Gear Reviews

Color Your Clients

Any northern Maine school kid in Winter can tell you white is boring. With an average 110 inches of snowfall a season, kids get quickly sick of white. But with a box of food coloring, white can be a great canvas for breaking the monotony.

The point: If you aren’t using color in your office, you are doing a disservice to yourself and your clients. Color ink-jet technology has advanced so far that the the quality of printed pictures can rival true photographs. And there is much you can do with a color printer that will save you money, too. 

Four color inkjets excel above all others, Canon’s BJC-620 and BJC 4200, the Epson Stylus Color 500, and Hewlett Packard’s DeskJet 870Cse. The Stylus Color and BJC-620 offer the highest resolution, 720 x 720 dpi (dots per inch), followed by the BJC-4200’s 720 x 360 dpi and the DeskJet’s 600 x 300 dpi. Best output comes from the Stylus Color, but the other printers have much in their favor.

The $400 BJC-620 uses individual ink cartridges, which are easy to change and changeable at need. Why blow off a whole cartridge because it’s out of only one color? Canon’s inks are also richer, yielding bright, vibrant output, and its coated papers are significantly better than either Epson’s or Hewlett Packard’s, which give both BJC printers a real boost. And the $290 4200 can use special neon inks—great for T-Shirts—or special photographic quality mixtures that produce outstanding output. Canon’s Creative 2 software, bundled with the units, is almost worth the price of the printers. You will quickly be creating greeting cards, T-Shirts transfers, photographs, business cards, and much more in minutes.

Not to be outdone, Hewlett Packard has built a remarkable printer. The DeskJet 870Cse maximizes a flexible driver for best output on a case-by-case basis. This ensures the right mix of colors for each and every print job—and it shows in the results. The unit is sturdy and well constructed, which, by the way, can be said of both Canon printers but not of the Stylus Color. The $500 DeskJet is a great color workhorse.

The Stylus Color 500 is the perennial favorite of computer magazines because of its truly outstanding color output. The printer loves the camera, so to speak. If you want to print photographs for use on greeting cards or as part of reports, etc., the Stylus Color handles the task easily. But it only sneaks ahead of the competition. The BJC-620 is close behind and the BJC-4200, too, when using Canon’s BC-22 photographic ink cartridge. If cost is a consideration, the Stylus Color is the only choice. At $290, no other printer can match the quality of color printing for the price.

It would not be fair to completely leave out Canon’s new BJC-4550. The printer uses the same engine and color technology as the 4200, but adds support for the Mac and the ability to print up to 11 x 17. Architects and accounts will especially appreciate this function. The unit is an affordable $500 for the features. It’s the inkjet I use.

All of the printers require special coated paper for the best output—and each of the companies offer their own brand. The paper is not cheap, averaging $28 for 200 sheets, so pass this cost onto your clients. They may deserve color, but you don’t need the expense. I recommend against shaving pennies on imitations. The printer makers really do offer the best stock for their inkjets.

So, now that you have a cool color printer, what is it good for? Besides color for your clients, there are some other great uses for the units that can save you time and money. And some of these apply to standard, black and white lasers, too.

Every office has to contend with the need for quality business cards and letterhead. If you are enterprising, you can be quite inventive with the kind of materials you give clients. Microsoft Word 6.0 and Publisher 3.0 come with ready-to-use templates for a variety of styles of business cards, letterhead, brochures and more made by Paper Direct. The company is a supplier of high-quality paper products streamlined for business use. You can choose from hundreds of tasteful designs that make for a consistent look—like coordinated business cards, stationery, brochures, file folders, postcards, and more.

There are several advantages to Paper Direct—or its biggest competitor, Idea Art—products. You can buy attractive business cards, for example, for as little as $15. Of course, you have to print your info on them. But the process is simple, and, with a good printer, the cards look sharp. For what it would cost to send out an order to the print shop, you can get several styles of cards—say, something conservative for the older set, modest for your family clients or jazzy for the college crowd. Why have one look? You can create personalized, coordinated folders and papers that add real polish to your work. Both companies offer Word 7.0 templates for creating documents quickly; how’s five minutes? Paper Direct’s designs are more polished, while Idea Art’s are tasteful but more stylish. I prefer Idea Art.

Another great software solution forgoes the special papers and allows you to print out complete business cards, brochures or marketing material in full color. MySoftware’s $90 MyProfessionalBusinessCards 2.0 and MyProfessionalMarketingMaterial 1.0 provide all the necessary tools to add bang to your stationery or paper presentations. Your color inkjet turns into a low-cost, high-quality print shop, churning out customized materials for clients, promotions or events.

Competing with MySoftware’s products is $80 Streetwise Software’s by Design 4.0. The product comes with 1,200 Word 7.0 templates designed to give your business a consistent image. High points: Good color output and the ability to work with documents from within Word.

Festive and thank-you cards are excellent points of customer care. But they are expensive and impersonal. So why not bring the store to your office? Micrografx CreataCard Plus 1.01 and Microsoft Greetings Workshop 1.0, both available for about $70, come with all the tools necessary to quickly create customized, personalized cards for all occasions. And if your color printer is good, they will look store-bought, too, or you can dispatch your creation via e-mail. CreataCard is based on American Greetings designs and Greetings Workshop on Hallmark. Which product is best depends whose cards you usually buy.

As good as all these products are, it still means buying boxes of software you may not want or cannot afford. So you might try an integrated solution instead. If you do not need 500 business card templates or 7,000 holiday cards combinations, consider Microsoft Publisher 97 or Micrografx Draw 5.0 for most of your business graphics needs. Both programs, both available for about $70, are powerful desktop publishing solutions for the novice. You can use them to create everything from business cards to the company newsletter—or you can publish to the Internet. For more robust needs, consider $400 Corel CorelDraw 7.0 instead.

Thanks to a good PC, smart business software and a color printer, you can do a lot to cut costs and boost your image. If you spring for the Epson or Canon printers, which produce photo-quality output, look into a program for cropping or manipulating images. My pick: Microsoft’s new Picture It! 1.0. And if you would like to add your own photos to printed material, invest in a personal picture scanner. Kodak and Storm Primax make great solutions for about $200. Kodak’s Snapshot Scanner 1 handles prints up to 4 x 11.5 and Storm’s EasyPhoto Reader 2.5 up to 5 x 7. SnapShot comes with a better software bundle, but Storm’s internal unit, the EasyPhoto Drive, has better resolution. Note: neither works under Windows NT 4.

Photo Credit: Mathias Appel

Editors Note: On July 27, 2017, this post was recovered, using Archive.org Wayback Machine, from a snapshot of my first website, at editors.com strangely called: “Blue Sky, Business, and the Maine Outback”. What was I thinking?

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