A Solid Choice for Color Printing

By Ronald Pacchiano | Posted August 23, 2005

It used to be that the only way a small business owner could afford high-quality, full-color marketing or presentation materials was to outsource them to a professional printing service. This not only took a lot of time, but it was also very expensive. Today however, color printer technology has improved to the point where you can produce professional-quality print jobs easily and affordably without farming out the job. A case in point is the new Xerox Phaser 8550DP solid ink printer.

If you're not familiar with solid ink printers, here's a bit of background. Solid ink is one of the most efficient color printing technologies offered today. For starters, a solid ink printer has 60 percent fewer parts than the typical four-pass color laser. The print head is engineered to deliver full-page, full-color prints in a single pass. This simpler design means a shorter paper path and avoids all the cartridges, drums, belts and rollers that make color lasers so complex. As a result, solid ink printers are economical, quick and most importantly, reliable.

Phasers Ready, Captain
The Phaser 8550DP has to be one of the easiest printers we've ever setup.Unpacking and preparing it produced only a fraction of the waste we normally see with new lasers. The printer's footprint is a bit larger than a standard laser printer, but not enough to be objectionable. And it's not light either, weighing in at 70 pounds.

You can configure and manage the 8550DP in two ways, either through an LCD control panel on the front of the unit or by using a Web browser over your office LAN. However, unlike some other printers we've used, the menu system on the Xerox's LCD is simple, bright and easy to navigate. Everything is laid out logically and the buttons are large and easy to identify.

At the heart of the unit is a 600MHz Power PC Risk processor; coupled with 256MB of RAM; upgradeable to 1GB. Out of the box, the unit holds up to 625 sheets of paper, but you can add up to two 525-sheet, high-capacity paper feeders, which boosts its maximum paper capacity to 1,675 sheets. Automatic two-sided printing comes standard and with a duty cycle of 85,000 pages per month, the 8550DP is a real workhorse. Built-in Ethernet and USB 2.0 interfaces make getting the unit online easy, and the 8550 supports True Adobe PostScript 3 and PCL 5c emulation.

Fast and Easy
This is one fast printer. Thanks to its solid ink technology the 8550DP can spit out up to 30 pages per minute (ppm) in its fastest mode. Three other modes, Standard, Enhanced and High Resolution/Photo offer print speeds of 24, 16 and 10 ppm; respectively. The 8550DP uses Xerox's 2400 FinePoint image enhancement technology, which helps it to produce truly impressive print jobs. Extensive color management options — available thru Xerox's TekColor Automatic Color Correction system — intelligently optimize the color of every element on the page.

Installing the printer on our network was a snap. We unpacked it, connected it to our network switch, loaded the solid ink sticks, and turned it on. After about a 15-minute warm up, we were ready to assign the printer an IP address and load the printer driver on our workstations using Xerox's CentreWare Internet Services application. CentreWare is a Web-based administration tool used to configure and administer all aspects of the printer, including installing the print driver on your desktop PC.

The Xerox Support Centre is another handy feature that lets you access all the printer's tools, documentation and utilities. You can check the printer status and configure e-mail alerts to notify you of problems. The Usage Analysis Tool lets administrators collect organize and analyze job accounting data from multiple users. This is very helpful for monitoring specific client print jobs for calculating chargeback billing. To access this feature just open Internet Explorer and enter in the IP address you assigned to the printer. Once configured, the simple design and clarity of the printer driver settings mean that most people won't require much training.


 Xerox Phaser 8550DP Solid Ink Printer
Click here for a larger image.

Stacking Ink Blocks
Most people in an office setting don't know how to replace the toner or ink cartridges on network printers. Plus storing toner cartridges takes up a lot of space. With the 8550DP, that's no longer a problem. Solid ink sticks are small, and they can be stored conveniently and then easily installed in a matter of minutes by anyone. Just lift the lid, insert each of the four color sticks (Black, Magenta, Cyan and Yellow) into its specific location and close the lid. To minimize the chances of user error, each slot is color-coded and each ink stick is keyed to fit only into its proper spot.

Unlike laser and inkjet printers, which need to run out of toner or ink before you can replace it, the solid ink design lets you insert an ink stick any time. Simply top-off the solid ink sticks at your convenience, and you won't have to worry about running out of ink in the middle of an important job again. If you happen to run out of color, you can still print in black-only mode. Since the printer completely consumes the solid-ink sticks, you don't need to change or dispose of messy toner or ink cartridges. Plus solid ink sticks are clean; they won't rub off on your hands or clothing.


Solid Ink Blocks

With typical ink coverage, solid ink sticks last for about for about 1000 printed pages. You buy replacement color sticks in packs of three, at around $80 a pack on average. Black sticks cost around $80 for a pack of six. Replacing all of the ink sticks will run you approximately $320. That's good for almost 3000 full-color sheets; plus another 3000 black printouts. That works out to be about 11 cents per full-color page; far less if you add the other 3000 black print jobs to the equation.

What About Print Quality?
Simply stated, it's outstanding. The 8550 produces bright, vivid colors. Shadows, gradients and reflective surfaces look excellent. Tray One can handle up to 80-pound bond paper and we managed to printout very professional looking documents.

Not only did it print very quickly, but the color quality didn't fade a bit; even after 50 prints, and the image quality was consistent on each and every job. The finished documents were clean and dry the moment they finished printing. Wet fingers didn't present a problem for the 8550DP — you don't need to worry about the ink on your flyers washing away if they get caught in the rain.

Priced at $1,299, no one would ever say that the 8550DP is inexpensive. Yet, despite its price tag, the 8550DP is an exceptional value. It's simple to use, relatively cheap to maintain and most importantly, it offers phenomenal print quality at an affordable price. If your small business needs a high-quality graphics printer, and you demand professional results, then give the Xerox Phaser 8550DP a closer look. You'll be glad you did.

Ronald Pacchiano is a contributing writer for both SmallBusinessComputing.com and PracticallyNetworked.com.

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