One of the attractions of today's high-quality desktop printers is that they let you produce professional-looking marketing materials without having to pay a print shop. But there's a limit to the brochures, flyers and other goodies you can create in-house if your house stocks only letter- and legal-sized paper.
Stepping up to ledger- or tabloid- or B-sized (all terms for 11- by 17-inch) printing lets you make desktop-publishing pages that fold in half to make an 8.5 by 11-inch newsletter, as well as to print spreadsheets that give your accounting department the big picture. Going still bigger, to 13- by 19-inch or A3+ size media, gives you still more flexibility in producing marketing collateral -- think small signage or motivational posters.
Widebody printers, however, are still seen as vaguely exotic and niche-y, not to mention pricey to buy and operate. HP aims to fix that with the Officejet 7000, shipping in July for $229. The company calls the 7000 its first entry-level wide-format printer with the print-quality plus of individual inks -- separate cyan, magenta, yellow and black tanks instead of black and tricolor ink cartridges.
At first glance, to be sure, you may think the 13- by 19-inch-capable Officejet resembles not so much a printer for Everyman as a printer for Batman -- it's easy to envision this glossy black hulk in the Batcave, sitting next to the BatPC and printing Batbrochures. The main unit measures about 23- by 16- by 17-inches, but when extended, its 150-sheet paper input and 100-sheet output trays jut a good 15 inches from the machine's broad maw, contributing to its imposing appearance.
You load paper any size from 3- by 5- to 13- by 19-inches, with borderless (in print-shop lingo, full-bleed) printing available for all -- face down in the lower tray, to see it exit face up on the multi-tiered upper tray. We didn't experience a single snag or jam in our testing, but we're disappointed that there's no straight-through path for signage or other heavy stock; HP's list of supported media lists nothing heavier than brochure paper and transparencies. You can remove the printer's rear panel, but we suspect that's to accommodate the possible future option of a duplexer rather than to change the backflip paper path.
We're joyous to report, however, that the 7000 takes the same HP 920-series ink cartridges as the Officejet 6500 printer/copier/scanner/fax we tested last month. That means that by using the 920XL high-capacity cartridges priced at $32 for black and $15 apiece for yellow, cyan and magenta, you'll see the same ink costs as the 6500 -- 2.7 cents per black and 9.1 cents per 8.5 by 11-inch color page.
Those are exceptionally thrifty figures even by color laser, let alone inkjet, standards: Anytime you can come away with a color page in your hand for less than a dime -- heck, for less than a dime and a nickel -- you're doing better than the owners of many desktop printers. Practically speaking, you're doing well enough to afford to upgrade from cheap copier paper to the coated paper that makes any inkjet printer sit up and sparkle or perk up and preen.
HP brags that the Officejet 7000 also saves money over lasers when it comes to energy consumption, drawing at most 48 watts and fewer than three watts when on standby. Both USB 2.0 and Ethernet interfaces are standard, and the printer's duty cycle is a robust 7,000 pages per month.
As far as print quality versus speed goes, there's a Fast Draft mode suitable for in-house proofing -- it printed our one-page business letter with spot-color company logo in a swift 12 seconds, and 20 pages of black text in one minute and 13 seconds, but was relatively pale and jittery.
Normal-quality mode produced text on plain paper that looked pretty sharp in sizes as small as six points on plain paper; we could almost endorse four-point type with the use of either sans-serif fonts or inkjet paper. Our one-page letter and 20-page Word document printed in 18 seconds and just over two minutes, respectively, with our 55-page Acrobat PDF file taking eight minutes and 41 seconds.
The HP Officejet 7000 Wide Format Printer: A small-business super hero.
(Click for larger image).
Colors were bright, but solid-color areas showed traces of banding. Switching from plain to inkjet paper made both text and colors truly pop, but didn't quite eliminate the banding in solid chart bars and pie slices. That doesn't stop us, however, from rating the HP's output quality as good to very good.
On the same scale, photo quality rates as very good using the printer's Best quality mode and glossy paper 4- by 6-inch borderless prints took about 70 seconds apiece, with both crisp detail and lifelike colors. We also ran off a few 11- by 17-inch full-bleed images, which showed comparable quality and took just under four and a half minutes each.
All told, we think the Officejet 7000 makes a good case for itself, with one possible exception: If you can settle for just a USB interface with no network sharing, HP's small- and medium-business Web site undercuts the new wide-tracker by discounting the older Officejet Pro K8600 from $299 to $229 through May 31, 2009.
The K8600 promises still lower costs per page (HP marketing metric revealed: The Officejet brand advertises up to 40 percent lower costs than competitive lasers, the Officejet Pro line up to 50 percent), with the plus of a straight-through paper path. There's also an Ethernet- and duplexer-equipped K8600dn model, but even discounted it's a step up at $329.
Either way, however, HP is making it hard to be scared of wide-format printing. Get out there and start making your own marketing materials. If Batman can do it, so can you.
Eric Grevstad has reviewed computer hardware for more than 20 years and is a frequent contributor to SmallBusinessComputing.
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