Product Review–Brother MFC-L8850CDW Colour Laser Multifunction Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer which is positioned as the step-up model in Brother’s full-speed colour laser multifunction printer lineup. This model is based on their HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer and is equipped with single-pass duplex scanning and a wide range of copy, fax and scan features.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour / B/W Colour 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Method
Laser xerographic
2400dpi from platen ID copy
Optimised receipt copy, enlarged text copy
Super G3 Optional high-capacity paper tray Ethernet,
802.11g/n Wi-Fi
Auto-duplex Single-pass duplex ADF T.37 Internet fax, Scan-to-email multi-purpose tray IPv6

Prices

Printer

RRP: AUD$849

Optional Extras:

High-capacity paper tray: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$109 2500 AUD$123.95 4500
Cyan AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Magenta AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Yellow AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500

 

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit AUD$267.95 25000
Belt Kit AUD$179.95 50000
Wast Toner Kit AUD$29.95 50000

The printer itself

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer

How the printer looks when it is used for any of these tasks

The Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer is based on the single-function Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer and others in the series, thus sharing the same improved colour laser-printing technology as its single-function stablemate. This has all the same abilities like the quick page-turnout and the duplex printing that this series is known for where it appears to work on both sides of two pages at one time.

Like other Brother laser printers and multifunctions, this unit has serparately-replaceable components for the print engine such as the drum unit and belt unit. This means that you can gain a longer service life out of these machines and their parts and can factor in these costs over the lifetime of the unit while not paying too much every time you need to replace the toner. One perceived disadvantage may be that you may run in to print-quality and reliability issues when you are using a drum unit or belt unit that is near the end of its useful life.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer LCD touchscreen

Large LCD touchscreen

One feature I admire about the Brother MFC-L8850CDW multifunction printer is that it is equipped with a large LCD touchscreen that is its “walk-up” user interface. There is also a touch-operated keypad that lights up when you have to enter numbers in to the machine like dialling a fax number or determining the number of copies you can do.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer user interface

LCD touchscreen and numeric keypad that shows when it is needed

People who have eyesight difficulties may benefit from this because of the large display area and avoiding unnecessary user-interface clutter which is a problem with a lot of business-focused multifunction devices that are in circulation.The only niggle that some people will find with this display is that the clock display takes a few seconds to update when you “wake up” the machine to start using it.

The automatic document feeder is a single-pass duplex type which scans both sides of a document at once for such jobs as double-sided copying. If you have to deal with bound original documents, this lid can be lifted up at the sides so that it lies flat on the original documents.

It, like most of the recent Brother business multifunction printer range, can work as a colour Super-G3 fax machine with a regular telephone connection or can work as a T.37-compliant Internet fax machine. This includes the ability to work as an “Internet-fax off-ramp” where it can receive a fax from the Internet and send it along regular telephone lines to an ordinary fax machine. This feature is pitched at users who have multiple locations separated by long distances and want to avoid huge long-distance telephony bills for sending documents by fax.

Walk-up functions – can be started from printer’s control surface

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer user interface

Task-specific copying options

This machine’s display leads to a simplified user interface that makes it easier for people to use it even if they haven’t used this model before. This is taken from the design cues used in today’s smartphones and tablets and you have such situations as function lists that scroll sideways and one-touch access to the common tasks.

When you copy documents with the Brother MFC-L8850CDW after not using it for a while, the unit will start scanning the originals to memory while the print engine warms up to start printing. This benefits such tasks as copying many pages from bound documents or simply to have the originals returned to whoever gave them to you.

The ID-copy function is, like on most recent Brother multifunction printers, still very simple to use because you don’t have to reposition the card when you flip it to copy the other side. On the other hand, if you line up any document to the edge of the glass surface, the printer clips a few millimetres from the edge of the document which can be of concern for those documents that are “worked to the edge”.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer app options

Task-specific apps now available

There are a variety of apps which provide extra functionality such as copying a section of text like a newspaper article. These apps also work alongside the popular online services like Dropbox, Facebook and Evernote so you can “scan to” these services. The Brother printer also supports the ability to print from these online services and the Brother Web Connect system allows multiple users to register their own accounts for each service on the same device. Furthermore, each user can protect their presence on these accounts using a PIN number.

The Brother MFC-L8850CDW does work with Brother’s iPrint&Scan mobile-printing software and the Apple AirPrint ecosystem to allow you to print from smartphones and tablets.

Computer functions

I downloaded the driver software for the Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer and had found it quick to install but you have to make sure you install the correct driver that pertains to the correct model of printer.

There is the “print-options at a glance” layout for specifying how the print job should be printed and you bring this option up when you click on the “Preferences” or “Properties” option when you specify your print job. This includes rough-previewing of how a duplex, booklet or “tiled” print-job should look like.

The Brother-supplied “ControlCenter4” scan software could benefit from direct access from the desktop rather than via the “Brother Tools” app and could allow you to organise the order of the scanned pages rather than having to delete then re-scan pages to achieve a particular page order for that PDF.

Print Quality and Useability

Like the Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer I previously reviewed, the Brother MFC-L8850CDW multifunction implements the “drawer-style” of consumable loading. This is where you pull out the drum unit as if it is a drawer to change the toner cartridges. This also extends to access to the printer’s internals when you have to deal with paper jamming or similar situations.

The Brother colour laser multifunction has a 6-second delay till the first page comes out when it hasn’t been used for a while. This is something that has to be expected of laser printers because of the way the toner is “fixed” on to the paper using hot rollers.

It was able to competently turn out a large double-sided document properly and reliably, although there it does pause for a few seconds after 30 pages. It may be to receive more data bot also to keep the machine’s running temperature in check. Like the single-function HL-L8350CDW and its stablemates, this Brother printer can effectively “work” both sides of two sheets of paper during a duplex-printing job. This only works with jobs that you submit from the computer rather than any of the “walk-up” printing jobs.

I also had to run a batch of mailing labels on this printer and had a problem with the printer jamming. The large LCD screen showed clearly where to remove any jammed paper and this process didn’t involve groping around in dark places to remove that paper. Then I re-ran the job on some newer labels and had to make sure I was specifying labels rather than plain paper when doing this kind of run.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The copy and scan functions could benefit from additional optimised-copy / optimised-scan modes to suit working with thin paper or with bound materials like books. As well, the “app” functionality could also benefit from functions to turn out “pre-ruled paper” like ruled notepaper, graph paper, check lists and music staves similar to what has been offered by HP and Canon for their inkjet and laser printers.’

A problem that can occur when printing a single double-sided document is where the printed document “curls up” in the output bay. This may happen when you use the printer earlier on in its service life. As well, I would also like to see the “quick duplex-printing” functionality where these Brother colour laser printers effectively work both sides of two pages improved to work with jobs you specify from the control panel or for continual printing of many pages.

As for scanning, the Brother multifunction printers could have the scan head able to scan “to the edge” of the glass when scanning documents from the glass platen rather than the automatic document feeder. This is because most of us would line up documents against the edge of the glass when scanning them to achieve a good-quality scan.

