One Single-Pass Sensation

By Eric Grevstad | Posted March 19, 2004

OK, a color laser printer priced within reach of small offices, workgroups, or even individuals with $800 to spend is no longer new or startling. But how about one that prints faster in color than in monochrome? Cue Bill Murray in Ghostbusters: "Volcanoes, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!"

All right, Bill might be exaggerating a little, but HP's new Color LaserJet 3500 is still noteworthy. Under-$1,000 color lasers to date have used multi-pass or rotary laser printing technology, which sends each color page on four trips through the printer to apply black, cyan, magenta, and yellow toner — the reason, for example, HP's Color LaserJet 2500 and stripped-down 1500 models, or Konica Minolta's Magicolor 2300W, are rated at 16 pages per minute in black and 4 ppm in color.

But the Color LaserJet 3500, like corporate-office models that cost far more than its $800, uses single-pass or tandem technology that yields a rated speed of 12 ppm for color and monochrome pages alike. That leaves it, somewhat surprisingly, at a disadvantage to even desktop personal lasers that cost one-quarter as much, as well as to the abovementioned rivals, for cranking out high-volume, plain-vanilla text jobs: Connected to the same PC, it took the new HP twice as long as the Magicolor 2300W to print our 20-page monochrome Microsoft Word test document (3 minutes and 10 seconds).

For colorful charts, presentations, and reports, however, the shoe is on the other foot, and the foot kicks other low-priced color lasers' butts: Our 55-page Adobe Acrobat manual, which took the Magicolor 16 minutes and the Samsung CLP-500 about 13, was finished in 9 minutes and 39 seconds. It also looked gorgeous, with fine details, sharp text, and virtually no banding in solid-color areas.

If you need hundreds of pages of black text in a hurry, the Color LaserJet 3500 is not for you. (In fact, checking the "print in grayscale" box in the software driver, while it saves color toner, actually slowed the printer in our tests, adding almost 6 minutes to the 55-page PDF job.) But if you want a workhorse printer for color flyers, proposals, or newsletters, HP can make you an offer of biblical proportions.

Share Or Be Selfish
Like its competitors, the HP is available in an assortment of solo and networked configurations. The $800 Color LaserJet 3500 tested here has 64MB of memory (not expandable) and a USB 2.0 interface, while the $1,000 model 3500n comes with an HP JetDirect external Ethernet print server that plugs into the USB port. (The server's separate power supply requires a second AC outlet.)

The $1,300 Color LaserJet 3700 and $1,600 model 3700n feature parallel and EIO as well as USB ports, plus expandable memory, a higher monthly duty cycle, and longer-lasting toner cartridges. Most important, they're faster — 16 ppm instead of 12.

The $2,000 model 3700dn adds an automatic two-sided printing unit, though less frequent page-flippers can make do with the 3500/3700 driver's choice of manual duplexing (properly formatted for top-, left-, or right-edge binding). The driver also offers a good array of watermark, resized, and N-up printing options.

HP Color LaserJet 3500Is That a Refrigerator in Your Office?
Like other color lasers, the 3500 is too enormous to share your desk with your monitor and keyboard: It has a 19 by 18-inch footprint and stands 18.5 inches tall, and tips the scales at a you-might-want-to-get-a-coworker-to-help-set-it-up 72 pounds. It's also relatively noisy — not quite matching the whirs, clunks, and thunks of its Color LaserJet 1500/2500 cousins, but distracting if right next to your desk or phone.

Despite its bulk, the HP is an attractive unit, with an exceptionally easy-to-read LCD control-panel menu at top left and a positively stylish stylish round rocker switch by way an on/off button at the bottom left. Unless you need to specify a custom paper type (which the LCD helpfully gave us a few seconds' opportunity to do after we loaded what it correctly identified as plain letter stock), you'll probably rarely use the front-panel controls apart from printing supplies-status or configuration pages, but they're no trouble to navigate.

While a few economy models make do with inkjet-style plastic trays, the 3500 passes our test with a genuine, photocopier-style 250-sheet paper drawer at the bottom, suited for legal as well as letter and other sizes. A second, 500-sheet, letter-or-A4-only tray that fits beneath is a $300 option.

Envelopes and special stock can take advantage of a tray that folds down from the front, with a straight-path exit tray that folds down from the back. Regular jobs exit to a face-down bin atop the printer, with the usual 150-sheet-but-we'd-call-it-100-tops capacity.

Cranking It Out
The HP's monthly duty cycle is a robust 45,000 pages, which (as with all printers) would entail some pretty robust costs if you actually met it: The unit's black toner cartridge (replacements are $133) is rated for 6,000 pages, with the cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges ($130 each) rated for 4,000. To HP's credit, the toners supplied with the printer are the real deal, not the half-empty starter cartridges of some competitors.

After 60,000 pages, you'll need to replace an $80 image transfer kit and $70 fuser kit. Those prices make the Color LaserJet 3500 hardly cheap, but somewhat more economical over the long haul than many printers we've checked out lately; our unofficial calculator suggests a cost per page (not counting paper) of 2.5 cents for black and an even 10 cents for color.

After removing a few dozen bits of tape and plastic and opening the massive, fold-down front door, you'll find the image transfer unit already installed, so setup is a painless chore of inserting the four toner cartridges into slots, one atop the other. HP says the printer takes a maximum of 350 watts, with quick recovery from power-save mode, though as usual we couldn't match its advertised 22-second first-page out time: Our one-page Word letter, mixing a couple of paragraphs of text with a letterhead with color company logo, took 27 seconds (one second under the former in-house record held by the Samsung CLP-500).

We've already mentioned the 3500's somewhat unimpressive speed for black text jobs and quite impressive speed with our 55-page Acrobat file. Most other performance results averaged straight down the middle — a pleasing 1 minute and 53 seconds for six full-page PowerPoint slides with blank white backgrounds, a less pleasing 3 minutes and 19 seconds for the same number of slides with solid, dark backgrounds.

But though we know it's a business printer, we'll give a shout out to the 600 by 600-dpi LaserJet's clarity — what HP calls ImageREt 2400 — with our 8 by 10-inch digital-camera images, which appeared in an average 63 seconds apiece and looked, to give the highest compliment possible for an $800 color laser, almost as nice as prints from a $100 color inkjet (albeit, of course, on plain copier paper instead of glossy photo stock).

All told, the Color LaserJet 3500 is a fascinating addition to the blossoming crop of under-$1,000, business-class color printers: You'll find plenty of cheap, compact lasers that easily best its monochrome performance, but it delivers truly great-looking pages at a noticeably faster pace than its four-pass color-laser rivals. If your business calls for colorful handouts or reports, it's a winner.

Adapted from HardwareCentral.com.

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