The HP LaserJet Story

The HP LaserJet wasn’t the first laser printer, but it was the first to arrive at a price and in a form that businesses could manage. Introduced at the Comdex IT trade show in May 1984, its 8ppm speeds and 300dpi resolution seemed revolutionary in an era of dot-matrix and daisywheel printers, though the 128Kb of RAM on the initial model limited the size and complexity of the graphics it could reproduce. This was fixed by the LaserJet Plus, launched in September 1985, which with 512Kb of RAM could print italic, bold and underlined fonts, while outputting more demanding documents with images taking up to 70 per cent of the page.

The HP LaserJet Story

The LaserJet II, launched in March 1987, improved things further, adding support for HP’s more sophisticated PCL4 control language, while throwing more fonts and features into the mix. The LaserJet IIP, launched in 1989, was the first ‘personal’ laser printer, giving smaller businesses with a budget of under $1,000 the option of a 300dpi laser printer that could print at an impressive 4ppm. With serial and parallel printer interfaces, it was also the first LaserJet to use a charged roller system instead of corona wires to charge the imaging drum. By the autumn of that year HP had sold over one million LaserJet printers, and the LaserJet’s place in computing history was assured.

The LaserJet continued its ascent with the LaserJet III in 1990. While its actual resolution was still 300dpi, the LaserJet III used HP’s new Resolution Enhancement Technology (REt) to push the apparent resolution up to 600dpi, dramatically improving the quality and fidelity of printed documents. The newly introduced PCL5, meanwhile, incorporated much of the functionality of PostScript, making this LaserJet a natural fit for Desktop Publishing.

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For businesses, however, it wasn’t all about speed and print quality; they were also looking for a more convenient way of sharing printers throughout the office. That came with the LaerJet IIIsi in 1991 – the first mass-market Ethernet network printer. With a 17ppm, 300dpi engine with REt it could cope with larger workloads, and it was also HP’s first printer with on-board PostScript emulation, again improving compatibility with the new breed of Desktop Publishing applications.

In 1992 HP launched the LaserJet 4, pushing the resolution up to true 600dpi without dropping the 8ppm print speed. Then in 1994 HP rolled out its first Colour LaserJet, a four-colour laser printer capable of printing full-colour pages at 2ppm, or black text pages at 10ppm. With effectively four pages to combine as one, colour printing took more memory, necessitating 8MB as standard on the Colour LaserJet.  

Speeds and resolution continued to develop. 1994’s LaserJet 4+ went from 8ppm to 12ppm. 1995’s LaserJet 5 series went even further, going to 12ppm in the 5, 4N and 5M variants and 24ppm in the workgroup-ready 5Si. The existing 600dpi resolution was enhanced further using REt technology, giving prints the appearance of a 1200dpi resolution.

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The LaserJet 5 was the last LaserJet to follow strict sequential product names, and in 1997 HP launched the LaserJet 4000 series, printing 600dpi resolution pages at 17ppm or 1,200dpi pages at a reduced speed. The LaserJet 4100 that followed in March 2001 could manage 25ppm at a resolution of 1,200dpi, while the LaserJet 4200 really put the pedal to the metal, with speeds of 35ppm. By 2004, with printers like the LaserJet 9050dn and 4250n, LaserJet printers were hitting page rates in excess of 55 per minute. The idea of an Inkjet ever reaching those speeds seemed almost laughable.

While this was going on, the LaserJet was pushing out into new markets and adopting new forms. In 2001 HP released its first low-end laser printer, the LaserJet 1000, putting 10ppm, 600dpi printing within reach of every small office and home. In March 2002 HP produced its first all-in-one laser device, capable of handling printing, faxing, copying and scanning from just one appliance. In 2003 we saw the LaserJet 9055MFP, the first in a new line of high-volume multifunction printers that could replace both printer and copier within the busiest of enterprises.

In 2002, the LaserJet 4600 revolutionised the colour LaserJet, using in-line laser print technology. With four front-loading print cartridges stacked on top of each other, it could deliver a full colour print in a single pass, resulting in a printer that could run at four times the print speed of previous colour models, at 17ppm both in monochrome and colour. By 2006, HP had shipped its 100 millionth LaserJet printer.

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Today, the LaserJet line is as diverse and as innovative as ever. It has embraced Internet printing, enabling users to print from a remote location across the Web, or simply send documents via email to a connected printer. The LaserJet Enterprise 600 series can print at a rate of 62ppm at resolutions of up to 1,200dpi, while the LaserJet Enterprise 700 can handle full-colour pages at 30ppm. Launched in October 2013, the new LaserJet Enterprise M800 printers are the first to support touch-to-print functionality, enabling NFC-enabled smartphones or tablets to print just by touching them against the printer.

Right now, the culmination of the LaserJet story is the range of Enterprise Flow MFP multifunction devices. With their built-in scanning and copying capabilities, built-in OCR text recognition and extensive touchscreen controls they’re a long way from the first LaserJets of 1984, and with speeds of up to 46ppm in mono or colour, and resolutions up to 1,200dpi, their performance could not be more different. These are highly sophisticated enterprise appliances, giving organisations the capability to print almost anything from almost any device in the most convenient and flexible way possible, with the management and security features that today’s most demanding businesses require.  Yet they still have, somewhere in their chassis, the DNA of the original LaserJet: the one without which none of these brilliant, innovative appliances might ever have existed.

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