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I own an EPSON Stylus Photo RX640 printer which prints really good on special paper media, but is rather poor when it comes to normal (>75%) printing on plain papers. Beside that it's also quite expensive because cartridges are very expensive compared to others.

I'm considering buying a colour laser printer that should keep printing costs down on the long run. but I don't know what to expect in terms of print quality? Can a reasonably priced (less than 500€) colour laser be used for close to proof printing? Do you maybe use one? Which one and what would you change to make it better?

What would you buy if you had to buy again?

Can colour lasers print on special media like glossy papers and similar? Is the effect any good at all?

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I don't have a color laser myself, but I would suggest you call the printer you use most often and see what they have for proofing. They might also have a color profile you can use to get it as close as possible. –  MikeNGarrett Jan 18 '11 at 16:24
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@MikeNGarrett: they probably use some expensive printer (if at all) because of their higher duty nature of work. I suppose. And that wouldn't really help. It's like asking them which scanner to buy when they use a drum scanner. –  Robert Koritnik Jan 18 '11 at 17:02
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I understand what you're saying, but a lot of print shops have a mid-range proof color laser they use for internal proofs. Even if it's out of your price range you can always look for the low-end of the same printer series or even an older model. –  MikeNGarrett Jan 18 '11 at 17:09
    
@MikeNGarrett: Good point. Will do that as well. –  Robert Koritnik Jan 18 '11 at 17:25
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

My experience is that the low-end color laser printers don't offer that accurate of color. If you want something that is going to offer reasonably accurate color for proofing, then you'll need one of the better Xerox, Tektronix, or Canon printers that allows you to accurately calibrate color as well as add on some kind of a RIP, Fiery being the best of the bunch (at least historically and the last I had to deal with this a couple years ago). It wasn't until we started looking in the $1000+ range that we started seeing accurate Pantone representations as part of the feature set.

You will also have to do an in-depth cost comparison about supply cost. I agree that inkjet is horribly expensive (it's just criminal, if you ask me), but the higher-end color printers also have extra supplies beyond just toner that we didn't realize we needed at the time of purchase, things like waste toner cartridges and fuser rolls. Some of those parts got to be very expensive, running into thousands upon thousands of dollars a year. For subsequent printers we have purchased, we were sure to get a supplies contract through the reseller and that helped to offset the cost and maintenance work. The high-end printers are more reliable these days, but they are still more work than your typical low-end ones.

I feel I should qualify that last paragraph by stating that we have a stable of about five designers who do almost exclusively 4/c work, and about a few dozen production folks who make 4/c color books, so our volume and needs are fairly high compared to the typical design firm. But I do feel the over-arching point that you get what you pay for here still applies. If you can afford it, widen your search.

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Excellent real-world info. +1. –  Pekka 웃 Jan 21 '11 at 21:56
    
Ok. I've seen Fiery in the past but I'm not sure why one needs one? I mean in terms of colour reproduction? If your printer is some mid to high range with proper calibration why would one still need Fiery solutions? It's not like I'd need perfect proofing. All I'd need is some accuracy that makes it simpler to test end results. –  Robert Koritnik Jan 22 '11 at 17:34
    
All printers have RIPs but not very good ones. An external RIP will speed up processing of the art and generate a better reproduction of all elements, not just the color, that you are sending to the printer. In addition, in some cases an external RIP is pretty much expected because the printer only really has hardware calibration tools and enough processor and RAM to push the pixels to the paper to make way for a wider feature set. Like I said in my answer, you really should widen your search and examine all the options. –  Philip Regan Jan 22 '11 at 21:41
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I have the luxury of all my projects being "in-house" and a lot of trust, so I don't require accurate color proofs to show drafts to clients (I presume PReagan is the opposite), but my personal experience is that my own printer calibration efforts are worthless. If I require a hard-copy color-accurate proof, I go to the printer who is handling the job and ask for proofs done by them on the equipment which is being used to print the job. I concentrate on my calibrating my monitors the best I can, and I trust my Pantone swatchbook rather than my screen. –  horatio Apr 21 '11 at 16:31
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I don't have a color laser myself, but I would suggest you call the printer you use most often and see what they have for proofing. They might also have a color profile you can use to get it as close as possible. A lot of print shops have a mid-range proof color laser they use for internal proofs. Even if it's out of your price range you can always look for the low-end of the same printer series or even an older model.

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Good that you've put this together in an answer. +1 –  Robert Koritnik Jan 21 '11 at 7:14
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At first I was trying to get more information, but I realized I had answered the question to some extent. –  MikeNGarrett Jan 21 '11 at 15:27
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Proofing is hard to do well on a small budget. An inexpensive color laser won't give color-accurate proofs for anything other than itself. An inkjet may be expensive per copy, but unless you have a need to produce several proofs per day, it is a less-expensive alternative than a high-end (Fiery-driven, Postscript-aware) laser or a Xerox Phaser (solid wax, highly prized in the graphics industry for its color accuracy).

What's best for you comes down to volume, the output you're proofing for, and the degree of accuracy you need. Offset printing using using standard process inks lays color on the paper differently than an inkjet or laser printer. Papers vary in reflectiveness, absorption, texture and color, all of which have an effect on the appearance of the final product. There is no proofing printer in existence that can account for all of these variables. In particular, there are many papers used in offset work that can't be used in a laser printer (they scorch, curl, or shed particles from the paper surface), and some laser-compatible papers that don't work well on a press.

As a matter of personal taste, I dislike the appearance of even the highest-quality laser printing. It can be useful and economical for low to medium volume production work, such as in-house document production in a medium to large business, but I wouldn't go to that kind of expense simply for proofing except in a situation like Philip's, where multiple designers can proof to the same printer.

For low volume applications, where you are concerned only with color accuracy, your best bet is to use a good quality inkjet and calibrate it (and your monitor) carefully with a small selection of papers. In my own work, I use a wide-gamut 8-color inkjet (a Canon Pro9000) that prints up to A3 size, and only two proofing papers, one gloss and one matte. I don't worry about the cost of ink or paper because, frankly, the benefits far outweigh the expense.

This still doesn't guarantee accuracy for jobs involving Pantone solid inks, however. No inkjet can duplicate metallics or fluorescents, but some regular Pantone solids will be outside the gamut of any given inkjet printer. The same is true of laser printers, no matter how "high end" they are.

When you need extreme accuracy, get a proof from the print provider, and get the client to sign off on it. This is called a "contract proof" because it forms part of the contract with the printer, who is now obligated to provide final output that exact matches the signed proof. In the case of specialty inks, ask for an "ink draw-down" -- a sample of the actual ink on the paper that will be used to print the job. In such a case, you and/or the client's art director will also want to be at the press when the job is run to verify that the job is run accurately.

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