Another features that would be nice to have would be the display clock being synced to an NTP time server and supporting local time zone rules like what happens with computers or mobile devices. This can avoid the need to set the clock every time daylight-saving time changes for example as well as a desire to have an accurate clock for fax logs, etc. There could be a menu option to allow the USB port to work as a “plug-and-charge” USB port when the printer is in sleep or hibernate mode as well as supporting 1 amp or 2.1 amps power at that port, so as to allow us to charge smartphones, tablets and their accessories from the printer’s USB port at all times.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

If you are considering a heavy-duty desktop multifunction colour laser printer for that office where you expect to yield a lot of colour documents, I would give the Brother MFC-L885CDW some serious consideration. This is more so if you also expect to include the idea of scanning one or more large runs of documents to PDF and want to get both sides at once.

You could even consider teaming this printer along with one of the Brother A3 single-tray inkjet multifunction printers to set up an “all-inclusive” desktop printing / scanning setup for your small business, home office or non-profit organisation. Here, this unit could handle most regular A4-based printing jobs while you could run the inkjet unit on A3 jobs or those jobs that require special inkjet-compliant media.

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One of the reviewed printers seen in action at a small business

Brother HL-6180DW monochrome network laser printerPreviously I had reviewed the Brother HL-6180DW monochrome laser printer on this site and had recommended it as a mono laser printer for relatively heavy-duty requirements.

But yesterday, I had seen one of the printers in the same series as this printer used by my doctor, who practices at am inner-suburban clinic, to turn out some prescriptions that I needed. Here, this machine had to be used with the secondary paper tray that held the special stationery required for printing out the prescriptions. This printer has shown up the same abilities as the review sample when it came to the way it worked. The fact that this unit uses a separately

I would expect that it would satisfy the high-mileage requirements that would be expected for a printer being used by one or more family doctors who work at this kind of medical practice.

As well, the second paper tray could be offered as an option on any mid-tier monochrome laser printers so as to allow for the use of particular stationery, rather than having to manually load the particular stationery one sheet at a time on these printers.

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Product Review–Brother HL-6180DW monochrome laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-6180DW monochrome laser printer which is Brother’s latest entry in to the “office workhorse” laser-printer market.

The printer that I am reviewing here is the top-of-the-line model which has a page throughput of 48 pages per minute, a high-capacity paper tray and wireless networking. There are cheaper variants that have a lesser-capacity paper tray and work more slowly, with the models in this group having different connectivity options having wireless networking, Ethernet networking only or USB direct-connect only. All of them are driven by the same heavy-duty monochrome laser print engine and can print on both sides of the page.

Brother HL-6180DW monochrome network laser printer

Print Paper Trays Connections
B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser xerographic Multi-purpose tray Ethernet, 802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless
Auto-duplex  Optional high-capacity A4 paper tray Wi-Fi Direct, IPv6 ready

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$549

Optional Extras:

Optional high-capacity paper tray: AUD$180

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity Extra-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages Price
Black AUD$115.20 3000 AUD$183.90 8000 AUD$200.40 12000

 

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit AUD$171.82 30000

The printer itself

The Brother HL-6180DW is able to connect to a wired Ethernet or 802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless network. For that matter, it can support Wi-Fi Direct where it effectively becomes its own access point as well as AirPrint driver-free printing for the iOS platform. It still works with Brother’s iPrint&Scan Android app, being able to print Web pages, PDFs and photos from Android or iOS devices. It is also future-proof by being equipped for IPv6 in a dual-stack manner.

As a monochrome laser printer, this printer and the rest of the series are pitched as a “heavy-duty” take of the HL-2240D and similar units that I previously reviewed. These used a separately-replaceable toner and drum setup with the toner cartridge being “nested” in the drum unit that is loaded in to the front of the printer. This still has the advantage of the drum unit being separately replaceable which is more relevant to equipment that is expected to do a lot of work.

But the difference between these units and the other compact units is that the print engines on these models are optimised for heavy-duty printing. Here, you notice the difference with behaviour like the printer sounding like it is doing a normal print run even when working on both sides of the paper.

Printer setup experience

Hardware setup

Brother HL-6180DN laser printer control panel detail

Control panel

Something that can confuse some users is the front-door latch being confusingly part of the output retainer tab. This may be of concern when you are setting up the printer and removing all the packaging material or if you have to ask someone who isn’t familiar with the machine to change the toner or rectify a paper jam.

But once I opened the machine’s front service door, it didn’t take long to get the printer up and ready for use. The drum unit, with the toner cartridge. dropped in to the slot without any risk of user confusion, The paper was also easy to load up with a drawer that didn’t feel tacky.

Software setup

As is my practice when reviewing printers, I install the latest driver set from the manufacturer’s Web site rather than working from the CD that came with the equipment. This is to be sure I am not running a driver set that has bugs or isn’t tuned for best performance with current needs because of the desire amongst manufacturers to get the product to market very quickly.

During the installation phase, the driver software discovered the printer very quickly and was able to have the printer ready to go within a few minutes. Like other driver programs used with Brother printers, it still has the same easy-to-use user interface where there is a list of selected options for the print job.

Printer useability and page quality

The Brother HL-6180DW laser printer doesn’t take long to start turning out the print jobs. Here, it took only a second from when I clicked the “Print” button on the computer for it to come to life and have the first page of the document coming out of the output bay. There wasn’t any unnecessary curling or buckling with the paper after a print run because the printer’s fuser unit was effectively at temperature when the job came in. Even the auto-duplex cycle was very quick with it taking around three seconds to print both sides of the page.

There is a confidential-print mode where you can set up a passcode that you enter in to the printer to claim the print job. But, like the other single-function printers with this feature, it requires the user to enter the passcode using the “pick’n’choose” method with the arrow keys and this can cause users to be impatient with this printer.

Brother HL-6180DN laser printer replaceable parts

Separately-replaceable toner cartridge and drum unit that nest in to each other

Like all of the Brother laser printers, the HL-6180DW uses a separately-replaceable toner cartridge and drum unit which slot in to the front of the unit. Here, like the compact HL-2240D and others in that series, this unit requires the drum unit to be removed from the printer before you can replace the toner cartridge. But it is still easy to detach and attach the toner cartridge and drum unit by you pressing a distinct green tab to separate these pieces.

The auto-duplex function was exact with the registration when printing A4. This would be important for desktop publishing, especially if you want to turn out tent cards, door hangers and the like.

When you print colour photos using this printer, the 1200dpi image was brighter than the 600dpi image, thus was also close to what a colour image would look like on those old black-and-white TVs. The printer also turned out some very sharp text from material printed out from the computer.

The Brother HL-6180 laser printer was very reliable with turning out a large auto-duplex print job, thus not being prone to jam up. In fact if it runs out of paper, you don’t need to do anything further to get the job going beyond just putting the paper in the drawer.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother HL-6180DW and others in this series could benefit from a few useability improvements here. For example, a distinctly-coloured latch release for the front service door could be beneficial here because this is hard to find amongst the document retainer flap on the top of the printer. Here, the confusion can occur if a user had to open up the printer to replace the toner or rectify a paper jam.

