How can I get decent color brochure printing for under $1000?
January 18, 2007 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Inkjet isn't cutting it for my home office. I give out about 200 product info sheets a month, and inkjet just gives, well, that technicolor "inkjet look", though granted I am printing on laser printer paper rather than inkjet papers. How good are these new $400 color laser printers? Should I give them a serious look, or is my money better spent on inkjet paper?

Back when I did this kind of shopping 8 years ago the only real option for any decent brochures was a Tektronix Phaser dye sublimation printer ($9000 at the time). I tried a $5000 Tektronix color laser printer, but I was not impressed at all by the color saturation, so I returned it, and passed on the Phaser. Ever since, I have been grudgingly using $200 inkjet printers ever since and sending the most critical stuff off for 4-color offset (the ol' $2000 for the first page and 10 cents for each additional one deal). My current inkjet is a 2-year old HP 6840 ($200 in 2004).

Now I see that color lasers are available for $400. Has the technology gotten any better in the last 8 years? How does the table tip regarding consumables? I'm so out of touch with what's changed. I just want to make decent looking color brochures without having to get expensive photo papers.

It's also occurred to me that if I could varnish the paper somehow, that would make a difference... it's astounding how quality improves when a print process goes from matte to glossy in any print medium. I don't know if it's remotely practical to varnish printouts at home, though.
posted by calhound to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you need photo quality reproduction, ink jet is still the way to go. If you use the right kind of paper and know what you're doing with the color management software, there's no reason you can't do it all in house. Good inkjet printers are the state of the art for color printing right now (much better than offset, and much cheaper unless you need it in bulk). Feel free to email me if you'd like to pursue this in more depth (email is in my profile).
posted by doctor_negative at 2:54 PM on January 18, 2007

I guess it all depends what you mean by "decent looking". I think color laser looks better than inkjet on standard paper, plus it's much faster. I'm happy with it for my grant applications, etc. If you want to absolutely maximize your quality, though, you'll have to go with inkjet on expensive paper.

I think the consensus is that ink is cheaper on a laser printer over extended use, though there's not a huge difference.

You're going to have to figure out for yourself if laser quality is good enough for you. Find a store that will let you demo their printers...
posted by mr_roboto at 3:11 PM on January 18, 2007

My office recently got a huge, expensive all-in-one color laser printer/copier/fax/scanner thing with the same hopes of printing quick comps of graphics and images. We don't use it; inkjet looks better, hands down. You're going to need to use the proper paper, though.

If you are set on printing on regular paper, check out the Phaser again. I can't remember the model, but there was one in the graphics dept computer lab during college (5 years ago), and it was phenomenal. Rich colors, consistent tone, glossy, magazine-style finish.
posted by QueSeraSera at 3:14 PM on January 18, 2007

Phasers were not laser printers. They were more like ink jet printers that used molten wax. They're big, ungodly heavy, and consume lots of power to melt the wax. They take a long time to warm up (30 minutes for mine) and can't be moved for 24 hours after they've been shut down so the wax can harden. Oh yeah, they emit the smell of hot wax while they're on too.

I got sick of mine and beat it to death with a hammer so I could get its 90 lbs carcass out of my apartment. I had an 840N or something along those lines. It was old and it's possible they've made improvements since then. More likely they just abandoned the whole idea.

On the plus side, color line art (pie charts, etc) looked pretty good on regular paper. Black text looked spectacular. The wax left heavy completely opaque letters with a tiny rise to them for the wax thickness.
posted by chairface at 5:25 PM on January 18, 2007

I bought an Oki C3400 about a year ago for work, and I've printed many thousands of pages from it. It's great for short run brochures, full colour labels and so on. I managed to get it for about $600.00, and I've been very happy with its reliablilty and print quality.

I'm sure you could get something much better for that sort of money now.

As for making the printouts shiny, a small pouch laminator could certainly help, if you used a fairly thin film. A good hot roller machine will give a beautiful glass like finish and add some rigidity.
posted by tomble at 12:17 AM on January 19, 2007

It's important to emphasize this: Using proper paper is extremely important for inkjet printing.

