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6/96 How To Buy: Personal Laser Printer


Laser printer speed is measured in pages per minute (ppm). Manufacturers quote a maximum speed at which the print engine can operate, usually based on printing fairly simple pages. Complex pages--those that have graphics or a variety of fonts--will not print as quickly. If you're using a low-cost laser printer, you can expect only 4ppm or 6ppm print speeds, even for simple pages.


Resolution, measured in dots per inch, represents the number of individual dots a printer can place within one inch horizontally and vertically. Most personal lasers offer 600x600 or 300x300dpi. This means that the unit can print the same number of dots vertically and horizontally. The higher the resolution, the greater the level of detail. Some manufacturers use software enhancements to give the appearance of higher resolution without increasing the dots per inch.

Paper Handling

Some paper trays can handle only 8.5-by-11-inch media, while a universal tray can handle several paper sizes. Generally, personal laser printers can hold between 150 and 250 sheets of paper. Many printers also provide a manual feed option to print on envelopes and larger media sizes one page at a time.


Laser printer prices have dropped drastically in the past couple of years. Currently, you can get a 600x600dpi, 6ppm personal laser printer for $500 to $600. Printers with lower speeds and resolutions cost much less, generally about $300.

Laser printers used to be a luxury found only in offices, where professional-looking documents are crucial. Now, however, the technology has become inexpensive enough to allow just about anyone to have high-quality output right from the desktop.

The paper path and the footprint are two opposing factors you'll need to consider when buying a laser printer. A straight paper path reduces the likelihood of paper jams, but if you're tight for desk space, you'll most likely want a more compact printer. Some units now occupy the same desk space as an 8.5-by-11 sheet of paper.

Keep in mind you'll probably have to buy a parallel printer cable. It's also a good idea to find out if Windows 95 drivers are available for the model you want.

How Laser Printers Work

Laser output is so crisp and clear that it sometimes seems it was printed by magic. But getting the image from your PC onto the paper is much simpler than you might think.

The printer controller creates an image of the page based on your computer's commands. It passes the image to the print engine, which controls the laser and performs all the mechanical printing actions. The print engine is made up of the photoreceptor, laser beam, toner, toner hopper, discharge lamp, fuser and developer roller.

First the image goes to the photoreceptor, which is a drum or belt electrostatically charged with high voltage and discharged by exposure to light. Light from the laser beam discharges the photoreceptor areas that will not be printed on, creating an electrostatic image of the page. As the photoreceptor revolves, it passes the toner-filled developer unit. The charged regions attract toner and deposit it on the paper.

Then the photoreceptor passes the discharge lamp, exposing it to light and erasing the residual electrostatic charge before it begins the next page. Meanwhile, the paper is passed to the developer unit. This component consists of a magnetic roller covered in fine magnetic particles called developer. These magnetic particles act like a brush, smoothing the coating of toner particles on the paper. Finally, the fuser uses heat to fix the toner onto the paper.

Print It!

ProductCompany PRICESpeed/
Paper HandlingFootPrint
Canon LBP-460Canon Computer Systems 800-848-4123, 714-438-3000 $379 (street)600dpi, 4ppm 100 sheets14.4 by 12.7 inches
HP LaserJet 5LHewlett-
Packard Co
. 800-752-0900, 408-246-4300
$479 (street)600dpi, 4ppm 100 sheets13.2 by 8.9 inches
Lexmark Optra ELexmark International 800-358-5835, 606-232-2000 $549 (street)600dpi, 6ppm 150 sheets13.7 by 9.7 inches
Panasonic KX-P6100Panasonic Communications & Systems Co. 800-742-8086, 201-348-7000 $399 (street)600dpi with software enhancement and 300dpi true, 6ppm 100 sheets14.9 by 5.2 inches
TI microLaser WIN/4Texas Instruments 800-TI-TEXAS $379 (street)600dpi, 4ppm 100 sheets12 by 11 inches

Purchase Plans

Make copies of this checklist and fill it out for each laser printer that you are considering.

Product Name ____________

Manufacturer ____________

Price ________

Resolution ____ 300dpi ____ 600dpi

Print Speed ___ ppm

Paper Handling ___ sheets

Optional Trays ___ Yes ___ No

Manual Feed ___ Yes ___ No

Straight Paper Path ___ Yes ___ No

Footprint ___ inches by ___ inches
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