As well, there is the absence of a “fuel-gauge” on the display to show how much toner is available. Here, this can be useful if you were to determine whether to always run high-capacity cartridges or know if you were to order extra toner after a large print job.

Similarly the printer could benefit from a USB port to permit walk-up printing of PDF files or use of a USB keypad to improve the useability of the printer’s “secure print” function. This could be delivered as a product differentiator for the high-end models. As well, the HL-5470DW could be able to work with the extra-high-capacity toner cartridge, which could be handy if you were to avoid having to spend heaps of money on toner.

As well, the end-of-job cool-down noise could be reduced by, perhaps, gradually slowing down the fan’s speed through the cooling cycle or running the fan very fast for a few minutes just at the end of a print job.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

The Brother HL-6180DW laser printer is one I would recommend for use as an office’s main laser printer. This would be very important in paper-intense environments like schools or medical and legal practices or for those of us who are doing plenty of monochrome desktop publishing. If you could afford to, you may be at a point where you can use the high-capacity or extra-high-capacity toner cartridges for most of the machine’s working life and use the standard-capacity toner cartridge as a short-term measure if the organisation was short on cash.

If you want to save money but want a heavy-duty laser printer, I would recommend that you could go for the Brother HL-5470DW if you value Wi-Fi connectivity or the HL-5450DN if you are just connecting to an Ethernet or HomePlug network segment. Here, you don’t have the ability to load up a large quantity of paper or use the extra-capacity toner cartridge. But, as I have said before, I would recommend using the high-capacity toner cartridges due to the low cost-per-page and the long time between replacing them.

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Laser and LED xerographic printing–what is the difference

When you are looking at laser printers to buy for yourself or specify for an organisation, you will come across printers that are known as “LED printers”.

What are these LED printers?

A LED printer and a laser printer are very similar types of printers in so much as how the paper is marked. They use the same dry-process xerographic / photostatic printing method that has been used for years with photocopiers, where there is an electrostatically-charged imaging drum which attracts powdered toner depending on whether it has been subject to light or not. Then this toner is transferred from the drum to electrostatically-charged paper and “ironed on” using hot fuser rollers.

But the main difference is how this imaging drum is illuminated with the digital representation of your document. A laser printer uses a laser beam and swivelling mirrors or pentagonal prisms to scan the document’s image on to the drum. On the other hand, an LED printer uses a fixed row of light-emitting diodes that turn on and off to scan the image to the drum. This LED array would be similar to what is used to illuminate a document when it is being scanned in the typical scanner and each LED light represents a horizontal pixel that is part of the line being printed.

This has benefits for printer design due to the elimination of the complex light path that laser printers use. Here, you don’t need to use mirrors and servo motors to control the laser’s light path, thus you reduce the number of parts that can go wrong. It also leads to the ability to design xerographic page printers that are more compact and lightweight compared to the laser-based units.

Further comments with OKI Data about LED printers

I had engaged in an email interview with Chris Thorley from OKI Data’s Australian head office to learn more about this. Here, I had learnt that they had pioneered this xerographic printing technology in 1981 and are now on their ninth-generation LED print engine.

Most other printer manufacturers use this LED technology on some of their low-end models. The main reason is a reduced part count allowing for reduced material costs; as well as the impact of unforseen technological issues not being considered significant for this market position, compared with using the trusted laser technology on their mid-tier and high-end models.

But OKI Data have implemented this technology across the board with their colour LED printers known to be yielding high colour production quality. It may also be known that some other manufacturers implement the OKI technology in to their production printing devices on an OEM (Other Equipment Manufacturer) basis. This practice is where a manufacturer uses an already-designed subsystem from anther manufacturer (the OEM)  in their own project.

Conclusion

It is worth considering the LED printers for your page-printer needs as long as they have the kind of specifications that you have in mind. This includes machine reliability, image quality, print speed including colour and auto-duplex print speed, functionality and running costs including availability of toner cartridges at differing capacity levels.

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HP TopShot Scanning–what is it?

Articles

HP TopShot LaserJet Pro M275 scans 3D objects but only prints in 2D (video) | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

HP

 Product Page; Datasheet (PDF)

Press Release

My Comments

HP has introduced a scanning system for one of their newer multifunction laser printers that would be considered out of the ordinary. Some of the press about this technology focuses on the 3D imaging but I see the technology as another way to image objects in a manner that can suit small businesses.

Here, the system, known as “TopShot” uses a document camera with integrated flash heads rather than a scanning bar to scan a document. The camera is mounted on a folding arm and sets up in a manner similar to how you would set up an overhead projector.

When you start the scan process, the camera would take six images, three with the flash and three in ambient lighting conditions. There is the use of different angles and exposure setups which can suit different requirements.

The main benefits offered is that you can obtain a higher-quality scan from bound documents like books.  Ordinarily you would have to place the book face down on your scanner’s glass and, perhaps, press down on the scanner’s lid to obtain a high-quality copy. This can damage the book’s binding and can also place the scanner’s lid and hinge at risk of damage. Some scanners and multifunction printers have implemented “pantograph” lid hinges so that the lid can be lifted over bound documents.

The TopShot scanning system would be at an advantage when you are dealing with very old and fragile documents; and would lend itself to those of us who deal with antiquarian books and similar material.

There is also the ability to use the scanner as a “white-box” photography studio for photographing small objects. HP are targeting this feature at online traders who want to get pictures of the goods they have for sale so they can populate their online catalogues or eBay sites. It would also please users who write blogs or Web articles discussing particular objects; people who are creating documents like inventories, manuals and catalogues or working with article databases.

The first implementation of this scanning technology will be in the form of the HP TopShot LaserJet Pro 200 colour laser multifunction printer. Like what is common with devices that offer “cutting-eddge” features, some other features tend to go by the wayside. In this example, the printer was less than spectacular judging from what I read of the site. Here, it didn’t have auto-duplex printing nor was the printing speed all that quick.

Of course, this printer has the HP ePrint functionality and the ability to work with mobile devices using AirPrint, Google’s CloudPrint or the HP ePrint Home & Biz mobile app. I would also like to see the TopShot scanning mechanism available as a dedicated device that is either connected directly to the host computer or to a network, which could allow it to work as a complementary tool for those of us who have good multifunction printers.

The big question with TopShot is the quality of document scans or object pictures taken using this setup compared to traditional setups. Could a TopShot printer yield a better electronic image or copy of a page compared to a regular scanner or multifunction printer? Could the TopShot take a better quality picture of a small object than a regular digital camera user working with a “white-box” setup?

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Product Review–Dell 1130n compact monochrome laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell 1130n compact monochrome laser printer which is Dell’s own effort at a compact monochrome laser business printer similar to the Brother HL-2230 series of compact monochrome laser printers. This unit is network-enabled for Ethernet but doesn’t use auto-duplex printing.

It can be ordered directly from Dell at their site by clicking this link.

