COMPUTER BUSINESS REVIEW

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Issue Date: March 2007

Technology behind the scenes

1 March 2007
Ian Revell, country manager: South Africa, at Konica Minolta Printing Solutions

The paperless office was a popular topic some 25 years ago that never came to fruition. Print-outs of files were never eliminated but increased exponentially - partly thanks to faster communication resources that are easier to use, which have increased people's desire to share information.
Printer technology kept up with these developments, offering ever-faster printers and more professional quality at increasingly lower prices.
Two printing technologies are currently in use: inkjet and laser. The first - inkjet - is characterised by low hardware expenses and high printing costs. While laser printers are more expensive to acquire, they are significantly cheaper to use intensively due to low consumption costs.
Moreover, laser printers are much more suitable for continuously printing large quantities of voluminous documents at high speed. They also yield more professional results for single-colour (monochrome) printing than inkjet printers.
Inkjet led the field for a long time in colour printing, both in quality and price. Professional environments therefore tended to use a combination of laser printers for monochrome printing and inkjet printers for colour. That is behind us now, for laser printers have caught up and overtaken inkjet colour printing creating serious competition for inkjet technology.
The principle
The basis of the print process is a print file transmitted to the printer. The laser writes onto an electrically charged drum, reversing the polarity of the lit parts more strongly depending on the increasing intensity of the laser. This generates an electric image on the drum. The drum then rolls along the toner cartridge, with the charge distribution on the drum determining the location and density of the toner on the drum to generate the image in toner coverage.
Next, the drum transfers the toner image to the so-called belt, a cylinder or actual belt depending on the printer type. The paper from the feeder tray is guided along the belt and the toner is finally fixated onto the paper by the fuser unit - two rollers between which the toner is melted into the paper at high temperatures.
Market trends
The advantages of laser printers for monochrome printing - better print quality, higher speed, lower cost and higher reliability - have remained, but laser printers are now also competing with inkjet printers in the field of colour. Not just where it concerns quality, but also with regard to functionality - such as with the 'all-in-ones' and direct camera printing.
The benefits are well-known, including the more professional print quality on plain paper (paper does not warp, longer shelf life) at a lower price per page. In effect, modern colour laser printers are more affordable than the monochrome laser printers of the past and the benefit of low-cost consumables is now also a fact for colour cartridges. As such, the traditional reasons for working exclusively with monochrome laser printers and not buying colour laser printers - because they were expensive and their speed was affected by colour printing - are no longer valid.
Comparison
It is useful to compare prices and performance when buying a printer. One should look at inkjet versus laser as well as monochrome versus colour laser printers. A number of values have been defined to this end, such as the resolution in dots per inch (dpi), the printing speed in pages per minute and the cost per page.
Printer purchasers should also ask the following questions prior to making a decision: How does the resolution of 1200x1200 dpi compare to a contone resolution of 600x600x4 dpi? What does high printing speed mean if you have to wait a long time for the first page due to the lengthy warming-up time?
What is the value of a cost-price calculation if the printer shuts down during print jobs on a regular basis because consumables have to be replaced? And what is the advantage of high print quality if it deteriorates over time as cartridges and photo drum become subject to wear and tear?
In effect, modern colour laser printers are more affordable than the monochrome laser printers of the past and the benefit of low-cost consumables is now also a fact for colour cartridges. As such, the traditional reasons for working exclusively with monochrome laser printers and not buying colour laser printers - because they were expensive and their speed was affected by colour printing - are no longer valid.
Colour laser printers have become serious competitors for inkjet and monochrome laser printers in various market sectors, and the results of these competitive efforts are becoming clear.
For more information contact Ian Revell, Konica Minolta Printing Solutions Europe SA, +27 (0)11 661 9000, ianr@minolco.co.za


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