A Different Printer Option For Photographers
Using The Konica Minolta magicolor 2350 EN Color Laser Printer

Photos © 2004, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

From the earliest days of the digital darkroom it became progressively clear that the color ink jet would become the dominant printer for photographers. Dye sublimation printers still persist, but mostly as either snapshot or event photographer printers. The one digital printer that is familiar to office workers, but is seldom mentioned or considered by individual photographers, is the color laser printer. However, now that good quality, name brand color laser printers are much more affordable, I think it is time for their reconsideration.

In terms of reproducing photo-realistic prints, ink jets like the Epson Stylus Photo R800 and the Canon i9900, which I recently tested, will remain the preferred printer of most individual photographers. But all the same, ink jet printers are not without shortcomings. Even though the initial cost is quite reasonable, the cost of ink and paper to make the best quality prints with ink jets is substantial. And in terms of speed an ink jet is a real turtle. The only rabbit-like performance an ink jet is capable of printing is relatively low-resolution copies of text documents, and even in that application it is still no "roadrunner." This puts a photographer who needs to reproduce a high volume of prints, or documents with photographs, at both a time and cost disadvantage. Enter the color laser printer, which has a relatively low "ink" toner cost and does its best quality printing on inexpensive, plain laser paper. In addition, it will pound out duplicate copies in minutes, compared to the hours it might take to do the same work with an ink jet.

To test this assertion I decided to test a color laser printer to both establish its output advantages as well as confirm its ability to reproduce photographic images that would not "embarrass" a photographer. A few years back while attending an industry trade show I observed a demonstration of the first model of the Minolta 2300-series color laser printers. The good impression led me to look up what Konica Minolta is currently offering, and I found one model which was expressly touted for its ability to reproduce photographs, the Konica Minolta magicolor 2350 EN, a letter-size color laser with a street price in the $700-$800 range.

An Adventure Begins
The rather large, heavy box arrived with the magicolor 2350 EN printer and I thought to myself, at least you get something more for its higher price. From a less flippant perspective, the amount of "ink" toner supplied with the printer is at least half the price that you might expect to pay with an ink jet and should last most users for a long time and a lot of prints. And, the size actually involves little if any more need for desk space than a typical letter-size ink jet; however, the magicolor 2350 EN is just a lot taller. And although the software utilizes an operating system PostScript driver that installs a PPD specific to the printer, setting up and installing the Konica Minolta color laser was nearly as easy as a contemporary ink jet. You also have two of the same printer/computer connections, a USB and parallel for PCs, plus an RJ-45 10/100BaseTX network connector if you want to use the magicolor 2350 EN as a network printer. For an individual user like myself I found I had the printer running and making prints in short order. Printing from applications is just about the same as with any other desktop printer.

One of my chief concerns in test printing from Photoshop was obtaining full color saturation that accurately matched the on-screen image, so I began by printing a selection of flower images. The color quality was quite close to what I would expect from many photo ink jets.

Color laser printers require quite different paper media than ink jets, although "plain" paper can be used with each. If you go to an office supply store you will find popular paper brands that offer general-purpose papers for either an ink jet or a laser printer. Unlike ink jets, though, there is not a wide selection of specially coated papers like the resin-based ink jet papers that mimic the look and feel of analog photo papers. That said, companies like Hammermill do make high-quality "glossy" paper for color laser printers. In addition, higher quality rag-content bond papers can also be used effectively with a color laser printer. However, most usual stationery-type bond papers have a watermark and are often not very opaque, so using them to print full-page photo images is not really a suitable application. So, being used to a selection of media types with ink jets, and few apparent corresponding laser printer options in specific papers for laser printers, I did a little experiment. (However, if you should be similarly inclined, be aware a laser printer involves heat to adhere the "ink" toner to the paper, and the use of a resin-based paper might melt the resin and could likely damage the printer!)

After trying some of the dedicated laser papers and some high-quality stationery paper, I came to the conclusion that the better quality, but inexpensive, paper made for color laser printers reproduces color photographs as well as any kind of paper. The premium glossy papers made for color laser printers look really slick and work well with documents that contain smaller photo images plus type and maybe graphics. But if most of the page is made up of a photographic image the result is not ideal, as the "ink" toner is duller than the gloss of the paper. For a really glossy look it might be best to use a very thin laminated gloss application, like used on the cover of some magazines. I also found high-quality lightweight card stock, often used for printing invitations, works well for full-page photographic images, especially when you want a heavier, richer look and feel.

Many photographers are attracted by subjects with simple, bold compositions and strong color and contrast. If a printer is capable of reproducing these attributes, then the printing experience will be satisfying. And, it was with the magicolor 2350 EN, even considering the paper media was plain and inexpensive..

While doing these initial tests to determine what paper stocks work best with the magicolor 2350 EN, I realized the PPD (printer driver) supplied with the printer did not allow turning off the printer driver's internal color control adjustments. Although I could obtain nice-looking printed images, the photographs printed did not match the color fidelity of the image on screen. So, I got in touch with the Konica Minolta technical printer division to see if there was a way to print using Photoshop to control color matching. In short order, Konica Minolta sent a PPD with an option switch to turn the internal printer color adjustment on or off.

Calibrating And Profiling The magicolor 2350 EN
Upon receiving the new PPD that allowed turning off the magicolor 2350 EN's internal color controls, I made a set of prints of an ICC color test chart with each of the papers I tested. (Anyone with a flat-bed scanner that supports making raw scans, and color management software like ColorVision's ProfilerPLUS, can easily calibrate and profile a color laser printer.) After reading the printed charts, using ColorVision's SpectroPRO Suite, and making a profile for each paper, I was set to do some serious printing of photographs using Photoshop.

With the magicolor 2350 EN's print driver set for no internal color control, I used the Print With Preview window dialog in Photoshop (Versions 7.0, CS, Elements 3.0) and went to the optional CMS section at the bottom and selected my work space Adobe RGB (1998) as the Source Space profile. I used the paper profile for the Print Space, then hit the Print button.