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The Ultimate Color Printer
By
Nick Anis, Travel-Watch

A personal computer and color printer has become standard equipment for travel, food, and wine writers these days. In my case, this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem because I also write about computers and technology and frequently receive media kits and evaluation products. But actually, in spite of all the computer products I get to experiment with, I have the same problem as everyone else, figuring out which ones are best for my needs.

You know what? I think I found the printer to die for. I’ll try my best not to sound like a used car salesman, but have I got a printer for you.

First off let me give you some background. At our editorial offices we use several printers and computers. We use both Macintosh and Windows 95 machines and prefer to have printers that support a parallel and local talk connection.

For high speed, high quality monochrome (black) printing we prefer the Lexmark Optra LXI Plus printer. It prints 16 pages per minute at 1,200 dpi. It accommodates up to four 500-page input letter or legal size trays. The printer uses a 6,000- or a 12,000-copy microfine toner cartridge that easily slips into place. The cost per page is about five cents. And most important, it supports the latest version of Adobe PostScript and HP PCL 5. Lexmark, by the way, is a division of IBM that manufactures laser and ink jet printers.

In the past, we have used several good quality lower-end printers including Hewlett Packard LaserJets and DeskJets, Canon Bubble Jets, and Epson Inkjets. The reason we graduated to a higher-end printer is so that we can better perform page composition and do some self-publishing. You can turn out excellent "camera ready" artwork with a 1,200 dpi Lexmark, especially if you use PostScript and print on 24 pound 93 bright smooth paper.

Most of the printing we do lately, however, is in color. We’re contributing to the trend identified in a study done by the International Data Corporation (IDC) showing the market for color printing grew 39 percent from 1995 to 1996 and is estimated to continue growing at a compound annual growth rate of 49 percent from 1996 to 2001.

From a practical standpoint (due to memory, processing, and storage limitations) 300 dpi images are about as large as a typical computer user can handle. Incidentally, with the right printing process 300 dpi color images are extremely detailed. Achieving true photographic print quality for 300 dpi images requires a more expensive 300 dpi continuous tone printer or a high-end color laser. Several of the newer inkjet printers offer photo realistic printing that is almost as good, but they are slow, the cost per print is somewhat high, they require special paper, the ink may smudge, and so on.

Apparently, the market pressure to keep prices low has hobbled color printer resolutions, keeping them slightly behind the capabilities of the average scanner and imaging computer workstation. They are beginning to catch up. Most scanning seems to be holding at 300 while color printing has jumped to 600 and 800 dpi. If 1,200-dpi color printing becomes dominant soon, or continuous tone printing drops in price, printers and imaging platforms will be in sync.

In the meantime Tectronix’s Color Printing and Imaging Division (CPID), which recorded sales of $562 million in fiscal year 1996, a 23 percent increase over 1995, has hedged its bets by offering two aggressively priced leading edge color printing technologies, solid ink and laser – both of which have a very low cost per page.

We experimented with a range of color printers. Although we found several inkjets that printed very attractive documents, they were too slow and "wet" ink has its drawbacks. For a time we used an excellent low-cost printer/scanner unit from Alps, the 4100, that uses their unique "dry ink." The Alps 4100 unit produces 800 dpi crisp images, uniquely uses regular and metallic dry ink, but it’s somewhat slow and only prints on lighter paper stock.

So we settled on a Hewlett Packard DeskJet 1600cm – a high end, high speed inkjet that supports the Mac and PC. The 1600cm prints well on standard paper, light card stock, and labels. This printer also permits you to reload the paper and print on the reverse side. Unfortunately the highest resolution supported by the DeskJet 1600cm is only 300 dpi.

So we’ve been looking, and looking, and comparing print quality, stock supported, size, weight, power, consumables, cost per page, duty cycle, speed, and, …you guessed it, C-O-S-T.

Eureka! I have found it! The Tektronix Phaser 360. This is the Printer!

