Best laser printer for text?

nepenthe's picture

Trying to find information on this topic has been frustrating. What should I look for in a laser printer to produce the best results for text printed from PDFs on a Windows desktop? Is it a question of the driver? I.e., is there a difference between actual postscript drivers and postscript emulating ones? Does this matter to text quality or are there other factors involved? What is this business about faked 1200 dpi? Many questions, hopefully with simple answers. I'm basically looking at getting something to proof type designs on that will render the text better than the 600dpi ones at school. They have PS stickers on them but I find their output ain't so hot. Any guidance on this matter would be welcomed!

nepenthe's picture

I should probably add that I already have an Epson color inkjet. It prints astonishing photos and text, but I haven't been using it because, between the paper and ink costs, I really cannot afford to use it for regular printing. I'm looking to laser for something that can print great text on regular paper and that doesn't need to have its $70 ink replaced every month.

bieler's picture

Hi

I'm running an old HP LaserJet 5000N at 1200dpi, which I believe is not emulated. It's been very good for reproductions and has not missed a beat in the four or five years that I've had it. At the time of purchase I compared it to the Xante at 1200 and 2400 (emulated). There was a bit too much toner debris left around imaging on the latter to make it useful for camera ready (which is what I needed at the time).

Gerald

nepenthe's picture

Thanks Gerald. I see it is possible to get one of these refurbished, unfortunately even these are about 3x more than my funds allow. Are HP laser printers generally quite good?

bieler's picture

Well, I've always found them to be quite useful for my operations. Actually, thinking about it, never had anything other than an HP. I kind of like em. I think this last one, with duplexor, cost well over $3,000. But things have changed a bit, retail prices have dropped. Don't know what to tell you about buying a refurbished plastic anything. The little knob on my coffee maker broke off about a week ago. Had to heat up a little copper pin to insert it to hold. It's not like any of these manufacturers expect you to keep to this stuff for very long anymore.

Gerald

nepenthe's picture

This is true. Prices on printers as well as just about everything else have dropped dramatically, usually meaning better performance for less money. But it would seem that manufacturers also follow Gilette's philosphy that a product should perform excellently, but only for a short time.

I found some favorable comments on the HP LaserJet 1320. Has anybody tried this printer? It is more within my price range and prints true 1200 x 1200 and has postscript emulation. There are colour lasers for the same price, but it doesn't sound as though they have very good quality output compared to this one.

edeverett's picture

I've just ordered a Samsung ML-2250, which has 1200dpi and an emulated postscript. it ought to be arriving this afternoon. I got it for about £80 (UK) which was about all I could afford. I'll let you know how I get on with it.

Ed

nepenthe's picture

Thanks Ed. I look forward to hearing your impressions.

billtroop's picture

Laser quality cannot be judged just by whether the printer has 'true' 1200 dpi capability or not. The question isn't just can it do 1200 dpi, but how well it can do it. I have had HP product managers explain to me how their lower end printers (like the 1300s) simply don't put a dot on the paper as well as their higher end printers.

Lexmark and HP are the quality leaders, so it seems, but nobody, with these cheap printers, is making them as well as they did five or six years ago when they could charge so much more.

Toner quality is a big issue too, and everyone interested in quality should have a look at the higher end Xerox printers which I think have some proprietary toner advances. Tremendous advances have been made with solid toner, and Xerox may be ahead here, but liquid toner is still the best way to go - however, that is out of the question for consumer level laser printers.

PS3 or emulation? It all depends. There are all kinds of things you can do to type, there are all kinds of ways you can deal with hints and dropout. Every rasterizer is going to do it slightly differently. Some will show true dropout on very fine lines, others will counteract dropout at any cost.

Terribly important with pdf printing is rasterization speed. No matter how good the pdf looks, do you have time to wait 2 minutes for a complex page to rasterize when a printer with a more powerful or efficient rasterizer can output the pdf in 30 seconds?

nepenthe's picture

Bill: so in other words you don't think that any cheap 1200 dpi printer would be a worthwhile improvement over my school's higher end 600 dpi printers?

