Personal laser printers group test review

fast, low-cost mono page printers
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Kyocera’s offering in the personal laser category hasn’t quite caught up with the trends in this market area. It has no USB port, for example, only a parallel one. It has a big footprint and styling which is, at the most polite, boxy. The price is high for a personal printer, too, the most expensive here by a full £70.

It’s not all bad news, though. There’s a high capacity 250-sheet feed tray nestled in neatly under the body of the printer. Paper feeds forward from the tray inside the printer through a figure ‘S’ path to emerge at the back of the printer’s top surface. As well as the internal tray, a multi-purpose tray unfolds from the front of the FS-1000+ and this can take multiple sheets of special media, such as letterheads or envelopes.

A couple of control buttons and a convenient set of five indicators show when paper or toner are low or when there’s a paper jam. The Windows driver takes care of everything else and does a very reasonable job, though the remote control panel software caused a blue-screen under Windows ME.

The FS-1000+ uses Kyocera’s EcoSys system, which means it has a lifetime drum, rated at 100,000 pages. You only pay for toner and then only every 6,000 pages or so, so print costs come out at a very frugal 1.1p.

Print quality on text is clear and dark, though there are some slight fluctuations in what should be smooth areas of tone in photographic prints. The vector print sample is detailed, though a little dark by default.

The LBP-810 is a neat, upright printer, taller than most but with a smaller footprint, too. It takes paper from a 150-sheet bin at the back and feeds to another directly in front. There’s a single sheet feeder, too, which can be adjusted for envelopes and other special papers.

There are no controls on the printer, apart from a toggle which directs paper to the output bin or face-up onto your desk. There’s only one indicator, too, a big green light which indicates power and printing status.

Control comes from the CAPT utility, which runs under every version of Windows except XP. Even here, though, you can use the Windows 2000 driver and a dedicated XP version should be out by early April.

The LBP-810 is quiet and efficient, printing text pages on our tests at around 6.5ppm. That’s not quite up to the 8ppm quoted, but our results allow for transmission of the first page, rather than starting from the first paper sheet fed to the printer. Graphics prints were also commendably quick for a personal printer. Print quality was good, with only slight banding on the background of our bitmap sample and a little break-up on the tone bands on the vector print.

Print costs are reasonable at 2.2p per page, based on Canon’s toner life and costing figures. With dual inputs for USB and parallel connection on the back panel, this is an easy printer to set up and use. It’s an inexpensive purchase and running costs are close to those of its main rivals.

Having introduced the top-feed design for personal laser printers, with the LaserJet 4L, Hewlett Packard abandons it with this machine. Using a front feed tray, like the old LaserJet II and III printers, immediately gives the LaserJet 1000W a much bigger footprint. The tray, which takes up to 250 pages of 75gsm paper, sticks out by 180mm from the front face. Paper feeds to the top surface of the printer in the traditional way.

There’s just a single, new-format parallel socket on the back, though a converter is supplied for a USB connection, too. Two minimalist indicators show power and data transfer but, as with some other printers in this group test, there are no buttons or other controls. Fortunately, software control is comprehensive from the Windows control panel and is logically laid out. HP provides drivers for all forms of Windows, including XP.

The all-in-one drum and toner cartridge is neat and fits well back inside the printer casing. It’s rated at 2,500 sheets at 5 percent cover, which produces a cost per page of 2.5p, the second dearest in the group.

Print quality is good, with even fills showing little banding. Text print is clear and sharp, but we had trouble producing vector prints from CorelDraw 10. The printer was fond of reproducing only part of the image or just a blank sheet. We worked round the problem by choosing to rasterise the image before sending it to the printer, but with 2MB of internal memory in the LaserJet 1000W, printing vectors shouldn’t have been a problem.

Lexmark’s baby personal printer is a variant of Samsung’s smallest laser, the ML-1250. It has a neat footprint, thanks to the adoption of the near-vertical paper input and output trays. Paper feeds from the rear of the printer – there’s a single sheet feeder for non-standard papers in front of the main feed bin – to an output bin at the front.

The E210 has better physical control than most of the other printers in the group, with buttons for printing a sheet at a time from the manual feeder, for cancelling a print job part-way through a run and for printing a demo page – it seems excessive to devote a button to this function alone.

