The Print Shop: Get Glossy Photos From Color Laser Printers

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This is the first installment of The Print Shop, a new PC World column that will discuss printer technologies and how we commit our documents and photographs to paper. PC World tests and reviews dozens of printers, but we envision this column as a forum for exploring the rapid advancements that can make a difference in how and what you print. Check back monthly for more interesting developments, and thanks for reading.

Now let's look at printing photos on inexpensive color laser printers.

Printing onto glossy paper has been the clearest advantage inkjet printers have had over laser printers--not to mention substantially lower prices. Now both of these advantages are thrown into question as low-cost color laser printers with the ability to print color glossies step onto inkjets' turf.

The prices of color laser printers have been dropping rapidly, putting them within reach of small offices and home users. For instance, in our newest Top Ten Color Laser Printers chart, three models cost less than $1000. This downward price movement challenges the conventional wisdom that you need both a laser printer for business-quality text correspondence and an inkjet printer for color documents, including those quality photo prints.

Konica Minolta's Magicolor 2430DL color laser printer.
Konica Minolta has introduced its Magicolor 2430DL, a color laser printer that prints onto glossy paper--and costs only $499. But it's not the only color laser to do so. HP's Color LaserJet 2550L also costs $499 and prints onto glossy paper. These prices are a far cry from those of spring 2004. When we tested laser printers in May 2004, the only models that produced glossy prints each cost $6800: the HP Color LaserJet 9500n and the Xerox Phaser 7750DN

Prints: Not Quite Inkjet Quality

Colors looked vibrant and details were fairly sharp in prints from both models. Neither $499 printer matches the glossy photo quality of much higher-priced color lasers--but their prints still look pretty good. They're certainly good enough for presentation materials or brochures that don't need the exacting touch of a professional print house. Unlike with most inkjet printers, printing on glossy paper with a color laser doesn't tend to improve print quality: A professional photograph we printed looked just as sharp and colorful on plain paper as on glossy paper when printed by the Konica Minolta Magicolor 2430DL. The glossy finish may not make details look sharper, but a glossy sheen might give a more professional look to, let's say, the cover of your next report. You can print onto double-sided glossy paper with both models.

Neither Konica Minolta's Magicolor 2430DL nor HP's Color LaserJet 2550L made prints that quite rivaled those from today's better-quality inkjets, but you wouldn't expect them to. Laser printers have a long tradition of printing razor-sharp text--something that most inkjet printers fall far short of achieving. Still, both color lasers made prints that would look pretty good next to prints from some lesser-quality inkjet printers.

In printouts of PowerPoint presentations, these color lasers do a very good job on more than just blocks of color. Colors looked more vibrant in the Magicolor 2430DL's output than in the Color LaserJet 2550L's prints, which looked darker overall. Faint lines of varying color were more evident in prints from the Color LaserJet 2550L. In photos of people, the HP's Color LaserJet 2550L reproduced more natural-looking skin tones, though fine facial features looked sharper in prints from the Konica Minolta Magicolor 2430DL, which has a higher resolution.

Inkjet printers still boast the higher resolution, but that hasn't stopped Konica Minolta from outfitting the Magicolor 2430DL with a convenience that's increasingly common on inkjet photo printers: a PictBridge port on front panel. Photographers can simply plug in their compatible digital camera and print, without having to upload their shots to a PC. Even if the results don't quite match a good inkjet's output, the fact that a $500 color laser comes close at all is reason enough to start printing colorful brochures yourself.

Inkjets beware.

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