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All that's fit to print

All that's fit to print

With the big guns in the printer market constantly expanding their ranges, the choice for consumers from the SOHO to the large corporation can be bewildering. Durelle Fry talked to several printer vendors about the issues facing printer manufacturers today, and looks at the latest products on offerSanta will be very busy on Christmas Eve connecting PCs all over the country to the Internet. A flow-on effect, says IDC analyst Les Champkin, will be a surge in printer bundles and individual printer sales. Dataquest, by comparison, predicts a drop of around 25 per cent in expenditures on printers by end users as a whole in the Asia-Pacific region. This follows Dataquest's report that Asia-Pacific printer shipments in the second quarter of this year fell to 1.6 million units, a decline of 8.7 per cent on the same period last year.

Printer vendors are banking on the lure of the Internet and SOHO to prove Dataquest wrong, and are gearing up with a tempting array for both novices and experienced players in this group.

Workgroup machines are dedicating themselves to faster, more economical prints, and some vendors are offering combination machines to appeal to users with limited desk space and an appreciation for a gadget which does everything. As always, printers for professionals are continuing to offer new technologies, better inks and more accurate and consistent colour.

Number one vendor Hewlett-Packard manufactures printers for all segments of the market. Its colour inkjet range is about to be expanded with the launch on October 1 of two corporate-targeted inkjets that are network ready, the HP2000C and the HP2000CN.

The company claims the new printers will offer greatly improved print speeds and significantly reduced running costs.

Highest selling

In terms of absolute unit sales the company's highest selling laser printer is the LaserJet 6L for the SOHO market. The DeskJet 670C, for the home market, is the highest selling inkjet. While HP's inkjet printers are experiencing growth in all categories, the company notes that there is a trend towards selling up to mid-range products. Peter Leihn, HP's DeskJet Market Development man-ager, told ARN the company is seeing resellers selling on value and not just price "and becoming aware of the erosion in profit that comes with a decline in average sell price."

Due to the size and market share of HP's printer business, the company focuses on a number of markets, but HP's proprietary PhotoREt II colour layering technology has allowed it to concentrate on the small/medium business and corporate markets.

The technology enables "great colour quality on plain paper at speeds we could never achieve in the past", Leihn said "We will continue to increase our focus on developing these markets as we expand our range of higher-end products like the HP2000C."

Epson manufactures a range of inkjet printers for the entry and high level home and SOHO markets, professional and business market, for photography enthusiasts, the CAD market, for pre-press and graphic arts professionals. It also has a range of monochrome dot matrix and laser printers for the business and specialist markets. All inkjets are colour, with three products (Stylus photo 700, Stylus Photo Ex, Color Proofer 5000) using a six-colour ink system.

Epson's strength is in the home and SOHO market, and the highest growth in sales is being experienced there. Epson identifies HP and Canon as its competitors in this market. The four-colour inkjets released in September are expected by Epson to be its top selling models - previously the company's top selling printer has been the Stylus Color 600.

Lexmark is an Australian manufacturer, operating in the SOHO, medium workgroup and high departmental markets. Products include colour inkjets, monochrome and colour lasers and monochrome dot matrix printers. Lexmark's highest selling product in the SOHO range is the Inkjet 1000, in the mid-range the Optra S 1855, and in the high departmental markets the Optra S 2455. The company says that colour lasers have experienced the greatest increase in sales in the last 12 months and this is credited to the increase in the use of medium workgroup users and the SOHO market.

Not surprisingly then, Lexmark's focus markets are SOHO and inkjets as well as medium workgroup laser and colour laser printers. In the future, Lexmark will increase its focus on business colour inkjets, as it believes this is an ever-increasing market. Major competitors are identified as Canon and HP in the SOHO market, and HP in the laser market.

QMS has laser printers, predominantly monochrome, with some colour. A new dye sublimation printer (Magicolor 330) is soon to be released. The range extends from SOHO through to high-end workhorse and document finishing machines. The highest selling products are the 2060 (high-end) in monochrome and Magicolor 2 colour laser in the colour range. The latter product is experiencing the highest growth in sales.

Focus markets for QMS tend to be the corporate arena, graphics and designer markets (2060 is popular in both), and small-to-medium-sized workgroups.

Specifically, QMS is concentrating on the colour market. Marketing manager Sue Oxley told ARN that with the introduction of the Magicolor 2 range, the company has seen end users switching from monochrome to colour lasers "because of the functionality and low cost per page".

