10th document begins with a paper jam – the printer sends a message to my computer saying, “Jam at the registration roller”. I walk over to the printer, open the door, pull out the bent piece of paper, close the door again, and the document starts printing. The problem never happens in the middle of a print job.
I have several times investigated getting the printer serviced to fix the paper jams. I have received several quotes, none of them under 800 dollars. I have cleaned the printer, and swapped out all of the user replaceable components in the general area of the registration roller, all to no avail. For the past couple of years, I’ve been looking around for another printer. Because the set of toner cartridges for the 6250 costs about 600 bucks and lasts me about a year, the itch for a new printer is an annual affair, occurring as the toner bars on the top of the printer sag toward zero.
With another two or three months’ worth of toner left, I started to look around. Previously, I hadn’t found a printer that made me want to go through the hassle of an upgrade. This time, I was a little more rigorous. I first listed the criteria that made me select the Xerox printer in the first place.
- Electrophotographic, a.k.a. xerographic, a.k.a. laser.
- Duplex (double sided printing) capability
- At least one paper tray capable of holding a whole ream of paper.
- Ethernet interface
- At least 15 text pages a minute at full-color.
- PostScript capability, preferably with an Adobe interpreter
This wish list seem to drive me toward a class of printers built for medium to high-volume workgroup use that cost well over $1000 and looked a lot like the printer that I have. I decided to rework the list, dropping the xerographic requirement and the PostScript capability, since nowadays I always print from an app. With great reluctance, I also dropped the requirement for a tray that held 500 sheets of paper, since that requirement seems to drive up the cost and size of the printer.
I considered the traditional advantages of laser printing over inkjet:
- Greater resistance to smudging and smearing
- Greater density
in the traditional advantages of inkjet printing over laser printing:
- Higher resolution
- Better graphics
- Greater color gamut
And decided that I could live with either technology if I could get sufficient speed. My new list:
- Inkjet or xerographic
- Able to hold a whole ream of paper in one or two trays
- Ethernet interface
- At least 15 text pages a minute at full-color
- Low power consumption, especially at warm standby
- Text printing costs less than a dime a page for color, and less than three cents a page for black and white
I found a number of xerographic printers that were up to the task, and one intriguing inkjet possibility: the Epson WP-4540. It breaks new ground for inkjet printing technology on both the cost per page and speed fronts, at least at the low end of the market. At 400 bucks, it’s not going to cause a lot of lost sleep even if it turns out to be not the best purchase decision. Epson throws in WiFi, and scanning, copying, and fax capability, which aren’t attractions for me, but may be for some people.
I ordered one.