The problem with colour laser printers has always been that they're pretty expensive. But, at around £150, Brother's bottom-of-the-range model, the HL-3040CN, is cheaper than many monochrome printers. So how has Brother managed to get the price down so low, and does the HL-3040CN produce decent results?
One of the key reasons Brother has been able to offer this model at such a competitive price is that it uses a row of high-intensity LEDs, rather than a traditional scanning laser, to draw the image onto the printer's drum. As a result, the printer has fewer moving parts than a traditional colour laser printer.
We like the design. The twin-tone, off-white and deep blue colour scheme sets it apart from the crowd, and the build quality is also very good. It's slightly bigger than most monochrome printers, but, with a footprint of 409 by 466mm, it's not so large that it can't still be accommodated at the end of bigger office desks.
The control panel on the front is quite basic. There's just a single-line, monochrome LCD display. This lacks a backlight, although it's still fairly easy to read, as long as you turn the screen contrast down to its minimum level. This display is joined by a traditional four-way control pad, as well as cancel and 'go' buttons. There's also a 'secure print' button, which we'll cover later.
As with most of Brother's printers, there's a 250-sheet pull-out paper tray at the bottom, with a single sheet feeder above it. The latter can be used for feeding in material of odd sizes, such as envelopes. All printed material is fed out of the top into a paper tray that's recessed slightly into the chassis. Rather than sitting flat in the tray, paper actually swoops up and out in a sort of S-shape, which tends to exaggerate the curling effect of the heat that the printer applies to the paper during the printing process. Still, this isn't a huge issue.
Before you can use this printer, you need to install the four different colour cartridges. These contain both the toner and the drum, and slot pretty easily into holders in the belly of the machine. Once they're in place, you just run the installer software on your computer and choose whether you want to connect to the printer either locally via USB, or across a network using Ethernet. It's all pretty easy to set up, as a software wizard guides you through the whole process.
One interesting aspect of this model is its 'secure print' feature. If you need to print a particularly sensitive document that you don't want others to see -- say, a salary report -- you can set a pin code in the printer's software driver before you actually print the job. The document is then sent to the printer, but isn't actually printed until you press the secure print button on the front and enter the correct pin code.