Review: Xerox Phaser prints great, priced right

Review: Xerox Phaser prints great, priced right

Posted to MacsimumNews by Dennis Sellers Oct 13, 2006 at 3:24am
Written by Mical Wilmoth Carton

MODEL #          Phaser 8550 DP
by                Xerox
Full Color Printer Using "Solid Ink" Technology
MSRP $1,299 less $500 rebate through Dec 31, 2006

I should preface this review by explaining that I am a part-time antique dealer, and I often take part in outdoor antique shows where the items I sell are totally exposed to the weather. When I printed labels using an inkjet printer, any amount of humidity or drizzle made my price labels disappear. Before my very eyes the print simply smudged, spread, or slid off the labels so they were no longer readable. Very frustrating. And it was challenging to try and remember the price for each item once the labels were washed away.

My first attempt to circumvent this issue was the purchase of an ALPS 4000 printer. The ALPS, with it's IBM Selectric style ribbons, deposited a wax film on paper. The "print" was permanent in every way. The paper disappeared before the ink did. But even 4 years ago, ribbons for the ALPS were becoming very difficult to obtain, and the cost per page to print anything at 5% coverage was about 25 cents.

About 4 or 5 years ago, during a visit to MacWorld at the Jacob Javitts Center in NYC (maybe the last MacWorld in NYC?), I saw and fell in love with the Xerox Tektronix Phaser 8200 printer. The Xerox promised significant useage cost savings over the ALPS with solid ink that was as permanent as the ALPS, though the printer's initial cost was much more.

Sadly, I couldn't justify buying the Xerox Phaser when I first saw it because it only worked with Mac OS X, which my Macintosh could not use. However, following a series of happy events which included winning a copy of MS Office for OS X in a raffle, which resulted in my being forced to purchase a new iMac so I could run my new copy of 'Office,' I was convinced that it was ok to buy my very own Tektronix 8200 DP printer. And it has been a love for the past four years! But now the cost of renewing the service policy for the 8200 is about 1/2 the cost of a new Xerox Phaser printer. This has made its care and feeding problematic, and the new Xerox Phaser printers are less expensive, faster and have much higher resolution, so . . . .

I am now the proud owner of a new iMac (as in, you can't buy a new printer and use the same old tired computer), and a brand new Xerox Phaser 8550 DP. In other words: I bought the least expensive Phaser that will automatically print double-sided copy. At a resolution up to 2400 DPI. Thirty pages per minute (black and white, or color!). At a cost, including the cost of   consumables, which varies from 2 cents per page (5% coverage, black or color) to 19 cents per page (32% color coverage). And even though I've only had the printer a short while, it's a real dream machine. Even prints on plain paper are photo-quality when printed at the highest resolution.

Set-up of my newest Phaser was very simple. Pop it out of the box. Connect it to my iMac with an ethernet cable. Install the printer driver. And it worked. Printed all its start-up pages. And it's run fine ever since. I could have connected using BlueTooth, but the computer and printer are very close to one another. Ethernet is faster than BlueTooth. I had an ethernet cable on hand. And my experience with BlueTooth and my Palm TX did not encourage me to try this.

Surpringly, the set-up CD for my new Phaser included information on printing from Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X. This means that even folks running networked set-ups with older and newer machines should be able to use the Phaser with all their computers. Not my situation, but a very interesting addition to the usefulness of this printer family.

For those unfamiliar with this printer, the Xerox Phaser line of printers uses "Solid Ink" technology. Ink is supplied in smallish solid blocks, and each of the 3 colors and black are a distinctly different shape so you should not be able to put the wrong color in the wrong location. The printer works by melting the ink, actually maintaining it at something like 300 degrees, and then placing it onto each page in permanent little droplets as needed. I've been told the ink is very much like crayons. It's totally non-toxic. And it's totally permanent on the page!   