Dell 1130n compact monochrome laser printer

Print Paper Trays Connections
B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser xerographic Multi-purpose slot Ethernet
IPv6 ready

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price: $229

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$94.60 (online) 1500 AUD$110 (online) 2500

The printer itself

Computer functions

The software was very quick and trouble-free to install. As well, it didn’t slow the computer down during print jobs. There is a print-monitor function for direct-connect and network-connect setups but this only comes in to play when there is an error condition. It can be started independently of a print job or error condition if you want to check on things like toner level for example and is effectively the printer’s dashboard.

Use

Dell 1130n mono laser printer print cartridge

The integrated toner-drum print cartridge that this printer takes

The toner cartridge is different from that used in the Brother compact printers in that it is an integrated toner / drum-unit cartridge similar to what happens with HP LaserJet printers. For this kind of integrated print cartridge, there is the availabliity of a high-capacity cartridge as well as a standard-capacity cartridge which allows for scalability to suit one’s needs and budget.

Like most of these laser printers, the Dell 1130n doesn’t have a “fuel-gauge” on the machine so you can know how much toner is left. This “fuel gauge” is part of the print monitor application which is the printer’s dashboard.

It only takes a few seconds for the printer to turn out a document, whether it is a photograph or a text document. It will work in an ideal manner with large document runs after 100-150 pages, where there will be less of the paper-curling. As for page turnout, it lives up to the specification for the pages-per-minute with pages coming out very quickly.

Print quality

The printer does yield very sharp crisp text for document printout, which would be acceptable for business work; and is very typical of most lasers. Even a mixed-mode document with graphics and text does come out very crisply.

I have printed one of my photos using the two print-quality settings and when you use the “Best” print quality, you see a sharper image. The images come out darker than the HP LaserJet M1536dnf multifunction monochrome laser but very similar to what has emerged from the Brother HL2240d compact monochrome laser. At least the best-quality image available from this compact monochrome laser was true to what would be seen in a newspaper or on a black-and-white TV.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

There is no distinct “fall-to-sleep” mode where only one small light glows if there are long periods of inactivity. As well, this printer lacks an automatic duplexer which permits and encourages double-sided printing.

As well, a very common problem with all Dell printers is the ability to know where to get consumables beyond ordering them directly through Dell. This may be of importance if you run the printer “to the edge” and need to stock up on supplies during an urgent project. It should be feasible that you could buy toner cartridges at “bricks-and-mortar” shops like stationers or newsagents as well as online through Dell.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend this printer as being suitable for a reception-desk invoice printer at a business like a clinic who has growth aspirations. The scalability offered by the availability of a high-capacity print cartridge as well as a standard print cartridge, as well as network connectivity, can allow the business to “start small” with cheaper cartridges then grow to the higher-capacity cartridges. In the case of a clinic, this can cater for a situation where there are one or two doctors practising but allow for the situation where more of the professionals start to practise at that same location.

If you are wanting to save money by buying the Dell 1130 which is the cheaper direct-connect-only version of this printer, I would suggest that you go for this model because it would be worth it to keeep going.. This is because when you run out of toner on the cheaper model, you could effectively buy another of that model whereas you could complete two of hte high-capacity toner cartridges to spend the equivalent on keeping it going.

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Product Review–HP LaserJet M1536dnf mono laser multifunction printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the HP LaserJet Pro M1536dnf monochrome laser multifunction printer which is another printer in this class that provides most of today’s expected features to the professional user. It is based on the print engine that HP has implemented in the LaserJet Pro P1560 direct-connect printer that I previously reviewed and the network-connectable duplex-capable LaserJet Pro P1600 printer.

HP LaserJet M1536dnf monochrome laser multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
B/W Colour B/W B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser
xerographic
1200 dpi Resolution ID copy Super G3 Multi-purpose tray Ethernet
Auto-duplex Automatic Document Feeder ePrint email-to-print receive IPv6 ready

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$548.00

Toner

Standard
Price Pages
Black AUD$116.88 2100

Other Costs

The HP ePrint “print-to-email” service is free of charge. This includes maintaining your printer’s email address and the documents that you receive through that address.

The printer itself

The HP LaserJet Pro M1536 supports the functionality that is desirable for a multifunction laser printer targeted at the small business or professional, like duplex printing, proper fax functionality for regular fax services as well as connectivity to an Ethernet network.

Typically the fact that a printer doesn’t support Wi-Fi wireless networking may count against it as far as network functionality, especially “no-new-wires” networking, goes for this market space. But the Ethernet connectivity allows this printer to work with a HomePlug network or Wi-Fi network as long as you use one of those “homeplugs” or a Wi-Fi client bridge. As well, the LaserJet, like most current-model small-business printers that connect to a network, is able to work with an IPv6 network, thus making it future-proof for next-generation networks.

Setup

This printer was easy to set up without any need for convoluted procedures, which is an advantage of HP’s integrated cartridge design used in all of the small-business LaserJets. This included connecting it to a typical small network via Ethernet. There is the option to manually configure the network settings for difficult networks.HP LaserJet M1536 monochrome laser multifunction printer control panel - ePrint enabled

Walk-up functions

The HP LaserJet M1536dnf can work as a convenience photocopier or a fax machine and, like most of the machines of this type, it supports “ID copy” functionality for copying documents like driving licences. As well it can digitally enlarge or reduce documents with this function being accessed from one button. Similarly, the user can do “double-sided” copying as long as they flip the original document over.

Like the HP LaserJet Pro CM1415 that I previously reviewed, this LaserJet printer uses flash memory rather than RAM to store received and pending faxes. This provides for a “power-safe” operating environment where if the power fails or fluctuates, you don’t lose received faxes that are to be printed or faxes yet to be transmitted. It also works well with the private-receive function which uses this memory as a “fax vault” where the machine receives faxes but doesn’t print these faxes until you enter a PIN code to release them. This is a feature that I would consider important if you work with confidential material in a premises that has uncontrolled access to the office technology.

Like most of the current-model HP multifunction printers and an increasing number of Canon high-end multifunction printers, this printer offers a “quick forms” feature where the printer can turn out notepaper, graph paper, music staves or similar ruled paper at the touch of a button. This is only available through the Setup menus  You still have the problem of a limited choice of ruled paper. Examples of these limitations include 10 staves for portrait-format music paper (which affects writing for certain music ensembles like vocal and piano or quartets) as well as the inability to print certain “quick forms” like notepaper or checklists on both sides.

This printer supports ePrint “email-to-print” functionality but only for receiving print jobs sent to its email address. This function could also benefit from the same “private receive” function that is available for faxes.

Computer functions

The HP LaserJet M1536dnf’s driver software had loaded very quickly in to my machine and there weren’t any particular problems associated with running it. Even practices like choosing the duplex-printing style are made easier through a “bound-document” graphic which shows how the document will come out after it is printed.

This HP LaserJet doesn’t support control-panel-initiated scan-to-computer functionality unlike most of its peers, so it didn’t need to run a scan monitor program. Other than that, the scanner is a colour unit that is able to do what is expected for this class of equipment. Of course, HP has provided scanning software that allows for “scan-to-PDF”, a function that Microsoft could provide within the Windows operating system.

