the colour laser printer: – colour is the new black (2002)

Epson Aculaser C2000 – high performance networking laser from £1300 to £2160 approx + VAT. (Reviewed by Roger Frost for Times Educational Supplement January 2002)

Do your work well. Print it. Enjoy it. Work harder next time… Now here’s a virtuous cycle that schools can thrive on and one that few would hesitate to exploit. Print children’s work in colour and you can bet how well that cycle now works.

While colour is a catalyst for improving things, money often dictates that it’s metered out like a precious material. But it’s money well spent: we’ve seen pupils send their textile designs through a colour laser printer and we’ve seen infant kids given the same licence to print, thriving in their environment. We’ve seen it in school offices too – with attractive notices to parents, governor’s minutes and restrained, but colourful reports that show a sense of pride in what they do.

Even if budgets and priorities differ, some time in the coming years a monochrome printer in school is going to vie for replacement with a colour one. Colour inkjets we know well. They offer the best photographic quality and at a cost not unlike a chemist shop enlargement. What’s more they insist on quality paper and to use otherwise is probably false economy.

Colour laser printers are another species. Like the black laser printer or photocopier, they melt plastic powder onto paper rather than rely on ink seeping into its fibres. So with the image being stuck to the paper, you can use pretty much any paper quality that suits the occasion.

There are potential savings in school office too. If you print a letter with a spot of red for the school crest and a spot of blue for a signature, the cost of using say three colours is little more than printing the lot in black. The impact however is dramatic and of course it dispenses with headed paper.

Take Epson’s Aculaser 2000, much lauded as a star of the current colour laser printers. First thing to note is that it’s very fast compared to an inkjet – five colourful pages a minute seemingly regardless of ink coverage. And this rises to 20 pages a minute in black and somewhere between for printing a selection of the cyan, yellow, magenta and black toners that make the full spectrum of anything you’d print. It’s only when you see the speed of this that you appreciate the sorts of quality documents you can prepare.

Because a laser prints a page at once, it needs lots of memory – and this Epson comes with plenty depending on the version. Think twice about cutting back on memory to save money: if the memory is too low, complex images go into the ether. If you want to print both sides of the sheet, there’s a duplex unit with the extra memory that lets it handle two images at once. I’d go for this if you’ve ever printed a double-sided report and felt that it needs supernatural abilities.

As a device designed for heavy usage, you’ll find solid panels and paper trays throughout. There’s a multipurpose tray for card or envelopes while its cassette takes a full ream of paper so there’s no pussy footing with left overs. A second optional cassette lets you use say, watermarked paper for correspondence and gives you two reams of breathing space before you have to refill the thing.

At a size of a small dishwasher, Epson’s Aculaser C2000 is not anything to trolley from room to room. Helping with this is a connector that lets you hook it to the network and manage it from almost anywhere on the planet. In the nature of such serious machines, it’s also pretty easy to talk to the machine using a web browser, find out if anything needs replacing and manage access to it.

There are many competing devices you’d want to weigh up beside this. Hewlett Packard’s 4550 is a strong contender to the Epson – and you’d want to compare their performance, features, maintenance and running costs. Xerox’s offering of solid ink printers are worth seeing too – they use a wax-like ink that’s hard to write over but photographs come out in a nice glossy estate-agent quality.

Computer magazines do some excellent costing tables where to help make decisions. They show that typically a letter printed in black (5% ink) costs around 1p a sheet, while a four colour print (20% ink) costs about 5p. Running costs dwarf the capital costs to the point that buying a duplex unit, or having more memory or any other convenience ought to be the way to go. Nevertheless, buying into the idea that colour is a motivator and route to a smarter image, is a black and white decision.

For colour laser model comparisons see www.pcmaguk.co.uk  www.pcpro.co.uk

Epson Aculaser C2000
Features 5*

Value 4*

Design 5*

Fitness 4*

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