Colour printing technology has come a long way in the past decade. Ten years ago, £5,000 would get you an A4 printer churning out three pages per minute (ppm) with pretty sketchy image quality. While this new Xerox A3 printer is a hefty £2,556, the performance is impressive. Of course, there are A4 colour laser printers available for less than £300 now with pretty decent performance, but in a professional environment, with a printer being shared by a whole office, it's worth getting a solid workhorse like the Phaser 7400.
Printers like this are commonly known as laser printers, and most of them are, but laser isn't the only game in town. The Phaser 7400 is actually an LED printer, although that will matter little to anybody. Previous LED models have had some registration problems, though this is as likely to be from the high-speed printing as the technology itself. The 7400 seems to have cured that problem, which in fairness was only ever slight. I would no longer be able to distinguish an LED printout from a laser.
That's not to say the image quality is perfect. There is always a trade-off between speed and image quality in laser-class printers. On complex graduated tones we did detect some banding, but it was very slight and most users will never notice it. Fine lines disappearing and graininess appearing have also been cured. The output is now every bit as good as an average laser printer.
If ultimate quality is required, those paying for their own printers might balk at the price of an equivalent Xerox A3 laser. The Phaser 7750, which will produce slightly better graphic images but slightly slower, costs over £2,000 more. Unless image quality is very, very important, it's an easy choice to go with the 7400.
I have been assuming that users of the 7400 are demanding designers, when in fact colour printers are common in all offices now and are no longer the preserve of creatives. The A3 ability and the powerful A4 output of 36ppm make it ideal for all kinds of office use. Marketing departments will love its versatility and simplicity, and accounts departments will enjoy the A3 colour for spreadsheets.
The colour output is very impressive as is the 40ppm of mono possible; though that shows only the engine speed. That's to say the speed once the image is processed by the printer will be a steady 36 or 40 A4 pages per minute. However, the processor needs to rasterise the page information before the engine can print. This is what happens between you hitting the print button and the first page coming out. In our tests we found that a page of plain text would be printed in just over 13 seconds, which is pretty respectable. But our colour test page, which is full of very complex Postscript, took over 30 seconds. The same page on the 7750 was ready in half that time. So printing a 16-page booklet will be much faster on the 7750, but printing 100 copies of an A4 page will be faster on the 7400.
For the average busy office the Phaser 7400 is fantastically versatile and easy to use. The print quality is excellent, but falls short of the perfection you can find on the most expensive laser models. That said, the speed, quality and price of the 7400 makes it a compelling choice for all but the most demanding designers.