Kyocera manufactures both monochrome and colour laser printers for all markets, but is particularly strong in the network printer area. Its highest selling products are the FS-600 entry-level laser printer and the FS-1700 mid-range laser printer. The mid-range is experiencing the highest growth in sales. Kyocera focuses on the high end of the market, especially the government and legal sectors where TCO and environmental issues are important factors. Major competitors are identified as Lexmark and Epson.

Oki offers dot matrix and page printers for all markets. All printers are monochrome but the company will soon be releasing a colour page printer and a range of impact printers. Traditionally, Oki's highest selling products have come from impact printers, but lately that has shifted. The top sellers are now the entry and mid-range lasers. The Okipage 20N has had the highest growth in sales and this has been attributed to value for money, speed, time to first print, networking ability and overall cost of ownership. Major competitors are identified as HP and Lexmark.

Total cost of ownership

TCO has been addressed by HP in the new HP2000 with the inclusion of the off-axis ink system, which separates all four primary colours so there is no ink wastage. The long-life print head has also been separated from the ink cartridge, further reducing running costs and reducing waste. HP ink cartridges can be returned to the company for part recycling.

In order to help channel partners sell more printers, HP has recently been training selected dealers on using HP TCO tools to upgrade customers who have older printers. The company has started an advertising campaign to help raise awareness with end customers and provide leads to trained dealers.

Canon's Super Economy Mode, featured on several new models, impacts on TCO by enabling a reduction in operating costs by decreasing ink consumption by 75 per cent, thereby extending the life of the ink cartridge. Canon has also optimised its colour printing on plain paper.

Lexmark has addressed TCO with a number of approaches: its remote network management; commonality across the Optra S family - using the same paper, memory, hard drive, common driver sets; an inbuilt toner saving mode; longer life toner cartridges and recyclable toner cartridges; multi-up printing; and automatic duplexing.

Price competitive

QMS offers "extremely price competitive toners", and Oki also boasts competitively priced products and consumables. In addition, drum and toner components are separate on Oki page printers. Oki print heads are guaranteed for five years.

On the environmental side, Oki uses an LED engine which the company claims produces significantly less ozone than lasers. For Kyocera, "ecology is economy". Ecosys printers employ cartridge-free technology, minimising waste generation. Effort has been concentrated on remote operation, easy maintenance, continuous large-volume printing, and user-friendly operation. Kyocera has eliminated the process of shifting a document from printer to copier for reproduction and binding on the Ecosys machines.

Paul Fisher of HP believes the biggest issue in printers today is that many customers do not have a printer strategy and are wasting opportunities to improve performance, manageability, reliability and to use the latest technology whilst at the same time saving money. He blames the reliability of the huge installed base of LaserJets for this. "Our task now is to use our leadership position to address this and raise the awareness of customers of the benefits to be gained by using the latest printers."

Peter Leihn, also of HP, says the key issue is plain paper quality as users are now very aware of the cost of special papers when seeking optimum quality. The next real challenge, he says, will be print speed by using lower resolutions and colour layering (PhotoRet II) to achieve faster, optimum results on any paper.

Norbert Kiss, general manager, sales Australia-New Zealand for Lexmark, says there are two major issues. The first is consumer awareness of TCO, and the second is specific printing solutions. This he says is the key to the successful implementation of enterprise printing. "Solutions such as electronic forms can save large customers or departments significant money." Norbert adds that in the home market, speed, quality and support remain the key issues and he believes this market will continue to be dominated by inkjet printing in the foreseeable future.

QMS' Oxley agrees that a major issue is appropriate and timely technical support. QMS has recently opened a Help Desk FreeCall number in conjunction with Tech Precision, the company's third-party maintenance partner. The facility is operated by QMS-trained technical staff and a software expert is available for further assistance. QMS encourages its reseller partners to take advantage of the free technical training offered. The training can be tailored to the environment in which the reseller is selling. The degree of sophistication of training can be determined by the reseller.

QMS has launched a limited offer reseller incentive program which allows a QMS reseller to purchase a Magicolor 2 DeskLaser for $1650 ex tax (normally $3995 ex tax). The only condition of the incentive program is that the reseller is not to on-sell the printer for a period of six months.

New products

INKJETS

Canon

released in mid-September, Canon's new Bubble Jet features a Super Economy Mode. The new mode can print four times more pages than normal mode and is suited to draft printing. A BC-20 black ink cartridge and a BC21e four-colour ink cartridge is included in the box. Also available is an optional scanner head, PhotoRealism cartridge and Fluorescent ink cartridge.

