Lexmark unveils new color printer

Lexmark International Inc. fortified its line of color printers with the announcement earlier this month of five machines ranging from inexpensive ink-jet printers for home and small-office use to a high-end color laser printer that can turn out pages at a rate of 12 per minute.

Speed, not price, is the No. 1 factor inhibiting the adoption of color printers in the commercial market, said Raymond J. Szeluga, advisory product planner for the Lexington, Ky.-based company.

That is also true of federal customers, who have stuck with black-ink printers, the overwhelming majority of which are made by Hewlett-Packard Co., Szeluga said. But Lexmark believes that with no single vendor dominating the color printer market as HP dominates monochrome, Lexmark's enhanced line has a chance to grab market share. Analysts agree.

Lexmark's new high-end Optra Color 1200 printer, which has a list price of about $6,000, combines a 200 MHz 64-bit processor and LED technology with a new alignment of the toner drums that speeds up the printing process.

In the Optra Color 1200, the paper is drawn across separate toner drums— three color and one black— that are lined up one after the other rather than on a single carousel that has to turn to apply each color. The single-pass printing process used in the Optra Color 1200 produces color prints at 600 by 600 dots per inch.

Single-pass printing is the only way to increase the speed of color printing. Most color printers on the market are limited to three pages per minute, Szeluga said.

The printer is suitable for departmental and enterprisewide printing, including scientific computer-aided design, said Bob Fennell, printer analyst at Dataquest, San Jose, Calif. Another advantage is that the Optra Color 1200 can print on a variety of sizes and types of paper, Fennell said.

Lexmark plans to ship the new printer in the third quarter.

Two of Lexmark's other new printers also are meant for offices. The Optra Color 40 and Optra Color 45 are less-expensive ink-jet models that deliver four-color printed pages a minute and are networkable, said Barry McElreath, director of U.S. product marketing in Lexmark's business printer division.

"The intent is to offer lower-cost entry to networkable color," said Paul Johns, vice president of U.S. sales and marketing in Lexmark's consumer printer division. "Both were designed for a more price-sensitive user who wants color on a network."

Both contain an Intel Corp. 33 MHz processor, and the Optra Color 45 scales to 72M of memory.

It also incorporates a number of other features, including flash memory for storing letterhead and other images that have to be printed frequently.

The Optra Color 45, which has a list price of about $1,400, prints at 600 by 600 dpi and comes with an internal port for a network card.

The Optra Color 40, which has a list price of about $700, prints at 1,200 by 1,200 dpi and has an external box for rigging it to a network. Both printers have been shipped and will be available on Lexmark's General Services Administration schedule and through resellers.

Wide-Open Market

The color printer market "is a wide-open opportunity for everybody and growing from a very small base," Fennell said. All the company's products, including two color printers already on the market, are of good quality, and the announcement of five new models is "pretty positive" for Lexmark, he said.

Serena Lambiase of Gartner Group-Datapro, Delran, N.J., said migrating to color is starting to make sense in the commercial market. "Until recently most people who needed to use color were going to the offset," Lambiase said. "[Lexmark] has a short window of opportunity to get in there before HP gets in [and totally dominates]."

Lexmark accounted for 5 percent of the 16.4 million color printers shipped in the United States in 1997, according to Dataquest. That compares with HP, the market leader last year, with a 38 percent share. Printers made by Tektronix Inc. were close behind with 34 percent; Xerox Corp. had a 9 percent share.

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