Light typesetting. (LaserMaster WinPrinter 800 desktop typesetting machine) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Robert Bixby
A couple of years ago, when I first starting receiving mail from LaserMaster (6900 Shady Oak Road, Eden Prairie, Minnesota 55344; 612-944-9457), I couldn't figure out who their market was. The company sells a line of desktop typesetting machines--serious typesetting machines that can handle up to 11- x 17- inch paper and print at up to 1200 dots per inch (dpi). That's the kind of resolution you expect from a low-end Linotronic typesetter, not a laser printer. I thought the prices were a little high in those days for desktop use. It was interesting, but not the kind of thing I'd wring out the family budget to buy.
Then, about two years ago, LaserMaster began trumpeting something called business-class typesetting. It defined this 800-dpi standard as adequate for business documents. After all, no one needs 1200-dpi typesetting for documents that will be quick-printed or photocopied. You'd lose everything in the printing process that you gained in the typesetting process. But don't think 800 dpi looks shabby. An editor at a publishing house that specializes in computer books told me that she submitted two versions of a book she was working on, one professionally typeset at 1200 dpi on plain paper and the other printed with her LaserMaster WinPrinter 800. The production department preferred the 800-dpi printout. In my own printing, I found that even under a loupe, characters generated by the WinPrinter were free of jaggies.
The WinPrinter line is fast, too. LaserMaster has championed the video interface--sort of a super parallel interface that can shoot information to the print engine many times faster than either a parallel or a serial interface. The printer comes with its own interface card and cable.
You might ask whether the printer is PostScript or PCL. It's both. And neither. You may recall that in last month's column I spoke about TrueType and mentioned several products that make use of it. LaserMaster has incorporated the larger system of which TrueType is a part--TrueImage. TrueImage is a fast PostScript interpreter created by Microsoft to compete with Adobe's PostScript.
WinPrinter is a 4-page-per-minute (ppm) printer, but don't let that fool you. That's just a measure of its paper-handling ability. An 8-ppm printer will rarely churn out 8 pages per minute. The bottleneck for most desktop publishers is the interface and the interpreter, not the paper handler.
The punch line is that the WinPrinter 800 lists for $1,795. That includes the printer itself, interface card, cable, TrueImage software, and 50 TrueType fonts. Thats about $100 more than I paid for my 300-dpi laser printer (with PostScript and 17 fonts) six months ago. There will be a short intermission while I kick myself.
There is a downside to the WinPrinter, however. The system requirements of the software are rigorous. You need at least an 80386 with 8MB of RAM (7MB must be free, or printing will be slowed somewhat) and Windows 3.1 in 386-enhanced mode, along with a peramanent 8MB swap file. With RAM and hard disk prices as low as they are, the upgrade won't add much to your expense. Also, these printers are especially set up to work with Windows. I've been unsuccessful in my efforts to get the system to work with GeoWorks. It will work with DOS programs operating under Windows, though.
If you're like me and you just bought a laser printer, you might be able to get desktop typesetting even more inexpensively. LaserMaster manufactures upgrade packages called WinJet 300 and WinJet 800. As the names imply, the upgrades are specifically aimed at Hewlett-Packard LaserJets. You can upgrade a LaserJet II, IID, III, or IIID to 800 dpi with the $795 WinJet 800 system. You'll have to get into the guts of your laser printer to do it, though. The $495 WinJet 300 system provides faster printing and PostScript compatibility for your LaserJet without actually boosting resolution.
You can still get the high-end desktop typesetters from LaserMaster (the 1000-dpi Unity 1000 at $6,995 and the 1200-dpi Unity 1200XL at $9,995), and if you're a publishing professional, it would probably pay you to investigate them. After all, it's easier to get work if you can say you have 1200-dpi capability, whether or not the customer can see the difference. But the WinJet 800 and WinPrinter 800 products bring typesetting into the realm of possibility for groups with limited budgets like churches and schools, as well as for artists and hobbyists. If you've been considering a laser printer, you should give LaserMaster a call.