New device saves money on color printing

A new Xerox Corp. printer that uses solid-ink technology and a sliding price scale might be good news for schools and colleges that are trying to cut costs without taking away from administrative or classroom functions.

The ColorQube 9200 series multi-function printer family uses a waxy substance resembling a huge crayon instead of ink or toner cartridges. The technology previously had been used in smaller Xerox printers.

Xerox also said that instead of the common setup of charging enterprise customers 2 cents for black and white pages or 8 cents for color, the company will charge based on how much color a given printing job requires. Only 15 percent of the 2.25 trillion pages printed worldwide each year are in color.

That will mean a 62-percent drop in the price of color printing, according to Xerox.

"There is a fundamental barrier that we were trying to break," says Ursula Burns, the company’s president. "The world is in color; that’s what our customers want."

Teachers and staff at Old Orchard Junior High in Skokie, Ill., have been piloting the ColorQube since the end of February.

"We love it," said Joan Gerage, the principal’s secretary. "We’re using it for everything, and we weren’t prepared for how vivid the color is and how easy it is to use."

Gerage said school staff started using the printer for newsletters, and each day a teacher found a new use for the machine. The printer is now used to make pamphlets advertising school functions, for art lessons, grammar lessons in language-arts classes, and in special-education classes.

It also has saved the school time and money for various administrative functions. Gerage said the 625-student school previously had to send out its envelopes to have the school’s logo printed on them, but now envelopes are formatted in-house.

And while the school’s business manager handles the cost aspect, "from what I understand, it is a significant savings," Gerage said.

Xerox has been producing solid ink printers since 1991, but company executives say advancements in the technology–including upgrades to printer heads and speed increases–have moved the printers to the forefront.

Three features that make the ColorQube stand out are its tiered price scale, its ease of use for busy school staff, and the longevity of most of the parts, which translates to environmental consciousness, Xerox says. 

"When you think about what schools and school administrators do, it’s a pretty paper-intensive environment," said David Bates, vice president of product marketing for Xerox Office Group. 

The ColorQube uses a hybrid billing plan based on three tiers of color consumption: "useful" color costs 1 cent, "everyday" color is 3 cents, and high color coverage will cost the same as market price, Bates said.

Bates estimated that schools and colleges will rely most on "useful" and "everyday" color.

The machine creates images by printing pixels–tiny spots–of black and color on the page. It automatically counts how many color pixels are used to produce each printed page. Individual pages are tallied on three separate meters in the machine based on how many color pixels are on the particular page.

The printer has fewer moving parts, holds nearly 60,000 pages of ink at a time, and features a user video on the front panel for easy reference.

Coming out with such a printer carries risks for the Norwalk, Conn.-based company. After all, many of the color machines Xerox is looking to render obsolete are Xerox machines.

"The trick is to make sure that it doesn’t just displace the laser jets," said Angele Boyd, an analyst with the research firm IDC. Xerox will have to try to appeal to a wider market and steal share from competitors, perhaps by touting its green credentials, she said.

The company says its ColorQube produces less waste and uses less power than average laser printers.

Because the printer is cartridge-free and because other parts are lifelong parts, Bates said, it produces 90 percent less waste.

Hewlett-Packard Co., one of Xerox’s main rivals, is skeptical. Tom Codd, an HP vice president, said the solid ink printers already on the market have produced images of lesser quality than standard laser printers; colors fade and leave a waxy residue on the page that’s hard to write over, he said. And because solid ink machines have to keep the ink heated, they have tended to use more power.

Xerox concedes that quality and power use have been problems in the past. But the company says it has smoothed out the kinks.

The ColorQube does, indeed, have to keep its ink heated, said Jim Rise, Xerox vice president in charge of solid ink. Some is kept in a "molten" state, which means using more power than a laser machine when it’s idle.

But Rice says the printer more than makes up the difference by using less power while it’s running.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Xerox ColorQube 9200

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