HP offers superb colour, chokes on labels

HP offers superb colour, chokes on labels

Buying a colour laser printer used to mean gaining speed but sacrificing print quality. These days, the picture is changing, and it looks much clearer than it did a year ago.

When you see what comes out of Hewlett-Packard's new HP Colour LaserJet 5M, you won't be thinking sacrifice at all. Although the Colour LaserJet 5M (and its non-PostScript sibling, the Colour LaserJet 5) are nominally 300dpi machines, charts, drawings, and photos print with impressive detail. The colours are crisp and bright.

Under a magnifying glass, the 5M's solid colours look solid, even when they are clearly a mix of two or more toner colours. Photographs do show some subtle banding, but, even though they're no competition for high-quality magazines, you'd be proud to include them in a business report or slide presentation.

The 5M's text is also sharp and clear, in black or in colour. It's not quite as sharp as type from a 600dpi LaserJet 4, but even clip-art fonts come out with more than adequate definition and detail. Add the networking features that are standard on the Colour LaserJet 5M - and available at extra cost for the Colour LaserJet 5 - and you have a printer that would be a welcome addition to any workgroup that needs to turn out colour reports or overhead transparencies.

With colour print quality this elegant, you may be tempted to apply it to something other than standard office paper and transparencies. Fight the temptation. Although extra-cost paper bins will let you feed legal and even 11-by-17-inch paper through the Colour LaserJet 5 and 5M, you'll get only black print. Labels are out of the question, as a notice in red warns you each time you load paper into the front paper bin. There's no support for envelope printing, and light card stock is another no-no. The one supported variation is a special glossy paper - an opaque white plastic film, actually - for higher-quality reproduction of photos or other graphics.

The standard paper tray holds 250 sheets of A4 paper or 50 sheets of transparency film. An extra-cost rear-feed unit - which you'll need if you want to feed single sheets manually - will hold an additional 250 sheets of paper. The output tray on top of the printer can hold 100 sheets. Transparency film feeds out the front of the printer, and you can pull out the top of the standard paper tray to catch it.

Setup is easy and clearly described in the Getting Started Guide. Loading toner involves dumping the powder from plastic bottles into reservoirs in the printer - an approach that's potentially messier than the snap-in cartridges used in competing printers. In practice, all went smoothly and I didn't end up with any brightly colored dust on the floor.

I initially had trouble trying to print in colour from Photoshop in Windows 95 using the PostScript driver. The fix - a one-line addition to Photoshop's .INI file - was simple, but it was not documented in the manual or the README file.

A parallel port is standard on both models of the new Colour LaserJet. The 5M also includes a JetDirect network card with Ethernet connectors for 10Base-T and 10Base-2, and a LocalTalk connector. Other JetDirect cards support a wide variety of network operating systems and protocols. All are also available as extra-cost add-ins for the Colour LaserJet 5.

HP's competitively priced new entry in the colour laser wars delivers impressive print quality. For the next round of battle, let's hope the company gives us a little more media variety.

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