Useability

The display on this unit is a large backlit LCD display with easy-to-read text. Most of the walk-up functions are a button-press away and the text and icons on the control panel are easy to see.

This laser printer, like the other HP LaserJet printers that I have reviewed, uses an integrated print-cartridge system which has the toner supply and drum unit in one user-replaceable cartridge. This makes it easier to replace the cartridges through the machine’s working life and there isn’t any need to think of having to replace a drum kit. The only limitation with this setup is that the printer isn’t as economical to run as a printer that has a separately-replaceable drum unit like the Brother laser printers.

Here, the user just has to open two lids and pull out the used cartridge and drop in the new cartridge. There isn’t any need to push extra hard to make sure the cartridge is in place.

Like a lot of these monochrome laser printers, there isn’t a way of knowing at a glance where you stand as far as your toner supply goes. Here, you have to go to the printer’s embedded Web server to check how much toner is left or print out a “Supplies Status” report to obtain this same data. There is a light on the printer’s control panel that comes on when you are really low on toner.

Print quality

The documents had come out of the LaserJet M1536dnf with the typical crispness of a laser printer’s output. This is even so with output that has pictures and text.

I had printed a photo through this printer and the picture doesn’t have a strong a contrast as the same picture printed on the previously-reviewed Brother mono laser printers.

As far as print speed is concerned, the HP LaserJet was able to achieve the required speed for a monochrome laser printer. There is still the time penalty associated with duplex printing that is common with most printers that have this feature but this penalty is around twice as long as printing a single side. It is also worth noting that whether the printer has just been used recently or not, the first page of a job is out in 6 seconds with the print mechanism working at proper operating temperature.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

This printer, like the other HP LaserJets could benefit from the availability of optional extra-cost high-capacity print cartridges. This can allow for a business to use cheaper standard cartridges through normal times yet cater for peak printing times like larger projects.

I would also like to see a “fuel-gauge” indicator on the LCD display that indicates how much toner is available in the print cartridge, so you can know whether you need to buy more toner after those large printing project.

The fax subsystem could benefit from T.37 / T.38 standards-based Internet-driven faxing and a “scan-to-email” function in order to cater for IP-based telephony infrastructure. The ePrint email-to-print, which is an HP-driven concept, does provide some of this functionality but it could offer more.

As well, the flash-memory that is used for the unit’s fax functionality could be used as the printer’s memory this allowing for improved fail-safe printing. It can be augmented through the use of SD cards as a way of allowing the user to expand the printer’s memory as they see fit.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

HP LaserJet M1536dnf monochrome laser multifunction printerThe HP LaserJet M1536dnf is one of these laser printers that would fit in a very tight competitive market, a unit that would please the professional who needs to turn out many of the documents and reports as part of their business life.

The only major problem for someone who wants these desireable features from an HP LaserJet multifunction laser printer is the price of the unit compared to that of competing models that print the same way offered by other manufacturers like Brother. If a person places value on the HP ePrint service such as to print from smartphones; power-safe flash memory for faxes; a well-built machine or a simple-to-replace toner cartridge, they could go for this printer where as most other people could just opt for the Brother MFC-7460DN for their network-connected duplex-printing monochrome laser multifunction.

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Product Review–Brother MFC-7360N monochrome multifunction laser printer

Introduction

I am now reviewing the Brother MFC-7360N monochrome multifunction laser printer which is part of a series of newly-released monochrome-laser multifunction printers released by this company. This unit is positioned as a “step-up” model above the MFC-7360 entry-level direct-connect model. The midrange model in this series is the MFC-7460DN which can print on both sides of the page as well as become future-proof by supporting T.37-compliant Internet faxing. The top-shelf model is the MFC-7860DW which also has 802.11g WPA2 WPS-compliant Wi-Fi connectivity and can accept output from smartphones and tablets equipped with the Brother iPrint&Scan app.

They all have the same new “compact monochrome laser” print engine as the Brother HL-2240D printer that I previously reviewed and its peers such as the HL-2270DN network model that I also recommend. Here, this xerographic-print engine is a full laser type and can yield a simplex print speed of 24 pages per minute.

Brother MFC-7360N monochrome laser multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
B/W Colour B/W B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser Xerographic 2400dpi G3 Multi-purpose slot Ethernet
Automatic Document Feeder IPv6

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$349.99

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black 69.99 1200 $118.99 2600

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit AUD$129.95 12000

The printer itself

This unit uses the typical control panel layout as common with most machines in its class but the LCD display could benefit from backlighting. Here, I had to set the display contrast to maximum to gain best readability; and is something that could be improved upon.

Brother MFC-7360N monochrome laser multifunction printer control panel

Control panel

Setup

This unit has the same Brother fax-setup wizard with one name and fax number as a station ID, so you don’t have to determine a separate station ID for transmitting and receiving. It also can work properly with a dedicated fax line or a shared fax line, whether through a distinctinve ring (Faxstream Duet) setup or a CNG-detect arrangement.

It can be set up on an Ethernet (or HomePlug) network with plug-and-play operation for most small networks and is IPv6 ready. Of course, when the time comes to enable the network for IPv6, the user just has to go to the Network menu on the control panel and select “IPv6” and set that to “On” before turning the unit off and on in order to have it as part of the IPv6 network.

It could benefit from NTP-based Internet time synchronisation with time-zone selection so the user doesn’t have to set the clock when they set up or shift this machine or after a power blackout.

Walk-up functions

This unit has the basic copy and fax functions, and allows walk-up scanning to network-connected computers only. Here, the host computer needs to run Brother-supplied scan monitor software

The more-expensive models; the MFC7460DN and MFC-7860DW, have the ability to support scan-to-email and T.37-compliant Internet-fax endpoint functionality. These features should be available across the range as we move away from the circuit-based telephone setup towards packet-based telephony.setups courtesy of the next-generation broadband infrastructure plans.

Brother MFC-7360N Monochrome Multifunction Laser Printer ADF

Automatic Document Feeder with document loaded

The printer’s automatic document feeder may look as though it is missing something because of the absence of the paper input tray. But this tray is actually the lid that swings open to the right when you use the document feeder. This is infact a style that is becoming common with Brother small-business multifunction printers that have this feature; and allows for a machine to look more neater. It also assures more reliable operation of the document feeder because the input chute isn’t always exposed to dust and other foreign objects.

Computer functions

The software is very easy and trouble-free to load and has that same “at-a-glance” view for the print job settings that all of the Brother printer drivers have always had. As well, it makes proper use of the Windows 7 Device Stage for managing the printer’s functionality.

This is in fact where you manage the printer’s unobtrusive and reliable scan monitor software, which has been a sore point with many of the multifunction devices that I have used and reviewed. Here, you can determine what form the image file should be and which application should open the file.

Print Quality

The Brother MFC-7360N, like the previously-reviewed HL-2240D and others based on the same print engine, does the job properly by starting quickly and turning each page out quickly. Like most laser printers and multifunction units, it requires the user to press tie Start button after they replenish the paper tray during a print job.

