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Tech 101 | PC Focus

Printing in Color for Less Green

November 01, 2001|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Inkjet printers are getting cheap.

Very cheap.

You can buy a perfectly adequate printer such as the Hewlett-Packard Apollo P-2600 for less than $50. Spend $150 and you can get a very good printer such as Epson's new Stylus C80, which prints as many as 20 black pages a minute.

Printers are so cheap because manufacturers make money on supplies--especially ink.

If you've ever bought ink, you know what I mean. Replacing both the color and black ink cartridges on that $50 Apollo printer will set you back $71, or about 8 cents a page for black-and-white and 12 cents for color.

You can cut costs.

For starters, print in draft or economy mode to save ink, money and time. The printer uses less ink and also runs faster. On my Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart 1218 inkjet printer, I do about 90% of my black printing in economy mode. It looks good. Most of my printouts are for personal use, and I don't need to impress myself.

By practicing economical printing, I can usually get my cost per black page down to about 3.5cents. Color is a lot more expensive, and quality can be hard to predict because there are so many variables.

Although they cost more to buy than inkjets, laser printers are more economical over the long run.

Samsung broke the $200 price barrier with its $199 ML-1210, which prints about 2,500 pages from a $70 cartridge for a cost of 2.8 cents a page. Lexmark followed with a similarly priced printer, and Hewlett-Packard recently joined the low-cost laser printer market with the $250 LaserJet 1000.

Laser printers in this price range don't print color, but a lot of people do most of their printing in black and white.

One strategy is to get a cheap inkjet printer for color jobs and a laser printer for black-and-white pages. The cost of both combined could be as low as $300, giving you the best of both worlds at a reasonable price.

HP's LaserJet 1000 churns out prints for about 2.6 cents apiece using a cartridge rated for 2,500 pages.

The printer connects only to the Universal Serial Bus port, so it won't work with an older PC that doesn't have a USB port. Most PCs built in the last few years have them. I've set up many printers, and I always brace myself for a hassle. This was easy. The entire process from opening the box to printing my first page took less than 10 minutes.

There is no printed manual--just a thin setup guide. The 104-page manual on the installation CD gives you something to print with your new printer.

At 10 pages a minute, the LaserJet 1000 isn't that fast by laser printer standards. In fact, the cheaper Samsung is rated at 12 pages a minute.

But page-per-minute ratings, for lasers, tell you only how long it takes to crank out a page under optimal conditions. You almost never get that speed.

For most people, a more important measurement is how long it takes to get that first page.

All modern laser printers go into an energy-saving mode when they're idle; some take a minute or more to warm up.

The LaserJet 1000 warms up instantly and cranks out the first page in less than 15 seconds. It prints at 600 dots per inch, and printouts look crisp and clean with both text and graphics.

The way the printer handles paper is as important as the specs.

Unlike other low-cost laser printers, the HP has a horizontal paper path, which means you don't have to worry about paper buckling and misfeeding, as can happen in printers with a diagonal feed. There is a generous 250-sheet input tray, but there isn't a separate envelope tray.

*

Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour. He can be reached at larry.magid@latimes.com.

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