You might wonder why a business would want a color inkjet printer such as the HP Business Inkjet 1200d. After all, color lasers can now be had for around $500, and inkjets typically gulp boatloads of expensive ink. The 1200d, however, is intended to fill the niche between the $500 color laser, the $300 monochrome laser, and the dirt-cheap but ink-guzzling consumer inkjet. For several hundred dollars less than the color laser, the HP 1200d gives you faster text printing, good print quality, comparable ink costs per page, and a built-in duplexer to save you money in the long run by printing on two sides of a sheet. But even though this device handles higher printing volume than the average $200 home-oriented inkjet, it's less beefy than a color-laser workhorse. The base model holds less paper than most color lasers do, and let's face it: no inkjet we've seen can produce output as sharp and clear as a laser can. Still, for a small office or a workgroup that doesn't print in color often enough to warrant springing for a laser machine, the HP 1200d is an excellent low-cost option. We have to give props to Hewlett-Packard for deviating from the usual business drab with the HP Business Inkjet 1200d. Yes, the printer is a 20.72-pound gray box that measures a short 19.92 by 18.26 by 8.31 inches (WDH), but it manages to achieve style within the breadbox-design category. The plastic case is charcoal gray with white accent panels on the paper tray and the top and side panels. Some of the white bits have a mod-looking silver-herringbone pattern. This printer would look at home next to a new Mac; luckily, it's both Mac and PC compatible.
The printer's simple and utilitarian design should serve multiple harried businesspeople well. It features recessed carrying handles on both sides and easy access to replaceable components. The top panel flips up to reveal the printheads, and another door in front springs open for access to the four ink tanks. Because the printhead is separate from the inks, these tanks are even easier to snap in and pull out than those on other inkjets. According to HP, having separate heads for ink and printing allows a lighter print carriage that delivers faster printing and more economical ink usage. In theory, this setup should reduce your long-term maintenance costs, because you can replace each color as it runs out rather than dumping a whole multicolor cartridge.
In keeping with the basic business theme, the 1200d comes with one paper input/output cartridge that protrudes some six inches from the front of the printer. The stacked 150-sheet output tray flips up, allowing access to the 150-sheet input tray. You can also stick 22 envelopes in the input tray, but you can't feed them by hand, due to the absence of a manual-feed slot. The 1200d also lacks the straight paper path you'd find on a high-end photo printer such as the Epson Stylus Photo 2200. This limits your ability to print on fancy card stock or irregularly shaped items. As your printing needs increase, you can stack a 250-sheet input tray under the existing tray.
Another cost-saving feature of the HP 1200d is its built-in duplexer, which sticks out two inches from the back of the printer. If you indicate two-sided printing in the print drivers, the 1200d will print the first side, take a breath, release the paper into the output tray, then slowly suck the paper back in to print side two. The duplexer works well, though noisily, and we can't predict how well it will stand up to heavy use.
The 1200d's front panel hosts a modest array of buttons and indicator lights. A configuration-page button prints a page showing ink levels, cartridge expiration dates, and the quality of your printheads. On the networked versions of the Business Inkjet 1200, the same button prints network-configuration data. The panel includes Power, Cancel, and Resume buttons, plus a series of lights indicating paper quantity, open doors, paper jams, and the status of the printhead and the ink cartridges. A light for each ink color blinks when ink levels are low.The HP Business Inkjet 1200d's printer drivers contain features new to HP. These take advantage of the printer's multitasking skills and simplify the printing process while maintaining business sophistication. Drivers are organized into the usual series of tabs. First in line is Printing Shortcuts, which contains a task-based drop-down menu that asks, "What do you want to do?" If you select Fast/Economical printing, you get the usual choices for print quality, paper type, and orientation. You also get drop-down menus for automatic duplexing and shrinking multiple pages to fit one sheet. If you choose Photo printing, you can print in grayscale or select the HP Digital Photography button for options to correct red-eye, enhance contrast, and add a digital flash.
The 1200d's other driver tabs have similarly intelligent features: the Paper/Quality tab adjusts the quality choices depending on the paper type you've chosen. So if you select glossy photo paper, you get the Maximum quality option and the HP Digital Photography button. The Finishing tab won't let you select duplexing if you've specified photo paper, which is one-sided. Through Effects, you can add watermarks, minimize margins, and emulate narrow LaserJet margins. The Basics tab includes orientation, page order, and the option to change ink-drying time and volume. The Color tab lets you print in grayscale or sepia and helps you choose advanced color settings to adjust saturation, brightness, and color tone. The Services tab lets you align and clean printheads, calibrate color, and connect to the HP support Web site.
The HP Business Inkjet 1200d includes a built-in automatic paper sensor that detects the type of paper in the tray and selects a quality setting to match it. You must, however, turn automatic paper sensing on in the Paper/Quality tab, which defaults to the default print mode of 600dpi, so it's easier in the long run to choose your paper-type and quality settings as you print.
As a business inkjet, the 1200d is designed for heavier use than your average home inkjet. At 5 percent coverage, black-ink tanks are expected to print 1,650 pages, and color tanks 1,750 pages. Each tank costs $33.99, which works out to about 2 cents per page, in line with the costs for most monochrome and color laser printers. Printheads also cost $33.99 each, but they are expected to print 16,000 pages for black ink and 24,000 pages for color, so you may never have to replace them, depending on your workload.The quality of the HP Business Inkjet 1200d's output was good overall, but there were notable defects, which we attribute to the combined effect of large ink droplet size and poor control over droplet positioning. Text on coated inkjet paper was dark and sharp even at first glance but jagged along diagonal strokes and italic fonts. Our test graphics document, printed at 600dpi in Normal mode, had good color matching and smooth shading but suffered from noticeable printhead banding, fuzziness around curves, and visible dots. When we printed the same graphics document in Best mode--also at 600dpi but with HP's PhotoRet enhancement--curves sharpened but banding persisted. We also saw ink overspray.
Our test photo, printed at the Maximum photo setting of 4,800x1,200dpi, also came out acceptable, with a satisfactory level of detail. Skin tones were too warm, heavy on the magenta and yellow; this continued despite slight improvement after we turned down the color tone in the driver. From a business user's perspective, this printer does solid all-around printing and at the Best setting, charts, logos, and the odd photo element will look crisp and detailed enough for any meeting or presentation. But to print family album-worthy snapshots, look for a photo inkjet printer built for that purpose.