The print quality is as sharp as expected for a monochrome laser printer especially when it comes to turning out documents. For photographs, it will reproduce the images as expected for black-and-white images when set to 600dpi in the print driver but can have issues with image contrast especially at higher dpi settings. Luckily, the printer didn’t complain of memory overload when I sent through the 1200dpi photo print job but it yielded an image that appeared too dark and with little contrast.

It also the similar consumables to the HL-2240D and requires the user to take the drum-unit assembly out and detach the toner cartridge from the assembly to replace the toner. This of course will have the same room for error by allowing the drum unit to be exposed to dirt unless it is on a clean surface when the user replaces the toner.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One improvement that I would like to see for the range would be to have the LCD display showing a high-contrast image. This could be augmented by having the display backlit during operation even with just a basic LED arrangement; akin to what is done with the HL-4150CDN.

There is still the common issue that this machine has with other Brother printers based on the new compact monochrome laser-printer engine that can impair the useability. This is where the user has to remove the drum unit from the printer to replace the toner. It could be improved upon with a similar arrangement to what is used for the colour lasers where the drum unit assembly is pulled out like a drawer so the user can replace the toner cartridge.

The feature limitations like the lack of duplex printing and inability to support Internet-based faxing may be necessary to keep the printer as a step-up model within the multifunction range.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Brother MFC-7360N monochrome multifunction laser printerThis printer can work well as an entry-level or supplementary monochrome laser printer where basic copying, scamming and faxing are desired. But I would recommend the MFC-7460DN, which is the model above it, if you expect to do a lot of document printing or place value on having future-proof Internet fax abilities.

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Product Review–Brother HL-2240D compact direct-connect monochrome laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-2240D monochrome laser printer which is the second in line in Brother’s latest series of compact monochrome laser printers. There is a cheaper version of this printer, the HL-2230, which doesn’t have the auto-duplex functionality. On the other hand, the HL-2250DN and HL-2270DW printers have the same functionality as this model but can be connected to an Ethernet network or HomePlug powerline network with the appropriate adaptors; with the latter model being able to be connected to a Wi-Fi network as well.

It is also worth noting that the HL-2270DW model, which is the Wi-Fi-enabled top-shelf model of the series had won the Buyer’s Laboratory “Pick” Award for A4 SOHO printers.

Brother HL-2240D compact monochrome laser printer

Print Paper Trays Connections
B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser xerographic Single-page manual bypass
Auto-duplex

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$149

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$69.95 1200 AUD$118.95 2600

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit AUD$129.95 12000

The printer itself

Like its low-end laser-printer peers, the Brother HL-2240D and its stablemates are very compact printers that is very shallow, slightly higher than two large-city telephone directories stacked on top of each other. This means that the printed documents are easy to reach from one’s chair and it doesn’t take up much bench space.

Usage experience

The software that came with the printer had installed on my computer very properly and had operated true to the Windows 7 specifications. As well, the user-interface screens for the driver are very easy to use, being able to show on the left side the settings you have implemented for your print job. This is a very similar experience that I had with the driver software that I had for the Brother HL-4150CDN colour laser printer when I reviewed that unit; and has demonstrated to me that Brother has made strong efforts with their software’s useability.

The Brother HL-2240D printer and printers based on this similar print engine take between 6 to 8 seconds to warm up and be ready to print. It doesn’t matter if this printer has been just used or not.

There is a significant time penalty with this printer for duplex printing, where the machine will take twice as long to turn out documents. This is because it can handle only one page at a time through a duplex print cycle; and will likely be a problem with compact laser printers that use this feature.

The printer uses a manual feed slot for labels, transparencies, envelopes and similar material and these materials have to be loaded one at a time. There may be some materials that have to pass through the printer in a straight-through manner similar to the old photocopier or original Apple LaserWriter printer. Here, there is a drop-down hatch on the back of the printer to cater for these requirements.

There isn’t a “fuel-gauge” for the toner, a feature I would find useful when working out the effect of a large print run on the machine’s toner supplies. The only way the user knows if the printer is out of toner is through the “TONER” light on the top of the machine flashing when it is very low and this same light glowing steadily when they need to replace the toner.

Brother HL-2240D laser printer - toner cartridge and drum unit as removed from printer

What is required to be removed to replace the toner on these printers

When you have to replace the toner cartridge on the Brother HL-2240D and its peers, you have to remove the drum unit from the machine then release the toner cartridge from the drum unit by operating a small green latch on the left side of the drum unit. This process can appear to be very fiddly compared to other laser printers that I have reviewed, where you could just simply pull out the spent toner cartridge from the printer after opening the access door / lid and, in the case of the colour lasers, pulling out a drawer. It is also prone to mistakes and reduced printout quality if the user doesn’t know where to “park” the drum unit while replacing the toner cartridge.

Brother HL-2240D Compact Laser Printer - Toner Cartridge and Drum Unit separate

Toner Cartridge detached from drum unit

Print Quality

The output quality is what you would expect from a laser printer when it comes to text, with the sharp lettering that is typical of this class of printer. But give it a photograph to be printed in greyscale and you will have some banding across the page. As well, the pictures come out slightly darker even though they are printed on plain paper. This is usually due to these printers having their prowess anchored around document printing.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

An improvement that I would like to see would be an easier-to-replace toner cartridge. This is where the drum unit can be pulled out just enough to remove and replace the toner cartridge without the need to operate any catches.

Similarly, these printers could benefit from an on-machine or driver-based toner “fuel gauge” indicator. This is so that one can know where they are at with the toner supply for their units.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend that the Brother HL-2240D or HL-2250DN printers be considered for applications like most small medical or legal practices; small hotels or independent travel agents where there is a strong likelihood of turning out standard documents where colour doesn’t matter like invoices, health-insurance forms or itineraries.

Similarly these two printers could be used in a lawyer’s, psychologist’s or other similar professional’s office for turning out confidential information for their patients or clients. It is also augmented by the fact that these printers could easily just occupy the space of a small table like the archetypal side table; which may befit one of these professional’s offices.

The HL-2250DN would suit applications where there are two to five computers sharing the one printer or the location uses laptop computers connected to the network via Wi-Fi wireless. If this was used in a Wi-Fi-based location, this printer would be connected to the network via Ethernet or HomePlug.

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Buyer’s Guide–Buying a printer for your small business

Introduction

You might be at that position where the computer printer at your small business is “on its last legs” or becoming impossible to run economically. On the other hand, you may find you are working your existing printer harder and need to consider a machine that is suited to your current workload.

Similarly, as the end of the financial year approaches, you will face advertising from computer resellers and retailers; and office-supply stores for technology like printers at very enticing prices, usually to allow businesses to buy capital equipment that can be quickly offset against their income for tax purposes. This can become more intense whenever the government announces significant tax breaks for business owners when they purchase capital equipment.

At this point, you could easily make a mistake concerning the purchase of a printer and end up buying the wrong machine for your needs. I have prepared this buyers’ guide so you can be sure you are getting the right printer to suit your business’s needs and be able to use a machine that gives you more “bang for the buck”.

