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Color Page Printing - The Next Generation

5 Oct, 2001 By: Chris Barnes imageSource

Color Page Printing - The Next Generation

in 1998 and through the first half of 1999, growth in the color page printer
industry hit a dramatic peak. Businesses were so enamored by the new generation
of color lasers, which were capable of reaching “blinding” speeds of up to
four pages-per-minute, that they bought them up in droves. During a stretch of
about six months, shipments increased by annualized growth rates well into the
triple-digits, leading some observers to predict wildly optimistic growth rates
deep into the new millennium.


a year, most of these predictions got tossed out the window as shipments
abruptly slowed and corporate America vastly curtailed IT equipment purchases.
Of course, what many of these lofty forecasts lacked was a better grasp on the
impact of the relationship between perceived price and performance. Color page
vendors have now spent the better part of two years looking for an opportunity
to rekindle that idea of offering “more for less” and, in turn, regenerate
that same frenetic demand that infected the industry nearly three years ago.



first took off late in 1998 at the cusp of a major shift in street prices. In
the span of only a few months, average prices for letter-sized color page
printers fell from well over $4,000 to well under $3,000. The prices
settled near the $2,500 by the middle of 1999 and have changed little since.


pricing shift also occurred at one of the most dramatic performance technology
upgrades in the history of the industry. Color print speeds nearly doubled while
photographic image quality exemplified improvements in registration, color
rendering, and resolution. Products such as the Tektronix Phaser 740 breached
the $2,000 barrier for the first time; HP's Color LaserJet 4500--itself
light-years ahead of its ancient predecessor, the Color LaserJet 5¾set
the technology benchmark for all others to follow.


Next Generation Moving forward into the latter half of 2001, conditions are
prime for another technological phase shift with the potential to ignite demand
going into 2002, similar to the events that typified 1999. This time, however,
the technology group ready to take off is not letter-size, but A3, or tabloid,
color page printers. Remarkably, one of the vendors leading this charge, Ricoh
Corporation, didn't even market a color printer prior to the second quarter of


still considered a newcomer to the printer arena, Ricoh is poised to make a
substantial impact on the U.S. market with the introduction of its new AP-3800C
tandem color laser printer this September. The printer, which was first
showcased at Fall COMDEX 2000 in Las Vegas and began selling in Japan as the
IPSiO Color 8000 in March, features a “single-pass” architecture that
generates outstanding color output at speeds of up to 28 pages-per-minute. The
U.S. price for the printer remains a question mark, but if it comes close to its
price in Japan, other vendors might find it helpful to brace themselves.


IPSiO Color 8000 lists in Japan for 588,000 yen (US$4,800), but at some
resellers the base model sells for the equivalent of less than $3,300, or just
$118-per-PPM. At that price, Ricoh's tandem color laser would shatter the
current average price-per-PPM for tabloid color devices ($737 as of May 2001).
At that level, in fact, the Ricoh printer would shatter the current
price-per-PPM for letter color page printers ($446). The last time color page
innovation made such a dramatic shift in price-per-PPM growth, rates exceeded
100 percent.


Labs Assessment

speed rules in the world of color, it does not alone make the sale. Ultimately,
quality of output is a deciding factor, especially for a rapid output tandem
color engine. To test the quality of the printer, ARS sent the model to Houston,
Texas to be evaluated by our Manufacturing Cost Analysis Lab Engineer, Mick


to his findings, the print quality from the Ricoh printer is outstanding and is
equal to the best that has been tested to date at ARS Labs. The printer's laser
scanner has five laser diodes and initial pre-scan lenses, one for each color
toner and two for the black. These five laser beams take different paths through
shared reflective optics, which guide them to the 12 facets of the rotating
polygon mirror. This single rotating mirror has twelve facets that scan the
laser beams over the four 30-mm OPC drums. Samples show how processes in the
printer are very controlled.


said the ARS Labs gave the Ricoh printer a provisional assessment score of 9 out
of 10--the highest score given to date for a color page printer!



the start of 2002, the Ricoh AP-3800C will not be the only high-speed tandem
color printer to reach the U.S. market. Xerox and Oki already have 21-ppm color
LED printers selling in their respective product lines, while Lexmark and HP are
rumored to introduce their own high-speed offerings within the next 6 to 12
months. The net result of introducing all these new products within such a short
span of time will be lower prices, starting with the high-end, and pushing all
the way down to the low-end.


Corporation is a highly motivated $2.2 billion dollar company with a number one
market share in the workgroup digital copier arena. The company has no
reservations about using these resources to muscle its way into a share of the
current and projected profits from the lucrative color page market. Just
recently, the company announced the hiring of 35 printer industry executives to
spearhead its printer business efforts and wage a campaign against incumbent
vendors HP, Xerox, and Lexmark.


the level of Ricoh's domestic business that presently moves through IKON Office
Solutions, a provider of HP's LaserJet products and services since October 2000,
Ricoh will face tough battles ahead. However, no matter what vendor comes
out on top, the true winners will be business users. One year from now, these
users will have the opportunity to purchase vastly superior products at vastly
greater values.


you wish to contact Chris Barnes, you can reach him at 858-729-5375 or email him
at cbarnes@ars1.com.

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