Also, I'm not sure what dropout is. Is that when a stroke is thinner than the device can print, and the rasterizer has to decide whether or not to print it?

edeverett's picture

Hi,

My printer arrived, and I've had a chance to test it a little. This as I said above is about the cheapest 1200dpi laser print you can get.

My first impression is that the text output at 1200dpi is pretty good. Certainly good enough for me to test fonts at the moment (but I'm hardly an expert, so maybe I don't know what I'm missing).

There is certainly a big difference in quality between printing at 600 and 1200dpi. At 600dpi the type is lighter and there are noticable steps in slightly off-vertical edges. So I am glad I choose to pay a little more for 1200dpi.

I have a page I printed in a university library at 1800dpi on a very large (and new-ish) printer that no-doubt cost a fortune. Comparing the two, I would say that the text from the library printer is less clear. It is heavier, looking like it has too much toner, so the details seem smothered compared to the output of my printer - which looks quite crisp in comparison. I would guess this is someting that could be controlled by the driver, perhaps how the printer is setup has an affect on the output.

So, yeah, I'm happy with my new printer, the text is clear enough for me to see all but the smallest details (at 10pt and above at least). Some of the sharp corners do feel a little soft though.

I'm sure that the output could be improved by useing better paper, and as I get more familiar with the (limited) driver settings - which is an advantage to owning your own printer.

This is all a bit subjective, and probably biased - it is my new toy. I would have added a scan to illustrate, but my scanner has decided not to focus... But I hope that that gives some sort of impression of what to expect.

Ed

hrant's picture

> At 600dpi the type is lighter

That's not normal. The way type is supposed to be
rasterized, the higher the res the lighter the color.

Maybe your results are due to emulation versus the real thing?

hhp

edeverett's picture

It isn't clear enough to judge print quality, but i've put together a image to show the weight difference between the two resolutions HERE. The sample was printed at 10pt.

(Can I upload images to the forum?)

There is quite a clear difference in weight dispite my scanner playing up. Look at the cross-bar on the 'e'. I don't know why or how it is supposed to print but thats what I'm seeing. I think it isn't dealing with thin lines so well at the lower resolution. maybe.

Ed

hrant's picture

I'm pretty sure that's not normal.

hhp

nepenthe's picture

Ed, thanks for posting your comments and the images. The 1200dpi sample is clearly displaying greater weight, especially noticeable in th serifs and other thin parts. Although it's difficult to tell from the images, it seems like the 1200 dpi does better match the rendered text. I was thinking how useful it would be in printer reviews to have such samples available, instead of the review saying things like "the more expensive one had sharper text, etc." which really isn't all that helpful. What I want to know is which renders the outlines more accurately, and this kind of example is perfect to show that.

I made my own sample of how Marquet prints at my school at 600 dpi versus how it renders digitally at both 600 and 1200 dpi here. You can see the printout is pretty bad, which is why I would like a better one. It seems like your Samsung actually does a pretty good job of staying true to the outlines.

BTW, Ed, I love you paintings. Especially "grey lanscape, pink trees".

bieler's picture

I would agree with Hrant that you should get a thinner, crisper image with higher resolution. There are a number of software options that allow you to control the imaging. Sometimes, its just a matter of making these adjustments. The look of the imaging will also change during the life duration of a toner cartridge as well as during repetition of the same image, say during editioning. I'm guessing that the library is not outputting at 1800dpi to conserve toner, which is also an option (and a good idea as cartridges for these high-end laser printers are not cheap). On my old HP 1200 dpi I can also output at 300 or 600, plus make toner saver adjustments if I don't need high-quality reproduction.

Gerald

edeverett's picture

@ Nepenthe - Glad you liked my paintings, thanks. Thats the other reason I bought a laser printer, I need one to make my paintings.

Ed

johnbutler's picture

"1200dpi" means less and less, it seems. If you can chase down detailed specs, always check the toner particle size. 600dpi toner blobs spaced at 1200dpi granularity will still look thicker, and it's the spacing granularity that the printer specs list as the dpi.

