In the past year, colour-laser printing has made a quantum leap, with speeds doubling the average of a couple of years ago. The reason for this is the new single-pass technology, which puts colour on the page in one go, rather than four. The latest to use this is HP, with its Color LaserJet 4600.
One of the benefits of single-pass printing is that the printers are smaller. Previous printers were basically four mono lasers crammed into a single case. Having the four print heads all together in a line results in a smaller case – smaller, but still very heavy.
The paper path is still long, so HP came up with the novel idea of expanding the case vertically rather than horizontally. The result is that the Color LaserJet 4600 is freakishly tall. If you add more paper trays it gets taller still. But, as laser printers aren’t usually stacked, it’s the best possible use of space. The design also allows for an inset connection board, which is accessible from the side. This is a great improvement on the usual sockets-at-the-back design, enabling access without contortion, or heavy lifting.
The speed of the printer is typical of HP. It isn’t the fastest, though I suspect it’s geared to business graphics rather than arty stuff. Our tests are geared towards PostScript graphics, because it’s a common requirement of Mac people. The rest of the world is more concerned with Word newsletters and PowerPoint presentations, which aren’t PostScript intensive.
A good measure of PostScript capabilities is the first-page-to-print test. This is the time from hitting print on our notorious printer-killer test, to the time the page hits the out tray. The printer-killer page is a small but hideously complex illustrator file, full of the nastiest PostScript effects. The top printers can now get this file out in under a minute, the Epson Acculaser C4000 took 39 seconds. The HP was over double that, at 81 seconds.
Once running at engine speed, the 4600 is capable of 17 colour pages per minute. This is the same for colour or mono.
The usual drivers for Mac OS 8 and 9 are included, but there’s also an installer for OS X. This is great, as it means that HP is thinking about the Mac market for this printer. So often it is down the list of priorities for laser manufacturers.
At £2,036, the Color LaserJet 4600 is a good deal, where previous models had been a bit over priced. HP’s corporate heritage will make it popular with IT managers, and for once it stands a chance of gaining favour with the graphics community. The quality is very good, whether for graphics of general office work. The 4600n is a good value all-rounder, which is sure to appeal to a wide audience.