Ricoh Aficio CL3500N
At a Glance
HP Deskjet 6980 Printer
Excellent paper handling is the CL3500N’s best feature, but graphics and text print quality was disappointing.
The Ricoh Aficio CL3500N has a neat and professional appearance that will look good in any office. At $700 (as of 10/6/2006), this networked color laser has enough features to support a small workgroup. You get a generous 530-sheet main paper tray with a built-in 100-sheet bypass tray that folds down from the front. This lets the two trays share the same paper path, but increases the depth of the main tray. When you extend the main tray to its full depth to accept legal-size paper, it projects through a flap at the back of the printer, which lifts to form a dust cover over the paper. You can feed envelopes only from the bypass tray, where you can stack them up to 10 high. The output bin on top of the printer holds up to 250 sheets.
You can add up to two more 530-sheet paper trays for $350 each to increase the maximum paper capacity to an impressive 1690 sheets. An optional duplexer is available for a reasonable $230.
Note that because Ricoh sells its printers through dealers who support their customers directly, the company quotes the prices it suggests to its dealers. These may be slightly higher than the street prices we usually see from vendors.
At the center of the CL3500N's neatly arranged control panel is a backlit two-line LCD. Operating the menu is easy enough, but you can achieve most administrative tasks through the included monitoring tools. The printer supports both PCL and PostScript.
To the left of the output bin, a panel lifts to reveal the simple and compact toner cartridges, which are little more than plastic containers. Ricoh ships the printer with black and color toner cartridges rated for 2500 pages each, but the company prices the higher-capacity replacements very competitively. A black cartridge rated for 7000 pages costs $57 and each of the three 6000-page color cartridges costs $121. However, many other parts require regular replacement. The photoconductor units last a relatively short 15,000 pages. The black unit costs $119, whereas Ricoh supplies the color units as a single item for $327. The fuser unit ($275) and transfer belt ($132) must be replaced every 100,000 pages. You need a new waste toner pack ($30) every 56,000 pages. Even with all these maintenance items, the CL3500N achieves remarkably economical per-page costs of just 2.1 cents for black and 9.5 cents for color.
The main reason to buy a laser printer is for high-quality text, but the CL3500N scored worse than most other printers in our tests. Pages printed too densely: Italics lacked finesse and bold characters bled together. We saw many artifacts in artistic fonts, such as flat bottoms on what should have been curved characters. Diagonal edges in larger characters looked jagged and a little fuzzy. The printer did a better job on our tricky line-art test, but the results still came out too dark and showed some banding. Our grayscale image displayed some odd-looking green and red fringes, and grainy tonal changes. On plain paper, our graphics samples looked grainy, with dark shadows and oversaturated highlights. On the Hammermill Glossy Color Laser Printer paper selected by Ricoh for our best-quality photo test, we saw narrow horizontal and vertical banding, strong dithering patterns, and very oversaturated colors.
The CL3500N printed text pages at a close-to-average 15.1 pages per minute. Plain-paper graphics printed at a more competitive 5.7 ppm, but glossy photos at best-quality settings printed at just 1.2 ppm.
Existing Ricoh customers who want to add color printing capabilities to their offices will be attracted to the CL3500N. Its print quality is acceptable for many everyday business documents, but users with more demanding requirements should ask for a demo using some of their typical print jobs before deciding whether to buy.