Primera. (Fargo Electronic's color computer printer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Robert Bixby
Color printing has traditionally been an expensive, time-consuming process, particularly when you're looking for the kind of color you can only get from thermal transfer printing. Fargo Electronics, a producer of bar-code printers, has attempted to eliminate the expense and delay involved in the thermal transfer process. The Primera is inexpensive (at least when compared to other printers of similar technology) and fairly rapid (taking about 180 seconds to produce a three-color printout). But there's a catch.
First, don't be misled by the term three-color printing. The printer can produce virtually any color by overprinting. First, it prints yellow, then magenta, and then cyan. By printing these colors on top of one another, the Primera can produce shades of gray and a rich palette of colors. You have the option of purchasing a four-color ribbon that'll allow you to add true black to the palette (the black produced by the three-color ribbon is actually a dark bluish brown that's very close to black).
Although the printer's inexpensive, the supplies aren't. For $45.00 you can purchase either a three-color ribbon that yields 115 pages or a four-color ribbon that yields 80 pages. Fargo also offers a monochrome (black) ribbon for $39.95 that'll print 400 pages. The special coated paper needed by the printer isn't inexpensive, either.
The printer has a resolution of only 203 dots per inch (dpi). A fax at fine resolution is 200 dpi, so if you've ever seen a fax, you've seen the kind of jaggies the Primera produces.
The color registration (color alignment) of the printouts was very good, and when I used extremely smooth, coated paper (like the sample sheets provided with the printer) or acetate sheets, my printouts had dense, solid colors (the waxy thermal transfer material left a sheen, making the printouts look vaguely photographic). But when I used common photocopy paper, my printouts were spotty and plagued by dropouts where one or all of the colors didn't print.
If all you're doing is proofing pictures and all you need is an FPO (For Position Only) graphic, the Primera seems tailor-made for this purpose. If you want art-quality printouts similar to those produced by a Tektronix printer set at a low resolution, make sure you have some very smooth paper on hand. However, for far less than the cost of this thermal printer, you could purchase a color ink-jet printer with 300-dpi resolution (or higher), and for most applications that would be the preferred course of action.