- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

If I were able to clone myself, and have the clones ride a seesaw, you'd have a good picture of my up-and-down feelings about printers. On the one hand, there's nothing, absolutely nothing, like a monochrome laser printer for super-sharp text. On the other, there's nothing to beat a good inkjet printer for color text, graphics, photos and all-around quality and value.

In fact, when things are a bit more settled in my office, I usually have both kinds of printers connected to the computers I use. With either software or an "A-B" switch, I can alternate between the two devices according to need.

However, it would be difficult to limit myself to one and only one type of printer for an extended period. No color laser that I've tested is good enough, small enough, light enough or inexpensive enough to knock out a higher-end inkjet; no inkjet, in turn, has surpassed a monochrome laser for sharp, black text.

Yet if a single choice had to be made, it's very likely that I'd go with Lexmark International Inc.'s 4-month-old Z52 Color Jet printer, list price $179. Even with my local supermarket yes, supermarket selling another firm's inkjet printer for about one-fourth that price, the Z52 delivers outstanding quality and value for a serious home, or home-office, user.

What's more, unlike that supermarket machine, the Z52 can hook up to either a Windows-based PC, using the parallel printer port or the Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, or an Apple Macintosh, provided the Mac has an USB port. (All Macs feature this, nowadays.) The firm supplies printer drivers for both Macintosh and Windows operating systems, including Windows ME and Windows 2000. No drivers are supplied by the maker for Linux, however.

It's claimed to be the first inkjet printer to deliver 2400-by-1200-dots-per-inch resolution in both black and color, on all paper types. In my experience, this translates to very sharp text, without fail, on letters and other documents.

Lexmark claims the printer can turn out 15 pages per minute in black ink; seven pages per minute in color. My tests showed very good speeds in a variety of tasks: monochrome pages were fastest, eight seconds for a one-page e-mail, but speeds in printing four-color Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files were certainly acceptable.

The quality when printing specialized items such as business cards and even bank checks (the latter using VersaCheck Personal 2000 software) was excellent, and that's important. Some banks don't like to see their customers print their own checks (it cuts down on commissions and can, in some cases, promote fraud, bankers have told me). So producing a check that looks acceptable is important, and the Lexmark Z52 succeeds in this task.

As for printing on card stock, business cards created with Corel's Print Office 2000 software were faithfully reproduced by this printer, with very good quality. And, it passed yet another demanding test, generating postage with Stamps.com software (discussed here recently) on both adhesive labels and on envelopes.

The printer relies on two inkjet cartridges, one black, selling for $31, and the other with three colors, and selling for $38. A separate photo cartridge, which sells for $40, is also available. I haven't calculated the yields for these cartridges, but it seems that the ink supply will hold out for a good number of pages; the printer was built to withstand a "duty cycle" of 5,000 pages per month, Lexmark said.

Paper handling on the Z52 is straight through; sheets need to be removed in order to print envelopes. Some users may find this a hassle; others will not be bothered. I was somewhere in the middle here, as well: it would be nice to have a bypass for one-at-a-time envelope printing, as can be found on many Hewlett Packard Co. inkjets. But I can deal with not having that feature without much heartache.

Although there's documentation for the printer, users will rarely need to turn to it once the printer has been installed. The printer's operation is simplicity itself: plug it in, and go.

In my ideal office, I'd have both a monochrome laser and a color inkjet printer. In the real world, I could more than "make do" with just the Lexmark Z51, and you might find the same to be true. More information on the printer can be found on line at www.lexmark.com/printers/ inkjet/Z52/.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002;e-mail [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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