If you work in a small office, or even at home, colour printing is relatively affordable. A good ink-jet printer is around £200, and, although it is slow and hard to share, the output is amazing.
Unfortunately, scaling up ink-jet technology to work in a busy-office environment doesn’t work, and that’s where laser printers, such as the Color Laser Jet 8550, come in. It can handle printing for medium to large offices in colour and mono.
Most printers of this type tend to be aimed at either graphics professionals, or general-office duties. General printing is less colour-critical, while graphics professionals demand high-quality colour-matching. Faster printers, such as the 12ppm (pages per minute) Lexmark OptraColor 1200, sacrifice image quality for speed, while models such as the Epson EPL 8000 have a high-quality RIP, but slower output.
The HP 8550 bridges that gap and combines a real Adobe PostScript 3 RIP (internal) with fast 6ppm output for colour-A4 documents.
Because the 8550 uses a carousel configuration for the different coloured toners, if only one colour is used the carousel needn’t turn. This means mono printing is much faster – it can print A4 at 24ppm. The Lexmark model uses a straight-through method for laying down toner, this means there is no speed advantage when printing mono pages.
If you’ve used a carousel colour-printer before, you may dread the task of changing toner cartridges. The 8550 keeps this simple by storing the cartridges behind a transparent door until they are in the correct position to slide out. To reach each colour, just close the door and press a button that turns the carousel to the next colour. Previous carousel-toner holders often required manually winding the drum forward and lining up the cartridge. This is tricky, so the automatic-carousel turning of the 8550 is definite boon.
Some printers of this size double up as photocopiers, but the 8550 has only an optional scanner attachment.
The 8550 has practically all the features an office colour-printer could need. It can print A3 and even oversize A3, and the 8550 DN model I tested includes a duplex unit for printing both sides of the page. The ethernet is a 10/100BaseT connection, so there’s no delay getting the files to the printer. Also, there’s a 3.2GB hard disk to store RIPed files.
The paper handling is designed for high-volume printing, with minimum user-intervention. There are four paper trays to hold over 3,000 sheets of paper of various sizes. There are plenty of options available for handling the output, from an 8-bin mailbox to a 3,000-sheet stapler/stacker.
All this makes for a vary capable printer, but it is the colour management that makes it such a good all-rounder. It has automatic Pantone calibration, ideal for printing company logos in the regulation shades. It also has automatic-colour calibration to ensure consistent colour. This kind of calibration means that all users will get consistent colour – not just technically-minded designers.
If your office is populated by marketing, sales and graphics types, this is an ideal printer. The speed and document handling is ideal for presentations, and the colour management makes it suitable for the art department. The quality of output is very good, but not quite good enough for real high-end colour-proofing. It isn’t going to replace a proper proofing device, but what proofing device can print 24ppm?