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COMPUTER FILE / Richard O'Reilly

Making Colors More Palatable

December 10, 1987|Richard O'Reilly | Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

Without color, it's a dull world. Henry Ford learned that and eventually gave up trying to sell everybody a black car. A later generation of television viewers figured out the same thing and exchanged their black-and-white sets for color TVs.

Personal computer companies also have discovered the advantages of color. Apple Computer invented the color screen for personal computers and now offers a color version of its Macintosh model. IBM, which offered color from the beginning on its PC, is into its third generation of color video displays--and it is beautiful.

But then there are computer printers.

You seldom see color printing from a computer printer, and when you do, it usually isn't very impressive.

That's changing, however, and one big reason is Hewlett-Packard Co.'s new PaintJet printer, which has a suggested retail price of $1,395 and produces cleaner, brighter color than any other printer in its price range.

Unlike other color printers, the PaintJet produces good quality black text and color images on plain printer paper. But use it on HP's special PaintJet paper and the results are brilliant--deep blacks and 330 rich shades of color.

This is truly a multipurpose printer. You can print text all day and get nearly letter-quality black type at a fast 167 characters per second. Very few printers can match the PaintJet's performance in either print quality or speed, at any price.

Turn it loose with a page of color images, such as a business presentation chart, and the PaintJet gets it out in about four minutes.

If you want to print overhead transparencies, you can print at a slower speed to enrich the colors so they won't wash out under magnification and projection. The same chart would take eight minutes to print that way. HP sells a special transparency film to use with the PaintJet.

HP believes that it can create a new market for color graphics printers with the PaintJet just as it created a market for laser printers with its LaserJet.

Until now, the usual way to print color charts and graphs on paper for presentations has been with a plotter. But plotters are slow, they use very few type styles and they often produce dull patterns and colors. For presentation graphics, the PaintJet easily eclipses plotters.

HP has made a black ink jet printer, the ThinkJet, for several years, but the PaintJet has a fresh design not much like the ThinkJet's.

The ink droplets are much smaller, for instance, giving the text a finer resolution. There are two ink cartridges that sit side by side in a compartment at the right side of the PaintJet. One has black ink and the other is filled with three colors--yellow, magenta (reddish purple) and cyan (light blue)--that are mixed to create 330 shades of color.

The black ink cartridge has a capacity of about 1,100 text pages, while the color ink cartridge is enough for about 180 color graphics pages (depending on the amount of color and which colors are on each page).

At $27.50 for black cartridges and $34.95 for color, HP figures a text page requires about 2.5 cents worth of ink and a color page about 20 cents. The special PaintJet paper is $17.95 for a single pack of 250 fan-folded sheets or $14.95 in quantities of four packs or more, which amounts to about six cents a sheet. Transparency film costs $64.95 for a package of 50 letter-size sheets.

Printing is quiet, except for a dull clunk heard each time the ink jet carriage reverses direction as it shuttles back and forth across the page.

The sprocket wheels that propel the fan-folded paper through the printer will handle only full-width paper. You can't use narrower materials such as Rolodex card forms or single-width mailing label forms. In fact, HP advises against using any kind of mailing labels in the printer.

To get the most out of the printer, your software must include a special printer driver for the PaintJet. Most of the major software publishers have drivers available for the PaintJet, which usually can be obtained from your software dealer. You may have to pay $25 or $30.

If you are printing only black text, the PaintJet will work if you configure your software to treat it as a ThinkJet printer or a simple dot-matrix printer, but any color or graphic printing will require the special PaintJet driver program.

As good as the PaintJet is, you may want something faster that prints denser colors if you are producing large quantities of business graphics or overhead transparencies.

A logical step up is the CalComp ColorMaster, which lists for $4,495 and uses a thermal process to transfer waxy color ink to glossy paper or transparency film.

At a cost of about 25 cents for a paper print and $1 for a transparency (including both ribbon and paper or film costs), the ColorMaster spits them out in a minute and 45 seconds, regardless of how much color is placed on the page.

It uses a large roll of ribbon consisting of successive yellow, cyan and magenta segments, each about the size of a standard letter-size page.

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