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The Evolution of Color Laser Printers

Author: Reference Number: AA-01906 Views: 14086 Created: 12-29-2010 11:57 am Last Updated: 10-08-2013 05:04 pm 1 Rating/ 1 Voters


       Color laser printers have come a long way since they were introduced for home/small business use. The first HP Color LaserJet, was introduced in September of 1994. They were very expensive and slow when printing, 2 pages a minute in color and 10 pages a minute monochrome (black) at best. The print resolution was 300 DPI (dots per inch). The technology was such that it was only capable of putting down one of the four colors at a time on the ITB (Intermediate transfer belt) belt or drum. As the image was built each successive pass would lay the next color directly on top of the first and so on until the full image was produced. The completed image would be transferred to the print media by way of a secondary transfer process, transfer corona wire or conductive rubber transfer roller . This was considered multi-pass technology, as it took multiple passes to build the printed color page.

      Then single pass printers were developed and introduced to the market. The HP 4600 was introduced in May of 2002. This printer would utilize an ETB (electrostatic transport belt) . This printer was capable of speed up to 17 PPM (pages per minute).This newer technology would use four laser units (one for each color) and be capable of processing all colors simultaneously. Using a direct transfer process from belt or drum to print media provided much greater print speeds. This newer technology used an ETB belt which transported the paper through the printer via an electrostatic charge applied the paper which would hold it on the belt. Within the ETB unit were 4 separate transfer rollers, one for each color. As the media was picked up from the tray and attached to the ETB belt the image was built and transferred directly to the media. No more secondary transfer process. Relatively small color laser printers were now capable of print speeds of almost 20 pages a minute!!! These machines were still relatively expensive to purchase and operate. Toner cartridges were upwards of $ 150 per color.

          In the coming years as more manufacturers (Lexmark, Ricoh, QMS, Xerox, etc.) started getting  into the exploding color laser printer market, the initial cost of the machines kept coming down as the competition increased. Now that the cost of the printers had been greatly reduced, manufacturers had to find other ways to make money. Bottom line now was on the sale of the supplies or consumables such as toners, belts, drums, etc. The printers would ship with what would become known as “starter cartridges”. These cartridges would not last very long as they were only partially filled. So the purchase of a round of cartridges was soon required. This became the industry standard. Some manufacturers would actually give you the printer with the agreement that you would purchase all your printing supplies directly from them.

        The latest wave of color printers use this technology and now for some reason returning to the ITB system once again? The print speed has been maintained with the use of multiple laser’s coupled with a shortening of the paper path. They have added new features such as a flatbed scanner, which will enable the printer to copy scan and even send faxes. These are known as AIO printers or all in one units. The initial cost has increased again with these added features and it seems the supplies or toners have gotten smaller along with the physical size of the printers .Some of the smaller units might not be cost effective to fix in some cases. Units that have major parts that are not replaceable in some cases make it impossible to fix.

       The next few years will be interesting to see which way this sector of the laser printer market will go.