HP Officejet Pro 8100 ePrinter

If you’re looking for a low-priced color laser printer for your small office, look again: For a mere $150 (as of May 1, 2012), you can obtain high-speed, good-quality color printing with HP’s Officejet Pro 8100 ePrinter. This classily-styled color inkjet printer has Wi-Fi, USB, and ethernet, and it can handle up to 1250 pages of printing per month. Most important, its inks are cheaper per page than the toner supplies from any comparably priced color laser.

Setting up the Officejet Pro 8100 on a PC is simple: Insert the CD and follow the prompts. If you’re using a Mac that runs Lion (OS X 10.7), however, you’ll probably have to surf to HP’s website for the latest drivers; the ones on our installation CD didn’t support Apple’s latest and greatest. You can use OS X’s own Add Printer function to find the driver, but HP should bring its installation software up-to-date.

HP adds a nice touch to the Officejet Pro 8100’s control panel in the form of a small front LCD for showing ink levels, Wi-Fi status, and when you’re out of paper. Onboard buttons are limited to an eject button and toggle buttons for the ePrint cloud-printing feature and for Wi-Fi.

Paper handling on the Officejet Pro 8100 is sufficient for medium-volume printing, with a 250-sheet, bottom-mounted main tray, a 150-sheet output tray directly above it; and automatic duplexing. An optional, $80 250-sheet paper tray (CQ696A) is available for the Officejet Pro 8100; but at this writing, the tray is nearly impossible to find on HP’s website without help. (We’ve included the link above.)

The Officejet Pro 8100 seems sturdily built, and it’s more than likely to outlast its one-year warranty. In addition, HP will sell you a two-year extended service/warranty plan for only $25, which is reassuring. The extended plan supersedes the standard plan, but you can purchase it any time within the first year–so the longer you wait, the longer the total warranty.

Getting your documents printed promptly is no problem for the Officejet Pro 8100. Monochrome pages (mostly text, with a few simple grayscale graphics) exit at a rapid 12.5 pages per minute, while 4-by 6-inch photos print at 4.6 ppm (well above average) to plain paper and 1.2 ppm (average) to glossy photo paper. Full-page photos print to glossy paper at about 0.6 ppm, which is slightly above average.

Output from the Officejet Pro 8100 was generally very good. Text looked sharp, though it tended toward charcoal gray instead of black. Monochrome graphics were attractive and had smooth transitions, though of the same overall charcoal cast. The slightly oversaturated palette in color photos made for warm and friendly nonhuman subjects, but it gave fleshtones an unnaturally ruddy appearance.

The Officejet Pro 8100’s ink costs are outstandingly low–especially for the high-yield supplies. The unit ships with special “setup” versions of its standard-capacity cartridges that have extra ink for the initialization process, so you still get basically a full set to use for printing. The standard-capacity cartridges cost you 2.6 cents per black page and 2.9 cents per page (cpp) per color. A four-color page costs a very affordable 11.3 cents. The high-yield XL supplies are even cheaper: 1.6 cents for monochrome pages and 7.3 cents for a four-color page.

Fast and competent, the Officejet Pro 8100 is a more economical choice than a color laser printer. But so are most business-class inkjets. Before committing to anything, you might want to check out the Epson Workforce Pro WP-4020, which is slightly faster than the HP and has a rear feed for thicker media such as photos and envelopes.

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