Printer classes

Laser printers

HP LaserJet Pro 1560 printer

HP LaserJet Pro 1560 monochrome laser printer

A laser printer uses a xerographic dry-printing mechanism to print the image to the paper, in a similar way to how the classic photocopier worked. But they use a laser or, in cheaper printers, an LED to illuminate the photostatic drum with the computer-generated image to be printed.

Colour laser printers use four of these mechanisms to imprint the four colours and some cheaper versions may use only one drum and four toners to print the same page; which will take longer to come out.

This class of printer is typically known for printing many copies of “press-quality” documents and has started the “desktop-publishing” revolution.

It is worth knowing that some laser printers will use a cartridge which has an integrated drum as well as the toner supply while others like most of the Brother range will use a separately-replaceable drum unit. With the latter model, you may have to factor in the cost of the drum unit which will occur later on in the machine’s life; usually after 17000-25000 pages.

Business Inkjet printers

HP OfficeJet 6500

HP OfficeJet 6500 business inkjet multifunction printer

This class of inkjet printer is pitched primarily at business users and uses high-capacity cartridges and is optimised for a high duty cycle. They will also have business-target functionality like advanced fax functionality and the ability to work with advanced networks.

Consumer Inkjet printers

Canon PIXMA MX-350 multifunction printer

Canon PIXMA MX-350 multifunction printer with fax

Typically this class of network printer will be optimised for photographic printing and have inks that reproduce photos well. But on the other hand, they will be optimised for a low duty cycle with low-capacity ink cartridges. If they have fax functionality, this functionality will be very basic and as far as network connectivity is concerned, these printers will be suited to a basic small network.

Buying dilemmas that a business owner can face

As a business owner, you may face some buying dilemmas when you choose certain printers. This is especially as manufacturers design printers, especially multifunction printers, that effectively have similar capabilities to others of a different class. Here, the prices for the machines are similar and they may have similar print speeds or functionalities. But there may be certain key differences like the cost to run the machine or the machine’s prowess at particular print jobs.

The two main examples of this are: a high-end fax-equipped consumer inkjet multifunction like the HP Photosmart Premium Fax C410a ( an ePrint-enabled successor to the HP Photosmart Premium Fax C309a full-duplex inkjet printer) and a network-capable business inkjet multifunction like the HP OfficeJet 6500A Series; or a high-end business inkjet multifunction like the HP OfficeJet Pro 8500 Series and en entry-level colour laser multifunction like the HP Colour LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw.

High-end consumer inkjet vs a business inkjet

HP Photosmart Premium Fax C410 consumer inkjet printer

HP Photosmart Premium Fax C410 - a high-end consumer inkjet multifunction printer

A high-end consumer inkjet printer will be optimised for photo printing whereas a low-end networkable business inkjet will be primarily targeted at printing large runs of documents. This will affect ink-cartridge capacity, machine durability, functionality and printer throughput in many ways.

The former printer will typically have five or more inks and these inks will typically be in lower-capacity cartridges which need replacing more often than the four inks used in a low-end business inkjet printer. I would still suggest that businesses prefer the models with separately-replaceable ink cartridges because each ink can be replaced as needed.

As well, these consumer-level printers will typically have functions that make it easier to print pictures directly from a digital camera whether it’ is “tethered” by a USB cable or one takes the “film” (memory card) out of the camera. Some of these printers may offer the ability to print from a mobile phone via Bluetooth whether through integrated circuitry or an optional Bluetooth module.

HP OfficeJet 6500a business inkjet printer

HP OfficeJet 6500a - a modest-priced business inkjet printer

It may be worth knowing that some business-level inkjets are acquiring this kind of functionality but most of these printers won’t turn out the high-quality prints from digital cameras. Here, this functionality may be useful for applications where print quality doesn’t matter like hardcopy proofs that are used for “shortlisting” pictures for a project.

I would consider the premium consumer-level inkjet printer as a business printer if you rely on it for turning out high-quality digital prints whether from your PC or your digital camera and don’t do much printing on it. If you want the best of both worlds, you could get by with a dedicated photo-optimised printer for photographic jobs and a business-grade multifunction printer for regular business printouts.

High-end business inkjet vs an entry-level colour laser

An example of this situation is HP’s OfficeJet Pro 8500a inkjet and the HP Colour LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw.

HP OfficeJet Pro 8500a Plus multifunction inkjet printer

HP OfficeJet Pro 8500a Plus - a hign-end business inkjet multifunction printer

These printers have a similar throughput to each other when printing pages and also turn out a similar copy quality for the documents that are printed. It doesn’t matter whether the documents are ordinary text documents or documents filled with graphics. There may be some glaring functionality differences like the support for duplex operation or memory type. In this example, the OfficeJet Pro 8500a had “full duplex” functionality where it could print on both sides of a sheet of paper and scan both sides of a printed document whereas the LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw could only print or scan one side of a page. Conversely, the LaserJet Pro used flash memory for its fax-related features like no-paper receive, “fax vault” or send-later while the OfficeJet Pro used regular RAM memory for the same functions.

HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw colour laser multifunction printer

HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw - an example of an entry-level colour laser multifunction printer

The cost-per-page for an entry-level colour laser printer is slightly cheaper than a high-end business inkjet that is fed the high-capacity cartridges although manufacturers like HP are  implementing ink cartridges in these printers that have a similar or better cost-per-page to the laser printers.  On the other hand, the inkjet is more flexible with print media than the laser because it doesn’t use any heat to bond the marking material to the paper. This can make it useful for printing short-run documents to glossy material or printing out labels and transparencies.

Dedicated printer vs multifunction printers

An increasing number of printers on the market, like most of the printers I have reviewed on this site, are of the “multifunction” type with a built-in scanner mechanism. Here, these printers will be able to scan to the computer or work as convenience light-duty photocopiers. Most of the business-focused multifunction printers are able to work as fax machines and these units typically are equipped with an automatic document feeder.

Compare this with the dedicated printers which just print from a computer. This class of printer is typically represented by laser printers or some photo-grade inkjet printers pitched at the graphic arts users.

A multifunction printer can work well as an all-round “workhorse” printer for most office applications whereas a dedicated printer can serve “infill” requirements that the multifunction cannot achieve. For example, you could use a colour inkjet multifunction printer as the main office printer in a doctor’s office while you have a monochrome laser printer turning out health-insurance forms and accounts that are part of the workflow. Similarly, you could use an A3 colour inkjet printer for turning out plans, signs and similar documents while you use a regular A4 multifunction for regular printing needs.

Features worthy of note

Auto-duplex printing

A feature that is becoming common amongst a lot of printers is auto-duplex printing. Here, the printer is able to automatically “flip” the page to print on the reverse side of the paper. This has become popular as a paper-saving measure but some of us may find it of value as a desktop-publishing benefit.