Ideally inkjet paper will leave the ink to sit on top of the paper and dry with no absorption. It shouldn't bead, just not soak in. If it does soak in, the color will be affected, in my experience giving everything a greenish hue, though I guess this would vary with the composition of the individual inks.

Paper Chromatography (pic) is basically an explanation for the discoloration.

In addition to the discoloration you lose resolution as the dots soak in and spread.

Laser printer paper is manufactured to have an especially flat surface. Inkjet paper is manufactured to have small fibers and be non-absorptive. You can get by with laser paper in a pinch, but if you're using inkjet printing, you will see better quality with even cheap inkjet paper.
posted by aubilenon at 12:35 AM on January 19, 2007

A lot of cheap laser printers tend to show visible banding artifacts, and the color range available with the toners isn't as wide as that you can get from even a four-color inkjet. Take some of the files you want to print with you to a shop that sells color laser printers, and get some test prints. I'm tipping you'll just end up buying inkjet paper.

There's also a fair amount of color quality difference across different brands of inkjet (strange as it may seem, with these printers being pretty much a commodity item now). In my experience, Lexmark inkjets look the worst and it's a toss-up between Canon and HP for the nicest print. And the Canon inkjets beat HP all hollow for the quality of their Windows driver and installation software.

I used to own an Epson inkjet and I got so sick of it clogging up that I was seriously considering replacing it with a $600 color laser, just because I wanted something that looked good and Just Worked Every Time. I ended up buying a Canon iP1200 for AU$40, spending another AU$30 on a black cartridge for it, and I'm a happy camper. Nice and sharp, vivid color even on standard office paper. Replacement color ink cartridges cost AU$40, so they're literally giving away the printers. I haven't yet tried out any aftermarket color refill ink so I can't speak to its color quality.
posted by flabdablet at 1:21 AM on January 19, 2007

At a former job we used HP glossy brochure and flyer paper. It made everything look so much better than normal paper.
posted by ml98tu at 6:48 AM on January 19, 2007

I have a Dell 3100cn bought for $400. The print quality is better than the inkjet I had (an HP of some sort). My boss & I share this printer and go through 2-3 reams of paper a month.

The cartridges are expensive but it took 3 months before we needed to replace the black and now its been seven months and the blue is just now getting low.

We have only a slight smearing glitch which turned out to be a mechanical problem in the drum. Dell sent out a replacement without any complaints.

From my cost analysis, we spent $400 to replace two $259 printers. Ink costs are about equal (the Dell is currently running $3 dollars more per month).

The biggest impact is on time - the Dell shoots out full color pages in 1/5th the time the inkjets took.
posted by jaimystery at 6:59 AM on January 19, 2007

If you are willing to outsource I would suggest, I have worked with them before and they did a very good job, and got it to me very quickly. Good price also, and they will show you their competitors prices as well.

I am not an employee of, nor do I stand to benefit in any way from you using their service, I just sound like schill.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:52 AM on January 19, 2007

To the best of my knowledge, *none* of the Tek Phasers were ever anything except wax-jets.

That said, the later models were *much* better about lots of things than the earlier ones, particularly scuff resistance.

As for low-end color lasers, the problem is indeed running consumables costs: you can buy a whole new printer for what a set of cartridges costs... but last time I looked, a new set of cartridges *prints more pages* than the set that comes with the printer. So the tradeoff isn't quite as obvious as you might think.

I've had a couple of Epson C80 series inkjets to work with recently, though, and, on the proper paper, they work a treat -- if you're doing brochure handouts, you should definitely be using brochure paper; it's double-coated, and sometimes pre-scored, and you get much cleaner reproduction on the coated stock.
posted by baylink at 8:33 AM on January 19, 2007

Oh, two other things: Yes, the small Epson's tend to clog if you don't use them regularly. And the "laminate it in a plastic carrier pouch" thing is called "Bakerizing", I don't know how well it works on color toner, which is formulated differently than black and white toner is.
posted by baylink at 8:36 AM on January 19, 2007

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