Ricoh Aficio GX 3000 review

£129
Price when reviewed

It’s been a while since there was any real innovation in the printer market – resolutions have risen steadily and the droplet size produced by print heads has dropped dramatically. But Ricoh is now launching its range of GelSprinters here in the UK. These do away with normal inks entirely, replacing them with gels. These are claimed to have about the same viscosity as red wine – not quite what a layman might term a gel, but certainly thicker than the water-based inks in other machines.

Ricoh Aficio GX 3000 review

Setting it up is no more complicated than installing a standard inkjet, though. The four gel cartridges are the standard CMYK, they simply slot in the front and there are no other consumables. The paper path is powered by a belt transfer system as you’d expect in a laser printer, but this isn’t something a consumer can replace, and Ricoh claims it will last for the lifetime of the printer. There’s also a small waste gel tray at the back of the GX 3000, although this too should last until the entire unit expires. And Ricoh has built the machine to high standards – it’s a chunky unit that shouldn’t suffer from any knocks and has a quoted duty cycle of up to 10,000 pages per month.

The internals of the GX 3000 work in much the same way as an inkjet: the gel cartridges remain stationary, and the gel is pumped out towards reservoirs attached to the print head. The print head itself is huge by inkjet standards – at 32.3mm wide, the GX 3000 prints around eight lines of 12pt text per pass. In practice, this means it’s possible to put more gel on the page in one go, which makes, theoretically at least, for a faster printer.

But our tests revealed that the GX 3000 is some way off Ricoh’s official speed claim of 29ppm. Our standard 50-page mono document finished printing in 4mins 47secs, or 11ppm. Changing the driver settings from Speed Priority to Quality Priority dropped the speed yet further to 6ppm. We experimented with the high-speed option, but even that turned out pages at 20ppm. The lowest speed we saw was with our demanding 12-page Excel document, which finished in 1min 52secs, or just under 6ppm.

The driver is set to Speed Priority by default, and at this setting all our text documents showed feathering and edge deformities that were just a little worse than what we’d expect from a mid-range inkjet and well below that of even the cheapest laser: devices such as the Brother HL-5240 deliver significantly better text. With the driver settings changed to Quality Priority – the highest setting – we noticed improved text with better edges. Very close inspection revealed a few minor flaws, but as long as you can stand the drop to just 6ppm speed it’s possible to get laser-quality text from the GX 3000.

Colour images and charts are a different matter, though. Not only did our 24-page DTP document print at a lowly 9ppm (at the fastest setting), virtually all the images involved had a flaw of some description. Colours lack vibrancy, with skin tones in particular losing almost all of their impact by the time they hit the out tray. Photographs all showed some measure of banding, and grain was a persistent problem too. These aren’t problems you’ll notice only on close inspection either; we’d hesitate to print presentation handouts with the GX 3000. Fading shouldn’t prove too much of a worry – there are no official test results available, but Ricoh claims the GX 3000’s prints will last for at least seven years.

But there are other redeeming features that elevate the GX 3000 above the other printers at this price point. There’s a duplexer, for instance, which is good for news for any office on an economy drive, and print speed dropped by a mere 2ppm in our 50-page mono document. Economy is also delivered by the low running costs. The standard yield black cartridge will run to 1,500 pages with 5% gel coverage for a total cost per page of 1.7p. Pages with 5% of each colour will cost 11p each; both prices are respectable, but higher than many lasers.

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