This is demonstrably so with laser printers like the Brother HL4150CDN colour laser that I recently reviewed. Here, the printer can print “to the edge” yet work on both sides of the page. As well, laser printers don’t have to “dwell” for up to 15 seconds to allow the ink to dry, thus it doesn’t have significant impact on print speed. Infact the previously-mentioned Brother printer could work both sides of two pages at once and with this, there is effectively no throughput penalty if you intend to do duplex or booklet printing.

Some inkjet printers, namely HP printers, may require a non-printed margin at the top and bottom of the page for auto-duplex printing. This is perceived to permit reliable paper handling but can be a problem if you intend to print landscape documents or “work to the edge” in your documents. It is also worth noting that some printers such as cheaper high-throughput colour lasers may only be able to use this function for the common document paper sizes like A4 or Letter.

At the moment, it is worth noting that not many of these colour laser printers that have auto-duplex printing can print on both sides of small-page “flyer-size” documents like A5, DL or postcard. This is usually because the auto-duplex mechanisms are not able to reliably push the small sheets of paper through the colour laser printing mechanism in order to print on both sides of the flyer.

It may be worth knowing that some high-end A4 multifunction printers will be likely to have “full duplex” functionality. This means that they will have auto-duplex printing as well as an automatic document feeder that can scan both sides of a page. This typically leads to functions like automatic “both-sides” copying and faxing.

Use as the business fax machine

Brother MFC-7460DN monochrome laser multifunction printer

Brother MFC-7460DN monochrome laser multifunction printer

Firstly, most of the multifunction printers that appeal to the business user will have an integrated fax functionality. This can be of use if that old fax machine has nearly “had it” or is becoming costly to run due to its use of the thermal-transfer tape.

Infact, the purchase of a low-end plain-paper fax that uses this kind of printing is really a false economy because these fax machines will work through the thermal-transfer tape even if a page is partially written on. Instead, a fax-equipped multifunction printer uses the ink or toner when and where it needs to mark the document.

As well, it will save on bench space because you don’t have to have a separate machine to receive your faxes on. This is an important requirement for small offices and shops where this space can be at a premium.

It is also worth knowing that the inkjet and colour-laser multifunction printers that have the fax functionality are capable of receiving and transmitting faxes in colour to businesses equipped with similarly-capable equipment. Here, if you select “Colour Fax” on these machines, they will transmit the document according to “best-case” rules where if the receiving machine isn’t colour-capable, the transmission will succeed with the document being in monochrome. Other examples of these printers offering increased value for money as a small-business fax machine include the business class printers offering a “fax-vault” function where you can set the unit to hold received documents in memory and print them when required; or “print-to-fax” functions or “fax-to-computer” functions so you can fax a document from your computer or capture a faxed document to your computer without reprinting it.

Of course, these machines will have the expected fax functionality and can work with a dedicated fax line or a shared phone line, including support for “distinctive ring” dedicated-fax-number setups like Telstra’s Faxstream Duet.

What to be careful of

The two-cartridge colour inkjet printer

A lot of inexpensive consumer and small-business inkjet printers still use two cartridges for their printing setup. One of these cartridges is the black cartridge while the other is a “tri-colour” ink cartridge that houses the cyan, magenta and yellow inks in one plastic body.

The main problem with this design is that if one colour runs out in the colour cartridge, you have to replace the whole cartridge even if there is plenty of ink remaining for the other colours. It can become more exacerbating if you print material using your business’s trad dress which will be dominant in particular colours.

This may be OK for an occasionally-used printer but should be avoided if you use your printer frequently. Instead, look for a midrange printer that uses four or more ink cartridges with each colour in its own cartridge.

Wi-Fi-only network connectivity

Another feature common with inexpensive network multifunction printers is to provide Wi-Fi as the only network connection method. This is more so with the printers that are positioned at the consumer end of the market.

There are a few limitations with this setup. One is that you have to run a Wi-Fi network to obtain the benefits of network connectivity and this can be fraught with problems because of Wi-Fi being a radio based method. For example, walls made out of double-brick, cinder-block or reinforced concrete can play havoc with a Wi-Fi link; as can metal-reflective insulation. This limits the ability to connect the printer to your business network using alternative network technologies like Ethernet or HomePlug powerline networking.

As well, a lot of these printers require the user to configure them for the wireless network by connecting them to a host computer and running manufacturer-supplied software before they will work with that network. The exception to this rule for most of these printers is Wi-Fi network segments that use WPS “push-to-connect” setup, where you may push a button on the printer or select a menu option to start the configuration process. This is although the HP ePrint-enabled Wi-Fi-only consumer printers like the Photosmart Wireless-E B110a economy printer and the HP Envy 100 (D410) slimline printer do support configuration for non-WPS wireless networks from the control panel.

Recommendations for most businesses

General-office work

I would recommend a midrange network-connected business inkjet multifunction printer with four ink cartridges and auto-duplex printing for a “general-use” workhorse printer. It may be OK to use a high-end consumer printer or low-end business inkjet for low-traffic applications like a secondary printer.

A photo-optimised consumer printer like a Canon PiXMA or HP Photosmart may be good as a secondary printer for applications where you value high-quality photo prints with the full saturation. Some manufacturers may offer a dedicated photo-optimised printer but typically these can be very expensive and are pitched at the graphic-arts industries.

A dedicated monochrome laser printers can be useful for printing out forms or documents as what would be required of medical, legal or similar professions. Here, it would be wise to look for auto-duplex-equipped units if you turn out many multipage documents like most legal documents. As well, I would recommend that these machines are network-connected if you have or intend to have two or more computer workstations that will turn out the documents.

HP OfficeJet 7000 wide-format printer

HP OfficeJet 7000 A3 wide-format inkjet printer

If you don’t care about colour printing but turn out many documents, you could get by with a monochrome laser multifunction printer like the recently-released Brother units or the HP LaserJet M1212nf that I had previously reviewed. Then if you want to do colour printing at a later date, you could add on a dedicated colour printer like the HP OfficeJet 6000 inkjet; HP OfficeJet 7000 A3 inkjet or Brother HL-4150CDN laser “desktop-publishing workhorse”.

Promoting your business yourself

You may want to use a colour laser printer as a promotion tool for your business. I have infact written up an article about why it is worth considering these printers as a buying option. Here, it would be a good idea to stick to high-throughput colour laser printers like the Brother HL-4150CDN especially if you do a lot of your own short-run publishing, including “infill” print runs.

You may want to take advantage of the larger A3 page size as a paper size for signage and similar material. It may even come in handy within the office for turning out large spreadsheets or business charts that can have more detail. Here, you may look at a single-tray A3 multifunction like the HP OfficeJet 7500 for occasional A3 use or a dual-tray A3 multifunction like the Brother MFC-6490CW or dedicated A3 printer like the HP OfficeJet 7000 if you do turn out a lot of A3 material.

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Conclusion

In simple terms, I would suggest that you check how much the printer will cost to run; such as the price of replacement ink or toner cartridges; the availability of high-capacity cartridges and the kid of cartridges used and other cost-saving practices like auto-duplex

Then make sure that your printer can suit your current needs as well as allowing for future needs.Here, you can then own and run the right printer that will serve your business’s needs for many years without being a drain on your business’s cashflow.

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