If they dropped an ICBM on the greater Los Angeles area the only survivors would be the Phaser 360 at our office and the cockroaches at in whatever guesthouse Kato is staying this month. The Phaser 360 is extremely well built and designed. This is the first printer I have ever received that is so easy to setup that even someone like Kato can handle it. The solid building block-shaped ink is already loaded for you. Adding more is just like adding staples to a stapler. There is reusable (but disposable) plastic waste tray that collects hard wax-like dry ink waste. It sure beats getting toner all over the place, or replacing inkjet cartridges every other day, and so on.

A few years ago when I was doing a feature on printers I spilled tonner on our living room carpet while setting up one of them. My wife was so angry I almost had to sleep in the garage. Since then she doesn’t "allow" me to load our printers with toner, ink cartridges, or paper, or to clean the drum and rollers.

The Phaser 360’s "drum" is cleaned every time you print and the printer has a 20,000 copy per month duty cycle. The dry ink is very vibrant – even more so than a laser, and it doesn’t smudge. The printer can print on heavy stock by using its straight-through manual feed. Unfortunately you can print on the reverse side or laminate printed output because the ink is effected by extreme heat. It comes standard with 24 megabytes of memory and is expandable to 48 megabytes. It supports resolutions up to 800 dpi in color or monochrome. It has a 100-megahertz RISC processor and cranks out high resolution color prints at six pages per minute. Its speed is comparable to a typical monochrome HP LaserJet.

The cost for printing an average color page is about five cents! And if that’s not economical enough for you, guess how much the cost per page is for printing in black?

No matter how much you print in black for the entire life of the printer Tektronix will provide you with all the black dry ink you need FREE…no fine print or strings attached.

I warned you earlier, I might sound a little like a used car salesman in describing this printer. So let me give you the price for this baby without you having to write down an offer on a little sheet of paper and me going to ask the showroom manager to accept your offer.

The street base prices for the earlier model, the Phaser 350 (600x300 dpi) and for the Phaser 360 (800dpi), are $2,495 and $3,695 respectively.

Tektronix Phaser 350s and 360s come with a 1-year on-site warranty, lifetime toll-free technical support, online access to knowledge base and downloadable drivers and updates, and lifetime free black ink.

Granted, this deal isn’t as attractive as being able to live rent-free in a Brentwood guesthouse. But for those of us who are writers, must "work for a living", and have need for fast, high quality, low maintenance, and low cost color printing, the Tektronix Phaser 360 is pretty good deal.

Tektronix
Color Printing and Imaging Division
26600 SW Parkway
P.O. Box 1000
Wilsonville, OR 97070-1000

Phone: 503-685-3150 or 800-835-6100
Fax: 503-685-3063
Web: http://www.Tek.com/Color_Printers/  

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Nick Anis is a food, wine, and travel and technology writer with over 24 books in print published by McGraw-Hill, Random House, Bantam, Ziff-Davis, Tab, and others. Nick's articles have appeared in The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, West Coast Media, The Family Publications Group, The Weekly News, and Travel-Watch.  His beats include food, travel, snow and waters sports, entertainment, family recreation, consumer electronics, home improvement, and automotive.  He is responsible for the Restaurant Row Ethnic Dining Guide, co-published by the Long Beach Press Telegram.  Nick is an accomplished downhill skier, PADI certified SCUBA diver, and when he's not sitting on his butt goofing off, enjoys a variety of active recreation including tennis, riding motorcycles, ATVs, wave runners, snow machines, horses, skeet and trap shooting he's also taken a stab at riding camels, donkeys, elephants, ostriches, lamas, dolphins, Reindeer, bulls, mechanical bulls, and buffalo.  Nick is a member (A Secretary/Treasurer) of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), a member of the North American Snow Sports Journalist Association (NASJA), Computer Press Association, The Writer's Guild, and listed in Books in Print, Media Map, and Press Access.  You can reach Nick at Editor@Travel-Watch.com.

 

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