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Color their world: despite laser technology, monochrome printers aren't as popular with consumers.

NEW YORK -- Two years ago, the personal computer world readied for a retail turf battle that never materialized: color ink-jet printers vs. low-end monochrome laser printers.

Color ink-jet printer suppliers and analysts agree, consumers prefer color over black and white -- even if it's laser technology. It's a trend that will continue, they say.

Ed Pullen, a senior industry analyst with Computer Intelligence in La Jolla, Cal., said he expects 12 million color-ink- jet printers will be sold at retail this year, compared with 3.11 million laser printers.

But while color ink-jets will continue to dominate, growth in the segment has begun to slow. Pullen said he expects 14.3 million color ink-jets will be sold next year, followed by 16.5 million units in 1999. Laser won't fare as well down the line. He predicts in '98 2.96 million will be sold, and in '99 that figure will drop to 2.91 million.

"The days of 80 percent growth are over," said C.J. Meiser, product manager for Canon Computer Systems, referring to 1995 figures.

Why did Americans so easily accept color printer technology over the black and white? According to Meiser, the price was right. "It's a real no-brainer," he added. "Their world is color; it's more vibrant." Low prices made it easier for consumers to shelve their monochrome printers for color and for first-time buyers to go straight to color.

And as PC manufacturers continue to lower prices on PCs, possibly to $500 within 12 to 18 months, interest in color printers among first-time buyers is sure to rise.

As software that better used the color ink-jets' capabilities became available, their popularity exploded. Programs that helped users create personal greeting cards and calendars helped spur interest in printing in color.

It was that versatility that helped grab the attention of children, said Bob Engel, Hewlett-Packard's division marketing manager. "Kids, if they see something on the screen, they want to take it away to show mom and dad and their friends," he said.

Retailers agreed the versatility of color printers helped fuel their growth.

Chuck Cebuhar, vice president and general manager of home electronics/home office at Sears, said first-time users "hands down go for color." Cebuhar said color ink-jets, which Sears bundles with PCs in packages for first-time buyers, can do much more than laser printers -- and that makes them that much more attractive to consumers.

Barry McElreath, manager of U.S. product marketing for Lexmark International Inc., said laser printers "in the olden days had the edge. Now, the quality of color rivals any laser printer."

Low prices contributed to robust sales of color ink-jet printers, though McElreath said prices seem to have bottomed out. "At $200 or less for a color ink-jet, there's not much in there that can come down."

Dollar sales are on the decline. Bill Flynn, a senior consultant at Converging Digital Peripherals, said unit sales have been flat -- 10 million sold in 1996 and 1997 -- while prices are dropping. The average price of a color printer, $420 in 1996, is now down to $360.

Performance will continue to improve, said analysts and manufacturers. They said the next generation of color ink-jets will be able to print more pages per minute.

The next big spike for color ink-jets will be the photo market, said Donald Brewer, assistant product manager at Epson America. "When the mega-pixel cameras come down in price, that's when color ink-jet printers will boom," he said.

But laser printers will always be around, said John Wandishin, director of marketing for Brother International. "Back in the early '90s, no one knew what color ink-jet printers were. Maybe in the year 2000 there'll be a new technology that we don't know about yet."
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Title Annotation:computer printers
Author:Lewis, Jeff
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Dec 8, 1997
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