Laser printers and digital photography, getting the best of both printing worlds

Week of September 5, 2004

Q: Could you tell me if the new color laser printers work well for printing photographs from digital cameras?

I use my HP Laser 6P printer to print many mail-merged documents and special documents for school. The printer is six years old and it is a real workhorse, having served me very well. Unless a parallel port to USB port adapter exists, I will not be able to use my old laser printer with my computer. This was my reason for inquiring about the color laser printer. I had hoped that the color laser printer might be the best of both worlds.

-Ed Henke, Pittsburgh, PA

A: Color laser printers are wonderful for printing letters and composite documents with color, and because they use toner the printouts are much more durable and resistant to smudging than documents produced with most inkjet printers. Unfortunately, color laser printers are not well suited for printing realistic color photographs.   If you want to create photographs at home, you need either an inkjet or a dye-sub printer.

If you were shopping for a color laser printer, you have seen that they are priced from $400 and up. At that price point, home users can easily have the best of both worlds: a black and white laser printer for documents and a color inkjet printer for photographs.

Personal laser printers are now available for under $150. They have a lower cost per print than an inkjet printer and produce very sharp text. The pages will not smudge if they get wet, unlike printouts from most inkjet printers.

I have used a Samsung personal laser printer for almost three years. It was purchased for only $129 after rebates and it has proved to be a wonderful investment. Operation and printing is very fast, it operates very smoothly and quietly, and it produces beautiful text documents. The toner cartridge is long lasting and though more expensive than an inkjet cartridge, it requires changing much less frequently. I shudder to think of how much more ink my inkjet would have used if I did not have my trusty laser printer doing document duty!

For a photo printer, Canon’s i960 will produce professional-quality output for under $170. With personal laser printers selling for under $150, if you add the Canon you can have a great setup for only $320, much less than a single color laser printer would cost you. If you want to spend more, there are many outstanding photo printers available at higher price points. I recommend you check out the Olympus P-440, Canon i9900, and the Epson 2200 and R800 models if you want to spend more on a photo printer.

In short, anyone who produces a lot of documents or who wants the best possible printing solution in their home should have two printers: a personal laser printer for documents and an inkjet for photographs.

A final note: Windows XP as well as a Mac OS X drivers are available for your HP Laser 6P printer. For under $40 you can add a PCI card with a parallel port to your new computer, and your old workhorse printer will keep chugging along. You can download the driver at www.hp.com. Look for the support link, then go to driver downloads.

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