Xerox Phaser 8550DX offers alternative to inkjets and lasers

Solid-ink printers create great graphics, but at slow speeds

Some small offices or departments have outgrown their color inkjet but lack the volume or budget for a color laser. Xerox's Phaser 8500 and 8550 solid-ink printer family is one alternative, but based on our tests, these printers seem best suited for light-duty environments, perhaps allied with a monochrome laser for printing large quantities of text.

The Phaser 8500 and 8550 use a distinctive technology that melts chunks of solid, waxy ink and deposits it on the paper's surface, producing a somewhat glossy and slightly dimensional surface. The output looks good -- samples we printed on the Phaser 8550DX showed slightly shiny text with a little choppiness to the edges, but no merging or smearing of letters.

The printer excelled at business graphics: Colors were accurate and saturated; lines and shapes printed cleanly; and shades moved smoothly from light to dark. It did render our grayscale photo in a pinkish color composite that might have been intended to add depth -- but just made everything look dotty.

Unfortunately, speed limitations offset the competent output. In our tests, the 8550DX -- the fastest solid-ink model Xerox sells -- paused frequently to adjust itself. Single copies of our PowerPoint and Excel tests exited at comparatively swift speeds of 10.9 ppm (pages per minute) and 7.7 ppm, respectively, but on all other single-copy and multiple-copy tests, speeds fell to midrange or worse. Despite a 30-ppm-rated engine, the Phaser 8550DX's fastest time when printing 10 copies of a 10-page, plain-text Word document was a paltry 15.4 ppm.

We have a few other critiques, too. The 8550DX clanks and clunks a lot while printing, and the smell of the melting ink can be unpleasant. Xerox has improved the durability of solid-ink output -- the printed pages will hold up against light scratches -- but you still can't write over the output with a ballpoint pen, and folding the paper creates a noticeable crease in the image.

For many offices, solid ink's real attraction can be found in its acquisition cost. Phaser 8500 prices start at $899; the Phaser 8550DX we tested costs $2,399 and includes a 20GB hard drive, 512MB of memory, and a duplexer. The three input trays, plus the multipurpose tray, hold a total of 1,675 sheets. That's a good deal for such versatility, but the consumables costs are high: Assuming that 65 percent of your prints are plain-text and 35 percent full-color, you'll have spent $2,347 maintaining the Phaser 8550DX after 50,000 prints and $12,681 after 250,000 prints. Lower-volume users might take longer to hit these price points.