Canon's Drop Modulation technology is a feature for a higher precision print, and Image Optimisation technology is a feature to enhance low resolution images such as those downloaded from the Internet. Black text is produced at speeds up to 4.5ppm at 720 x 360dpi. Print media includes banner paper, plain, coated, water-resistant, high-resolution and glossy papers; overhead transparencies, high gloss and back lit display film; fabric sheets, new Mouse pad kits and T-shirt transfers. The BJC-4310SP comes with a one-year warranty, upgradeable to three years, and unlimited helpline support. The RRP is $299.

Epson

Epson has three new printers that have been on the market for a month. The Stylus Color 440 is an entry-level machine for first-time home users and students and the RRP is $299. The colour inkjet printer offers 720 x 720dpi, Epson's Perfect-Picture Imaging system, and four colours - CYMK- using a dual cartridge system. The printer features an "Automatic" mode, and when this is selected, the printer driver software scans the page to be printed and automatically chooses the best settings for each item. Preferred settings can also be selected using advanced driver settings. A bonus paper pack (samples of photo paper and photo quality inkjet paper) is included with the printer. It has been designed exclusively for Windows and supports 3.1x, 95, 98 and NT 4.0. There is a standard 12-month warranty and a multimedia online guide on CD-ROM.

The Stylus Color 640 has been introduced to compete with Canon's BJC4300 and HP's HP695. It is designed for home users and offers a maximum resolution of 1440 x 720dpi (720 x 720 on plain paper) and includes media options such as Fun Photo Stickers and Iron-On Transfer paper. The standard 12-month warranty can be extended to three years at the time of purchase for an additional $49. All other features are the same as for the 440. The RRP of the Stylus Color 640 is $399.

The Stylus Color 740 has been designed for the small office and home office and offers a resolution of 1440 x 720dpi "even on plain paper". The printer features an enhancement to Epson's Micro Piezo technology, variable-sized Droplet technology. This technology uses three dot sizes to achieve output which has less graininess, greater detail and reduced dot visibility. The technology is controlled according to the tone level - high-density areas of solid colour are printed with 19 picolitre ink droplets, or 10pl ink droplets, and medium-low density areas are printed with 6pl ink droplets. The 740 supports both Windows and Macintosh operating systems and has parallel, Mac Serial and USB ports. Epson claims that increased print speed is achieved because the number of black nozzles has been increased to 144 and the number of colour nozzles has been increased to 48 per colour. The printer comes with an on-screen status monitor so that users can more easily check ink levels and paper availability. An additional feature is PhotoEnhance 3. This function incorporates digital camera correction and a resolution conversion to optimise images downloaded from the Web or photos taken with a digital camera.

Other enhancements include a watermark function, a fit-to-page function for printing enlarged or reduced documents, and a print-layout function for printing multiple pages on a single page. The RRP of the Stylus Color 740 is $599.

Kodak

Kodak has just announced upgrades to its 2042 and 2060 large format inkjet printers (42in and 60in) for the display, signage and graphic art markets.

The enhancements, designed so that the systems are ready to use straight out of the box, include a wide colour gamut of new improved pigment inks and dye-based inks for indoor and outdoor applications, increased media portfolio, and an upgraded raster image processor (RIP) with Kodak ColourFlow.

Product features

The printers feature four different print modes, ink reservoirs extended to 500ml, take-up roller and a printer dryer system. Included is DigiColor's Posterjet RIP software v4.2 to guide users through the entire print process, and a free training CD.

The RRP of the 2042 is $25,995 and the 2060 is $33,920. Included in the price is the printer hardware, the software RIP, colour management software, a training CD, ink and paper.

Lexmark

Available from October 6, Lexmark compares its new 1100 Color Jetprinter with Canon's BJC 255sp and Epson's Stylus 300. Features include a resolution of 600 x 600 black and 600 x 600 colour. The single print head offers single colour with an optional black cartridge.

Print speed is claimed to be up to 1.5ppm for colour and 3.5ppm for black, and print is bi-directional. Paper handling capability is 30 sheets (as opposed to 100 sheets with models from Canon and Epson) of A4, Letter, or Legal paper. The printer weighs 2.04kg and a parallel printer cable is included (not so for Canon and Epson). Lexmark has included a one-year LexExpress replacement warranty. The RRP of the 1100 Color Jetprinter is $149.lasersKyoceraReleased in mid-August, the Kyocera FS-6700 is a 20ppm monochrome laser printer targeted at the graphics and design industry. It offers all the TCO and environmental benefits of Kyocera's Ecosys Product Strategy and it features Kyocera's hard wearing drum made from amorphous silicon.