Software control comes from Lexmark’s excellent software driver and the networking printer manager, MarkVision. You can connect the E210 through a parallel or USB connection and driver installation is straightforward.

Print quality is generally good, with clean black text and well-defined graphics. Default settings produce light bitmap and vector images, but they’re well detailed and you can adjust for darker prints.

Paper handling is not so hot, with quite a bit of paper curl on 80gsm sheets. Try to print double-sided, by manually running the paper through a second time, and you risk the corners being folded over and resultant paper jams. This is also true of the £250 Samsung ML-1250 on which the E-210 is based, though.

Running costs for the E-210 come down to the cost of the combined toner and drum cartridge, which at over £76 for 2,000 sheets gives an expensive 3.8p per page. You could try sneakily using a Samsung cartridge, which at £57.58 for 2,500 sheets reduces this to 2.3p per page.

Personal lasers give the same kind of performance as yesterday’s office printers. With claimed print speeds of up to 12ppm (though rather slower than that under test), you can easily print out a substantial document over lunch or produce single pages in a few seconds.

Although you’re restricted to mono print, the image quality from these 600dpi printers is surprisingly good. They’re certainly suitable for photographic images as well as business graphics and text.

Of the five printers examined here, The Lexmark E210 was the fastest by a short head from the Epson EPL-5900L and HP’s LaserJet 1000W, while the Kyocera FS-1000+, rated one of the three fastest, lagged behind by a good bit.

Cost of running the printers showed a different picture, though, with Lexmark’s cartridge looking very expensive in comparison with those for the others. Kyocera, with its lifetime drum, comes in best, as you pay only for toner. Overall, though, a good compromise on costs, speed and print quality is the Canon LBP-810.

Epson’s personal laser printer is designed for those with very little desk space. Although its volume is around the same as that of the other printers tested here, it’s taller than most and has a small footprint. Its paper trays also fold onto the top and front of the unit, keeping dust out and taking up less room.

This isn’t all good, though, as you have to unfold and load up the paper feed tray each time you use the EPL-5900L, or live with a much larger footprint, as the paper loads horizontally. There’s also no separate tray for envelopes or special media, so you have to take your A4 paper out and use the main paper feed for both.

There’s a pair of lights, indicating power and printing, and sockets at the back for parallel and USB connections, but no direct physical control of the printer. The Windows drivers are competent and jobs are quick to be processed and just as speedy to print. The EPL-5900L is rated at 12ppm; under test it managed around 8ppm. Even so, both text and image documents came through very quickly.

Print quality was good, with smoother toning on the bitmap and vector images than from the Canon, for instance. Text was dense and black, using Epson’s MicroGray 1200 technology. This is claimed to give 1,200dpi quality, though the engine itself is only capable of 600dpi.

Print costs are low, with an £81 toner cartridge which only needs replacing every 6,000 sheets and a separate drum unit which lasts for 20,000. It gives an overall cost per page of 1.7p, second best in the group.

Laser printers always used to be big, clunky machines that sat in the corner of the office or on a separate desk, where they could chunter away producing manifests and contracts. As the technology grew cheaper and the designs shrank, they moved onto the desktop, where they’re still favoured over inkjets for producing crisp, black text.

Personal lasers start at around £150, cheaper if you shop around, and offer the kind of output that still impresses bank managers, course tutors and book editors. Print resolution of 600dpi is now standard, with resolution enhancement on most offerings. Resolution enhancement consists of slightly moving the dots of toner which make up text and graphics to smooth off edges and curves. It has the effect of making printed output appear to have a higher resolution than its true number of dots per inch.

Most personal laser printer manufacturers are now quoting speeds of 10 or 12 pages per minute, but this will vary with the content of the printed page – text prints faster than graphics. There’s also a certain ‘poetic licence’ taken with print speeds, using documents composed of single characters and not allowing for the time it takes for the first page to be processed before printing. Real world text print speeds for personal lasers sit in the range 6-7.5ppm, which is still quick.

Then there’s the cost of running your printer. Some require you to change the print cartridge every 2,000 prints, while others only stop for toner – like a photocopier – and can go for 6,000 pages between top-ups. Taking all of this into account here’s how five leading models compare.

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Company: Lexmark

Contact: 08704 440044