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Home > Printers > Color Laser Printers > How to Shop

How To Select a Color Laser Printer

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Now that you've decided a color laser printer is right for you, what do you look for? There are many options ranging from economical to powerful and networked solutions. It's important to know what you're looking for. In many cases, you don't need to overpay for a powerful color laser printer, but at the same time it's important you don't underpay and risk not having features and expansion options you may need.

While the initial investment is higher than an inkjet printer, color lasers are often much more economical in the long run. If you print in any any significant volume (as low as 100 pages a month) you should consider a color laser printer. A typical color laser, based on five percent coverage per color, yields a cost of eight to ten cents per page. You can expect to pay twice or three times that much for inkjet copies. This is usually because manufacturers sell you an inkjet printer at loss, but more than make up for it with the expensive ink cartridges you will need to print your work.

It doesn't take long for those ink costs to add up, even for for a home office or small business. Even with a midline printer, at 1000 pages a month you can expect to see a return on your investment in as little as three to six months.

Ready to decide what color laser printer is right for you? Let's review some of the more popular options.

Stand-alone or Multifunction?
Do you want to purchase a stand-alone printer or would a multifunction printer (MFP) one that also includes copier, scanner and fax capabilities better suit your needs? Increasingly popular, multifunction printers are replacing copiers and printers, particularly in small and medium businesses.

Prices have dropped remarkably for color laser printer. You can get a high-quality stand-alone printer as low as $300 and $700 for a multifunction. While more expensive than a stand-alone printer, multifunction printers are cheaper than buying separate printers, copiers, faxes and scanners. The potential downside is sending all of your document workload to a single device and having to wait to make a copy, for example, while someone else is sending a fax. Multifunction printers are space-saving and economical in terms of purchase price but it may not replace a copier if you have require high volume of copying.

Personal or Workgroup (Networking)
Many printer models come in two options, personal or networked. networked printers are usually easily identified by including an "n" at the end of the product or series name. What's the difference between the two?

Personal color lasers usually come only with a direct connection interface, which is overwhelmingly USB 2.0. These printers connect directly to your computer, meaning no one besides yourself can usually use the printer. As the name implies, networked (or workgroup) color laser printers are designed for small offices or small teams within larger companies. While many models are the same as their non-networked siblings, many are more than beefed-up with features tailored specifically for multiple users. First, they support printing over ethernet and corporate networks either standard or as an add-in option. Second, they offer more-advanced handling capabilities, including larger input and output trays, and some offer duplex (double-sided) printing, sorting, and stapling. Finally, they have faster processors and more memory so that they can manage multiple jobs and print faster.

Some printers are sold as "networkable," meaning they come with a network card slot and can be attached to a network. But keep in mind you'll also have to buy an additional networking card if you choose one of these models. "Network" printers, however, come with built-in chips and don't require cards. The lesson? Make sure when you shop you pick a "network" laser printer rather than one referred to as "networkable."

Your Need for Speed
A small workgroup, or a large one with occasional color printing requirements, can make do with a 3 or 4 PPM unit that might be capable of producing up to 16 PPM of black-and-white text.

Need more speed? You'll need a more robust print engine with a more powerful internal RISC processor.

Virtually all color lasers offer resolution of 600 by 600 dots per inch. In many cases, the quality and sharpness of the image can be enhanced by using vendor-specific software such as Hewlett-Packard's ImageRET 2400. The use of such software often results in resolution quality of 1,200 by 600, 1,200 by 1,200 or even 2,400 by 1,200 dpi.

Paper Handling & Types
Color lasers for workgroups generally come with 250-sheet or 500-sheet trays capable of managing 8.5 by 11 inch paper in varying weights. Remember to look for a printer that can handle heavier paper weights, such as 65# - 80# card stock, if you plan to use your printer to make promotional materials or other items that require heavier paper.

For workgroup use, or when the printer is networked, it's wise to buy an option that expands the paper-handling capability of the device to cut down on time spent restocking the printer.

If you require tabloid pages, which measure 11 inches by 17 inches,make sure to get a model that is a wide-format color laser.

Duplexing is the ability to print on both sides of the page. Many printer manufacturers list manual duplexing as a feature, but that means you turn over the pages yourself.

If you are working from a home or home office and want slick, sharp color prints. You can find many options as low as $300 that will more than give you what you need. While these models usually yield the slowest PPM print times, this will not be a big deal to the casual user. Networked groups should make sure their printer has ample memory and paper handling options to support multiple users. While many of these printers can run over $10,000. Many printers can give you what you need for as little as $2,000 - $3,000. These prices seem higher when compared to other options such as inkjet, but when you factor in speed and total cost of ownership, a color laser printer is considerably cheaper to own in the long run. The most important thing? Make sure to do your homework and only pay for the options you need (or plan to grow into). In many cases, you'll be surprised to find the color laser printer you need is more affordable that you think!
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