This drum is guaranteed for 300,000 prints, reducing the need for replacement toner cartridges.

The FS-6700 is driven by a 100MHz PowerPC processor and comes with 4MB of memory, upgradeable to 68MB. Combined with high-speed I/O ports, it delivers 20ppm in A4 and 11ppm in A3 mode.

Additional features are PCLSe emulation with 45 scalable fonts and 600dpi resolution enhanced to 2400dpi by the Kyocera Image Refinement 2 (KIR2) upgrade.

The printer is Microsoft Windows compatible and options include up to three additional paper sources and a comprehensive range of LAN and IBM interfaces.

The RRP of the FS-6700 is $3984.

Nec

Released in mid-September, NEC's SuperScript 870 Laser Printer has a small footprint and is aimed at the home, SOHO, educational and small business markets. Features include 8ppm throughput, 600 x 600dpi print quality, and NEC's Sharp Edge technology. The printer comes with 2MB of memory and Adobe's Memory Expander. The base memory can be expanded to 16MB. A range of printing features is available through Adobe's Print Gear technology. The product comes standard with 78 Type 1 fonts (on CD) and seven resident PCL4.5 fonts.

Printer drivers cover Win 95/98, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 3.1x, DOS and Apple Macintosh. A solutions CD contains Adobe Type Manager, Adobe Acrobat Reader, clip-art images, and an online user's guide. The interface is bi-directional parallel, and an optional Ethernet card allows the printer to be networked. Other options include 500-sheet cassette (150-sheet is standard) and Adobe's PhotoScript 3 software printing option. The printer is covered by a three-year warranty. The SS 870 Laser Printer has a RRP of $755.

OKI

The Okipage 20N is a high-speed network monochrome page printer designed for medium-to-large workgroups. It runs at 20ppm and takes seven seconds to first print. The 1200dpi class LED printhead offers 600 x 1200 resolution, with 4MB of memory as standard. Memory can be upgraded to 68MB via a memory card and SIMM slots. Additional memory is available as a plug-in, and flash memory allows the storage and printing of forms, signatures, and special fonts (including barcodes). The 20N supports all major operating systems and "is compatible with most custom and off-the-shelf software". Network cards can be installed to add users, and Adobe PostScript 2 can be installed as a snap-in upgrade. The RRP of the Okipage 20N is $2665.combined machinesRicohAnnounced in September, Ricoh's Aficio 340 and 450 range are digital, multi-tasking machines (fax, copier and printer), have been designed to handle the high volumes associated with a dedicated main printer or fax, and have the capacity to be networked. Both products can scan fax documents at less than one second when in "Memory Input Mode".

This parallel memory transmission feature enables documents to be scanned at high speed while the product transmits simultaneously. The products incorporate A3 format-copying and faxing and offer "scan once, copy many" and image rotation capabilities. The original can be removed while the copies continue to be processed from memory. While the 340 operates at 35 copies and pages per minute, the 450 operates at 45 cpm/ppm.

The 450 also offers a maximum paper capacity of 3550 sheets, a 1.7GB hard drive, and the finisher has a 3000-sheet capacity for stacking multiple sets and four-position stapling and optional hole punch capabilities. Both products can print from sheet and book originals with high resolution and 256-level grey scale. They also feature an archive mode which means they can locally store multiple documents that would normally be stored on the network and print when required.

Two 500-sheet paper trays are standard on each product and dual beam laser technology is employed. Recyclable components are used where possible. The RRP of the Aficio 340 is $8450 and the 450 is $11,500.

Brother

The Brother MFC970mc builds seven functions into one machine - fax, phone, message, copy, print, scan, and PC fax. The built-in message centre includes a digital answering machine and handset, five mailboxes to store private fax and voice messages, caller ID, fax forwarding and remote fax and voice retrieval. Other features are a 100-sheet plain paper cassette and 512KB of memory to store up to 20 pages of fax messages or 15 minutes of voice messages. Multi-copying of up to 99 pages is possible with enlargement up to 150 per cent and reduction down to 50 per cent. The RRP of the MFC-970mc is $749.contactsBrother Tel (02) 9949 7422Canon Tel (02) 9805 2570Epson Tel (02) 9903 9000Hewlett-Packard Tel 13 2426IPL Datron (distributor of Oki) Tel (02) 9698 8211Kodak Tel (02) 9870 4222Kyocera Tel (02) 9906 8075Lexmark Tel 1800 674 484QMS Tel (02) 9901 3235Ricoh Tel (02) 9241 3131


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