Ricoh Aficio C250DN - the colour network laser printer for SMEs on a budget

Ricoh calls the Aficio C250DN a ‘compact’ colour laser printer but it’s still not exactly a small object. Weighing 29kg including consumables it’s also pretty heavy. This is not a unit you slip under a table and just forget. How a Japanese company better known for its stellar but expensive digital cameras and business photocopiers can make a printer this imposing and then charge only £80 (at eBuyer) is, frankly, either astonishing or downright suspicious.

The low price might make it sound like a steal for a domestic user fed up with living in the world of monochrome laser printing but the Aficio (we have no idea what that word means either) is really a departmental or home office business printer for silly money. The specs underline this with 20 pages-per-minute print speed with first page out in 14 seconds, an A4 2400 x 600dpi resolution and an Ethernet port to back up printing via USB and Wi-Fi. It would be ideal for anyone printing up to 1,500 pages of colour per month.

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The consumables are pricey, although in fairness this is an inherent problem with all colour printers, which need four CMYK toner cartridges to a black and white’s one. The black costs £41.49 including vat for 2,000-pages life expectancy, while the cyan, magenta and yellow cost £56.99 including VAT for 1,600 pages. It is the economics of toner cartridges that explains the low price of this and many other colour printers appearing on the market right now. The maker sells the hardware at a loss and eventually makes money on the consumables.

Ricoh quotes a mono cost of 2 pence per page and a colour cost of 12.6 pence. These are fairly standard but the colour cartridges are a bit stingy at only 1,600 pages and they will also have to bought soon after first purchasing the printer because the factory cartridges run for only 1,000 pages each.

Remember, there’s no point in printing colour with one cartridge depleted. Take any one of the CMYK out of operation and any prints coming out of the machine won’t be worth looking at to anyone who has had fewer than five pints of beer in the previous half hour. That doesn’t mean that the Aficio is only a colour printer; it can be used as a conventional monochrome text printer most of the time receiving occasional colour jobs from time to time.

Ricoh Aficio C250DN – why a laser?

A deeper question is why buy a colour laser instead of an inkjet for low volumes. The answer is really speed, something lasers excel at. No inkjet will be able to print a colour image at the same speed as producing a text page but in theory a laser can, which in this case is up to 20 pages per minute. For one-off jobs that matters not but print out the same page of pie charts for 20 people and the time-saving advantage will be obvious.

Setup

Configuring the printer requires an Ethernet connection initially after which settings such as 802.11n Wi-Fi access are configured through an internal web panel. The whole process took minutes with the only small issue being the need to make sure that the A4 lever had been physically selected inside the machine from its default ‘envelope’ setting. Unlike some printers that come with huge installations, the Windows driver installs itself in less than a minute. Changing the drum (front cover) and each of the CMYK toner cartridges (top cover) also takes seconds.

Performance is sprightly, achieving close to the claimed speeds for page-per-minute text output. Full-page A4 graphics were also fast, appearing in under a minute for even sizable files. The memory is only 128MB coupled to a 350MHz Intel processor but this seems to be sufficient to drive out pages from a Windows PC that will feed print jobs to the machine from its cache. That’s a sign of good drivers, which run to Postscript as well as PCL5c and PCL6.

We didn’t formally test print speed or image and text quality because making judgements requires a reference point we lack. But the output was pleasing. Power consumption under load is stated as 80 watts (rated 1,300 watts maximum) which drops back to 3.8 watts in standby.

Ricoh Aficio C250DN – drawbacks

One issue with this printer is that it doesn’t support Google’s Cloudprint, a cloud-based printing system supporting the company’s Chromebooks. This won’t be an issue for some small offices but it might be for others and is a shame. Driver support is for Windows and OS X only with Unix/Linux supported through Postscript. Cloudprint is supported by some of Ricoh’s other Aficio models.

For smartphones and tablets, Ricoh offers the Android and iOS Smart Device Print & Scan Scan app.

Pro: Ruggedly built; speedy; low capital cost; 2-year guarantee

Con: Watch out for cartridge costs

OUR VERDICT

This is an exceptionally well thought-our printer that unlike some better-known brands puts the emphasis on simplicity and performance. With its 250-page A4 print capacity (and double-sided printing), it would function well as a home office or small office printer for modest print volumes, including text documents with some colour output. Despite its cheap offer price at eBuyer, it even comes with an Ethernet port as well as Wi-Fi, pretty much unique for a printer under the £100 mark. The rub is the cost of consumables relative to the capacity on offer. Most laser printers for pro use will come with cartridges offering a claimed 2,500 pages but Ricoh’s stretch only to 1,600. If colour is a requirement, it is important to take into account annual running costs. Given the high quality of today’s printers, this, it could be argued, is the real point of differentiation. Clone cartridges will cut the cost somewhat but from our experience might lower the quality and consistency of the output.