Placement tolerances also vary. You will always get crisper definition from a 1200dpi filmsetter than from a 1200dpi chocolate melter.

printninja's picture

We use an HP Laserjet 5000N, and it has performed almost flawlessly for over four years. It achieves 1200 dpi by halving the engine speed, so I suspect it is only 1200 dpi in the verticle, and not the horizontal. In any case, it is easily the best, clearest, and most consistent printer we've ever used. We run all kinds of material through this unit, from plain paper & cardstock, to vellum and acetate. I have always found HP printers to be superior to other brands, and even in this age of "disposability", the HPs are still workhorses. The modular design means most parts can be replaced without having to ditch the whole printer. I have friends who've accidently jammed stuff through the fuser assembly, and have subsequently replaced the fuser and returned to perfect quality. Because HP's use disposable imaging units, every time you change the toner cartridge, you are effectively getting a brand new printer. They also sell a "tune-up" kit for this model, which contains some of the other parts that affect quality, such as the transfer roller. My only complaint is that after about 3 years, it started to grab multiple sheets from the draws. I put in new pick-up rollers, etc, and that stopped the problem in the draw (manual feed still tends to grab multiple sheets.) I could probably screw around with the pads, etc, and fix this, but who has the time.

Another nice thing is that because HP's cost more, there is a repair infrastructure in place. You can get HP technicians to do on-site service (if you can't do this yourself.) I know people who have HP printers that are well over 20 years old, and they're still going strong.

ONE WORD OF CAUTION... the HP Laserjet 5000 is NOT a true postscript device. It is a postscript "emulator", and that means that it can occasionally choke on certain files, simply because it doesn't follow the postscript rules. Over the years, I've had problems printing gradiant from certain versions of Illustrator on the PC, although these problems have diminished greatly with the advent of Windows XP. I believe now that all the Adobe products adjust line screen from within the software, as opposed to through the printer driver, this problem is no longer an issue. Windows users note... I do not think HP supports this printer with an XP driver. You are stuck using whatever is on the XP install disk.

Hope this helps

Thomas Phinney's picture

With regards to Nepenthe's results, there is one circumstance in which I believe it would be normal to see the 600 dpi being lighter in weight than the 1200 dpi: if his device is using a (rather rare) "write-white" engine instead of a "write-black" engine.

Regards,

T

nepenthe's picture

I saw at a local store that there is currently a substantial rebate on the HP LJ 1320. I will therefore use this opportunity to take advantage of the store's 30-day return policy to test the quality of this printer. If I thin its worth it, I'll keep it.

I notice that it is possible to buy 5000n's online for less than $1K US now, but unfortunately it is still out of my price range. Too bad, because it seems to be one of the most beloved printers ever. I would be very happy, though, if one of you owners of this machine can post scans from its printout so the rest of us can have a reference point for comparison. (Of course, you'll need to be able to scan it at 1200ppi in order for the results to be relevant.) I will post the results of scans from the 1320 and we can compare them to Ed's 2250 and (hopefully) the 5000n.

nepenthe's picture

I got my hp 1320 and am very happy with it. Black printouts looks great, especially at its best quality setting. (Plus it duplexes!) Here is a comparison with my school's library printer, which seems to be particularly bad even for a 600 dpi printer. (BTW, the paper is the same on both printouts)

The scanned comparison

I would still like to see a scan of the 5000n printout, if anyone out there wants to offer one.

paul d hunt's picture

http://www.atypi.org/05_Petersburg/20_main_program/view_presentation_htm...

i thought Jose had made this available as a .pdf file, but I can't seem to find it online...

gohebrew's picture

There used to be a difference in text reproduction on Canon-based laser printers and Xerox-based laser printers.

The Canon-based laser printers used a write-black technology, and produced even small sizes of text accurately, while the Xerox-based laser printers used a write-white technology, which produced large graphic images better, but small text poorly.

Do I have it right?

Today, I believe only the write-black technology is common, and very few laser printer makers use the write-white technology.

Also, laser printers employed different technologies in its light reproduction, I believe. Some used LEDs and others did not. The advantage of LEDs were that there were fewer parts to break and were cheaper to make (and hence cost less), but had more replaceable parts. I believe Samsung used LEDs, but Canon-based engines did not.

I used many generations of Canon-based laser printers from Apple or HP for a few decades, with ease of use and fine quality printing.

dezcom's picture

Paul,
Let me know if you find Jose's pdf anywhere. I am in need of something better than my current 600dpi HP 2300.

