Hardware Tips: Top Five Things to Consider in a Color Printer

Color printing capabilities are an obvious and essential need for designers, but determining which printer to purchase can be a complicated process. In order to make things easier, be sure to consider five things when investing in a network color printer: print quality, speed, paper handling, ease of use, and value.

1. Print Quality
There are many reasons why graphic arts professionals would need to be able to locally produce accurate color output. A network color printer can be a powerful tool for companies doing iterative design, for validating designs prior to going through expensive outside proofing, and for digitally proofing prior to direct printing.

Laser, LED, and solid ink network color printers are capable of producing resolutions ranging from 600 dpi to 2400 dpi in a variety of modes. Whether you’ll need the highest dpi available depends on the projects you plan to produce and where you are in the proofing process. But regardless, it’s important that your network printer offers a suitable dpi and color gamut that allows you to match the final output. Having Adobe PostScript support in your printer helps in this area as well — delivering consistency from pre-production to jobs produced digitally.

In addition to having suitable dpi capabilities, it is essential for graphic arts studios and departments to have control over the color of your output. The amount of control you need depends on what functions you are performing. Basic design work should have simple but effective color management that matches a wide range of color output. Pre-proofing will need the added capabilities of color calibration and profiling for various production machines. Performing final proofing will need, in addition to the features already discussed, very granular control over color by allowing for the customization of tone reproduction curves to a specific value.

2. Speed
Today’s fast-paced graphic arts printing environments demand quick print times and high quality, accurate color. Investing in the right network color printer is one important way to ensure that your technology does not slow you down. Network color printers on the market today are able to print up to an impressive 30 ppm in color. Color print speeds have increased in recent years due largely to the advent of single-pass printing technologies.

Single-pass printing is a unique innovation that allows all four colors (CMYK) used in color printing to be deposited in one pass, versus the standard four passes color laser printing has traditionally required. In addition to increased speed, single-pass printing produces highly defined and detailed prints.

Keeping speed, along with accuracy, in mind when selecting a network color printer will have obvious and helpful effects on your design team’s productivity. Consider Dave Christensen, pre-press quality assurance manager and system administrator for Modernistic Inc. Modernistic is a company based in St. Paul, MN that specializes in large-format, four-color screen printing, digital printing, industrial converting, print finishing, and die making. Modernistic’s graphics and pre-press department is very busy and Dave works in what he calls a “quick turn frenzy.” His deadlines are tight and project lead times are always shrinking. Therefore, he must turn projects around as fast as possible.

To work faster, Christensen and his team use an LED color network printer capable of printing 30 ppm. For all jobs a production artist prints separations of each color and a full color print. Christensen then checks the prints for design and color accuracy before sending the job to a large format computer device that will image the screens for the press run. The speed and color capabilities of their LED color network printer allows Modernistic’s graphics department to get more accomplished in less time, which translates into increased productivity and profitability.

3. Paper Handling
To help graphic artists and their clients envision the final project, it’s important to be able to print samples on the same type and size of paper that the final will be produced on. The right color printer must also have the capability to print accurate samples of everything from business cards and posters to brochures and direct mailers. Evaluate your paper dimension needs and make sure that the printer you purchase can accommodate it. Currently, many color printers have the capability to print paper ranging from 4 x 6 inches to 12 x 18 inches on a variety of paper types and stocks.

In addition to handling a variety of paper types and sizes, many graphic designers require two-sided printing. Two-sided color prints are essential for proofing because they can most accurately replicate everything from marketing brochures to pages of a book or magazine. In fact, the automatic duplexing capabilities offered by some of today’s network printers was one of the deciding factors for Cheney & Company, a full service marketing communications firm based in New Haven, CT, to purchase a new color printer. The firm prints publication mock-ups, photos, and design sketches for its clients. According to Cheney & Company, other key deciding factors included their printer’s color matching capabilities, image crispness, and the ability to handle heavy paper stock.

4. Ease of Use
Color printing, computers, and technology in general are complicated. Graphic artists and designers should not have to be technology experts to get their jobs done. It takes special expertise on the part of the vendor to make products that are easy to set up and use. When evaluating printers, you should look for vendors that take the load off your shoulders by helping you install and manage the printers and keep you focused on your projects. By including powerful software tools and drivers with the printers, vendors can accomplish this goal and deliver truly useful printers to their customers.

The other part of this equation is finding a printer that is designed to limit the frequency of required interventions — in other words, a printer that is solidly built and able to handle the rigors of your workload. This is where the design of the hardware and the expertise of the vendor become critical — you want a printer that will only require you to handle regular tasks like replacing ink or toner, paper, and consumable items like fusers and maintenance kits.

In our industry, few things affect the satisfaction of customers as much as how easy to use and reliable their printers are. My advice is to seek out those vendors that focus on making their products easy to install and manage — it’ll make your life easier.

5. Value
Through technological advancements, prices for quality laser, LED, and solid ink printers are decreasing. Now is a good time to look for a printer that incorporates the speed, color quality, paper handling and ease of use your company or department needs — you might be surprised to find that it is not only affordable, but that it can help you grow your business and your bottom line.

Prices of network color printers will vary based on speed and color capabilities, but be sure to look for a balance of the two, combined with a highly competitive acquisition cost. In addition, consider the overall cost of the printer over time — or Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Seek out vendors that offer high-capacity ink cartridges and other maintenance items, as this will help lower continuing cost of owning and operating the printer.

One other thing I would note as you evaluate which printer is the right one for you is to evaluate the vendor itself. Naturally, vendors in the printing industry have varying backgrounds and areas of expertise. For graphic artists, it is important that their printer vendor understands the specific needs of their business and is able to deliver the necessary print quality and color management capabilities, for example.

Other factors to consider include the availability of local contacts, technical support, and consumables — making sure you can get what you need when you need it. Lastly, prospective customers should evaluate what specific benefits or attributes they need to get from their printer before they buy — if they do, they’ll be much more likely to decide on a printer that is going to meet their needs. The right combination of network color printer specifications and capabilities can help your firm or department save time and money while producing accurate, detailed prints for yourself and your clients.

Rob Stewart is Vice President of Color Marketing for the Xerox Office Group.

Posted on: December 5, 2003

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.