Like many other printers, the Phaser will not print unless there is enough ink of all 4 colors   installed. For this reason, I keep ink on-the-shelf, and I replenish my supply whenever I use the last block of any color. Black ink is available in packs of 10 sticks, and the colors (cyan, magenta and yellow -- aka blue, red and yellow) are available in two-packs. The printer has a lovely digital display which tells far in advance that new ink, or a new maintenance kit, is needed.

There is really nothing tricky about using the Phaser 8550 DP except that it should be kept powered on at all times for highest efficiency (ie: least cost per page). This is because it needs to keep its "solid ink" melted in order to print. Every time the printer is powered off, the ink in its resevoir is expelled and new ink is melted for use. With the 8200 this was an expensive proposition. (Someone said it cost $12 in ink every time the printer powered off.) I don't know if this cost has been reduced for the 8550, but I have the printer connected to a UPS so it stays on all the time except when we have a severe power failure. The printer does have an "energy saver" mode which can be set to activate after a period of disuse. Mine is set for 60 minutes of non-use, for example. And it takes only a few seconds for the printer to re-activate once it has been on stand-by.

The 8550 works best with Laser paper, as opposed to Copy paper. For photo's, of course, one uses photo paper. It can print to standard A2, standard 8 1/2" x 11" or legal 8 1/2" x 14" paper from its large capacity paper tray. It can print to envelopes and specialty paper as well from a fold-out tray that works very easily. The fold-out, or manual-feed, tray also allows the use of stiff cover stock and postcard stock with a minimum of fuss. This is great for greeting cards as well. And the two-sided printing, without having to flip the paper and put it back in for a second pass, works flawlessly. Registration on front-to-back copies is perfect every time!

While the initial cost of these printers is high, the cost-per-page is low. I am a low-volume user. The 8550 is rated to run up to 85,000 copies per month, but   I only print something like 1,000 copies per month. Because the cost per page is so low, I print all the copies I need for club reports, etc. rather than running to the local copy center every time I need 20 copies of something. This saves in time and fuel, and my reports look much nicer than they otherwise would. I print double-sided whenever I can to save on trees, and I charge copy center   prices for the printing I do for my many organizations. (They would otherwise reimburse me for going to the copy center, so they might as well help me pay for the ink I use.)

The one thing I find of concern about the 8550 DP, and the 8200 DP as well, is the fact that it has a 'hard' On-Off switch rather than an electronic switch like my iMac. This means that, when the power does go out and the printer turns itself off, it turns itself back on when the power is restored. If the power goes off, comes on momentarily, goes off again, and then comes on again, the printer follows the power. Off-on-off-on. I would prefer to have the printer stay off until I want to turn it back on. We sometimes have erratic power outages where I live, and I'd be more comfortable if the Phaser would just turn off and stay off until I think the power company has resolved whatever issues there are. (About once a year we have squirrels that kamakaze into our house's transformer. Then there are the electrical storms we are prone to in the mid-Atlantic. And the power company, every so often, treats us to erratic supplies of electricity as well.)

One recommendation: Purchase the extended warranty at the time you buy your printer. Xerox gives you a break on its cost (for in-office parts & labor coverage!) if you buy the service contract when you buy the printer. There is a 3-year contract available, giving you a full 4 years of in-office parts and labor coverage. A real bargain! And without this, repair costs are high for anything likely to break.

Specifications for the Xerox Phaser 8550 DP:
Print speed: Up to 30 ppm
Two-sided printing built-in
Resolution: up to 2400 FinePoint™ printing
Paper tray capacity: 625 sheets

There are less-expensive Phaser models available which do not offer the resolution of the 8550 DP or the ability to automatically print double sided. And Xerox has extended their wonderful rebate offer ($400 to $500 off any given model) through Decembe 31, 2006. They must be making their money on the ink!

All in all, this printer is a total delight! And, while the initial cost is a bit painful, printing costs make short -or long - run jobs more economical to print than to copy.

Mical Wilmoth Carton, Ambassador Emeritas
Maryland Apple Corps, Inc.

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