Print giants

Introduction

One of the last bastions of monochrome in all our lives will be the office printer. We no longer have to look at monochrome TVs, computers with mono screens are a thing of the past, and even our home printers are colour. Here are two printers that will tempt you to ditch the mono laser-printer for good. The two models are from Oki and Xerox and are A3 and A4 respectively – neither are strictly speaking laser printers, but do the same job none the less. The Oki C9200 (pictured, top) is a monstrous printer, though amazingly not as big as some other A3 colour printers. It uses LED technology, which works much like laser printers. It still uses toner, but it works a little quicker than most laser-based models. This is because of its single pass design, which cuts down on moving parts and complex paper paths. The claimed speed is 21 A4-pages-per-minute (ppm) in full colour, and that is exactly what we got in our tests. It’s more than twice the speed of any previous A3 colour printer tested, and easily the fastest colour printer we’ve looked at. In mono, the print speeds reached 26ppm. As important as page speeds is the time it takes to get the first page out. The first page per print accounts for more print time than anything, because most jobs are only two or three pages long. The Oki 9200 does well on the first page to print, getting our infamous printer killer page out in just 44 seconds. The fastest we have measured for this page is 43 seconds, so the Oki is doing pretty well on all speed scores. Quality is a different issue though, and the LED printer isn’t great. It isn’t terrible, but there are definitely problems. On gradients, and even solid colours, there are both vertical and horizontal lines visible. Text is unaffected by these artefacts and colour rendition is good, but quality has been sacrificed for speed. The other printer we looked at was the Phaser 860 DP(pictured,left), the latest in a long line of solid-ink printers from Tektronix, though now the brand is owned by Xerox. In the past the solid-ink printers have mixed high-quality output with formidable speeds. The output of the 860 is as good as ever, and the new design uses less ink than before to cut down the waxy look from previous versions. Although having wax-based solid ink enables luxurious glossy output on almost any paper type, it makes it difficult to write on. This may not be important to everybody, but in a publishing environment this minor problem makes it impossible to use the output for proofing, because you can’t write on it. Thankfully, this problem is now solved by the lighter ink coverage, without detracting from the image quality. When it comes to speed, the Oki really has broken new ground and the Phaser can’t keep up – at least this model can’t. In standard mode it can output at a very respectable 8ppm, and in fast colour mode it can go as fast as 16ppm. However, the colour in fast colour mode isn’t useable. First page to print speeds should be good, but we found them a little slower than the previous Phaser model. It took almost two minutes to get our, admittedly heavy-duty, page out. This is almost twice as long as the previous Phaser 850. The page we use for these tests is known (and feared by manufacturers) as the Printer Killer test. It consists of a 1MB eps file of pure PostScript shenanigans. There are dozens of graduated tones, mixes, fine lines and anything else we could come up with. The small file size means network speed is removed from the equation, but it belies its destructive capabilities. Three years ago printers were regularly taking 10 to 15 minutes to print the same file, so things have improved greatly.
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