ChrisL

kolber's picture

Does anyone know how the hp 5000 series compare with their newer models?
Also, any issues with running them on a mac network?

billtroop's picture

Re running printers made mostly for the Windows market on Mac networks, the answer is that by and large, Mac networking is so superior that unless you are a genius, most printers will only network easily on a Mac. On a shared network I often have to print to the 'printer on the Mac' because both XP and Vista lose track of the printer while Mac OS never, never does. I too would really like to know what Jose has to say because even the best laser printer output can be pretty delusive. This is a really important issue for type designers -- perhaps the most important, and I am so glad that someone is spending some time researching it. Printer manufacturers seem to have given up on really competing with one another on laser quality. This is such a pity, as that competition was driving colossal improvements around ten to fifteen years ago.

One thing I do know: fresh, high quality toner is important, and expensive as it is, if you are proofing type, you should probably throw away the cartridges when they are only half used. The reason is that the smaller particles get used up faster than the larger particles -- or so I have always been told.

Also avoid a mistake I made -- trying to save by getting 'original manufacturer' toner on eBay. The package may look unopened, there may be all kinds of convincing shrink wrapping - - but for some reason, the toner is never any good. I do think dry toner has a limited lifetime.

Because I used to be an expert on quality lasers, people are always asking me for advice, but I honestly don't know what's going on right now. We need to develop tests for quality and consistency -- something like what the wonderful Ray Sonera has done for monitors over at www.displaymate.com. Without Ray monitors truly would not be as good today as they are, because Ray provided the tools the magazines needed to rate monitors properly. We must get something like this for printers!

That said, Lino in Frankfurt gave up on imagesetter proofs quite some time ago -- bad! -- and they use HP midrange (NOT the cheap ones!) lasers. I believe Adobe, when they are not using imagesetter output, use the same type of laser. This would seem to indicate that the HPs are satisfactory. I always used to think Lexmark had slightly better quality but I don't know if this is still true.

Paper quality is also most important !!!!! I used to pay a lot for a slightly glossy Hammerhill paper that was supposed to give the best results.

It can all add up - - a good laser, not using the toner for proofing when it's about half gone, and special paper. But it's a lot cheaper than imagesetter output, and it has to be basic equipment for any type designer.

hrant's picture

> This would seem to indicate that the HPs are satisfactory.

More than satisfactory, I think it's a matter of appropriate: you proof in the medium that your fonts are most likely to be used. Depending on the font's intent that could be an imagesetter*, or a low-end laser... or the screen!

* Which however can still be misleading since the repro is never as good as the proofs.

For example, for the Vista CT fonts I assume they didn't rely too much on imagesetter output - otherwise the fonts would look too dark on lasers (and who-knows-how on-screen).

hhp

dezcom's picture

It depends on the market for your type. Most folks who are happy to output to the typical office or home laserprinter don't buy fonts. They either get bundled fonts or "gift" fonts from friends or coworkers. The people who actively buy fonts are more likely to use high-end output. The folks who buy fonts for screen use are not much concerned about printer output. That leaves the people who care about decent laser output. Who are they? Corporate design and PR folks who want to make a professional presentation to a small group quickly? I don't know, there may be others. There is a small group of type designers and graphic designers out there who care and have a burning need but the money on return to laser manufacturers is small for this bunch. That is perhaps why 2400 dpi lasers go for $4,000.

ChrisL

billtroop's picture

Chris, who is making 2400 dpi lasers now? And are any of them actual true, native, 2400 dpi engines? I tested several '2400' dpi lasers in the mid-90s but they were all clever variations on re-calibrate the stepper motor or whatever. Rumor had it that there was a true 2400 dpi Fuji engine but I never saw it. As far as I can tell, Xante seems to have dropped their line.

dezcom's picture

"Xante seems to have dropped their line"

Xante was the one I was talking about. I didn't know they dumped it :-(

ChrisL

hrant's picture

It would be a shame if there were no 2400dpi lasers any more, since their quality (presumably affected by some small toner gain) might be the most realistic in terms of what offset repro ends up looking like.

hhp

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