Inexpensive color laser printing in-house; No really!
Ok ok, what I am about to review isn’t exactly lab-quality stuff here. Nor is it tabloid size awesome prints on any weight paper. However, for under $200 what can you really expect?
That’s right. UNDER $200 if you shop online you too can have a compact color laser printer with results that actually impressed me enough to go into details here about it. Oh yea, and it’s WiFi ready too! And did I mention it will actually fit on your desktop?
I wasn’t necessarily in the market for a color laser printer as I typically do my work on ink jet printers or send off to a lab. However I needed to print a large number of color documents and upon pricing the cost of doing it professionally at an office store, I decided I knew what I was doing and started checking what it would cost to do it myself instead. After all, if it doesn’t cost much more and I get to keep the hardware when I’m done, that sounds like a bonus to me. So across the store I went (an office store with an in-house printing department) where I found a Samsung CLP-315W color laser printer with built-in wireless networking ON SALE for $175 from $250 regular price. Say what!? That’s awesome… And considering they had just quoted me nearly $160 to print the documents, this was still within the budget too. So I decided to buy the last one along with a ream of presentation grade laser paper and was out the door for under $200. (Actually a little more after tax, but if you buy it online you can avoid that as well.)
Needless to say, i wasn’t expecting much. I took it out of the package, removed some shipping tape from the unit, inserted the toner cartridges, plugged it in using the standard USB connection just to get it up and going for the time being and loaded it with paper and began my printing spree. About 300 pages later, I decided that this was by far money well spent considering I now get to KEEP the printer AND I didn’t have to overpay just to wait for some teenager to press print on the copier in the back to run it off for me. (Really, $160 for 300 single side pages?!)
So this is where the fun began. I decided that I was going to see just how well it would print photographs and other graphics in color. And to my surprise, it’s half decent. Ok, it’s not nearly as sharp or vibrant as my large format Epson, but it is fairly quick, very quiet and I can print proof pages at almost no cost considering how long the toner cartridges last compared to typical desktop ink jet printers. And all that without the fuss of streaks or smudged ink, clogs or dried out print heads or anything like that.
How about the color? Well, it’s pretty decent with some tweaks. First off, it helps to understand color management and how to set up the printer drivers to get the most out of it. But with this the driver has only a few settings that can even be changed. So rather than fuss with it too much, I did my best to calibrate it using my X-Rite ColorMunki spectrophotometer and a few sheets of glossy photo grade laser paper. (Glossy laser paper is NOTHING like ink jet paper. However you DO NOT want to run ink jet paper through a laser printer as it may damage the rollers, burn, melt and likely jam in the machine.) So after some calibration and testing, I found that it sure does print a pretty decent photograph, considerably faster and cheaper than a typical ink jet. And it can do it on both sides of the page (manual duplex) meaning you could easily print your own proof pages, marketing material or even simple products such as notepads or soft bound books if you are crafty enough. Out of the box color wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. It took some experimentation to find the best modes and settings and a custom printer profile to get the color pretty accurate in my opinion. And compared to an ink jet printer, it doesn’t have the same level of detail or vibrance but considering the number of pages you get out of toner cartridges comparison, it makes up for the lower print quality.
So more about this printer… Standard laser papers work well between 20# and 42# (75-158 gsm). I also had no problems getting several sheets of 80# cover (216 gsm) through it but 100# (270 gsm) was simply too thick and caused a minor paper jam that is easy to clear. Though I was able to print on a linen textured paper with minimal problems. Glossy laser paper works well but even plain laser papers printed good in full color. Color prints take about 15-25 seconds to print depending on if the printer is ready or not. B&W only pages print faster.
Text prints VERY clear and sharp from PDF’s and text documents however printing from a raster image (such as a JPEG or TIFF) does seem to slightly limit the quality and readability of text. (I suspect the machine has a higher resolution output for text as it renders it within the machine. I’m still trying to figure this out.) Wireless networking works great once you get it set up, however setup was a bit tricky even for me and I majored in computer science. But once I read the instructions, setup was a breeze. And unlike ink prints, the color from a laser output should never fade and is virtually permanent. The other advantage is the ability to print on odd stock that ink would otherwise not work with.
This printer does have two major drawbacks for some people. The first is the speed. It isn’t blazing fast by any means. Even in B&W only mode, it’s not exactly quick compared to many laser printers. But if it is B&W speed you need for text documents, I would suggest a dedicated non-color laser printer for that anyhow. The other drawback is the cost of the toner cartridges. Replacements are about $45-50 per toner making it just as expensive to replace the toner as the printer costs to begin with. (It comes with “starter” cartridges that do fewer pages.) However to overcome this, you may search online for toner refills which can be purchased at a fraction of the cost but do require some minor tools and a little bit of skill to do yourself. (YouTube has a number of videos demonstrating the technique and discussing the process.)
So, for under $200 I highly suggest the Samsung CLP-315W. It is my new desktop workhorse for every-day printing tasks and output looks very good and more professional than from your typical desktop ink jet.