Lexmark Canada Inc. next month will unveil a new line of inkjet printers that pushes new levels of thrift at its low end and at its high end offers an alternative to laser for small businesses and consumers focused on photo printing.

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Z series ranges from the $49 Z25 to the Z65, a $299 inkjet offering up to 4800 x 1200 dpi resolution and network functionality (all prices are estimated after a $30 mail-in rebate).

Greg Brunnick, consumer printing marketing manager for Lexington, Ky.-based Lexmark International Inc., stresses that the Z65’s built-in ethernet support makes it very attractive compared to often more expensive competitor machines that require attachments for home networking.

“”This is a key point because it really plays into small and medium business,”” says Brunnick.

The networking capabilities dovetail with the addition of a second paper tray on the Z65. Brunnick suggested it could allow home businesses to fill the trays with paper of different sizes and types. The Z65 reaches its highest resolution capabilities on black and white photo paper, inkjet paper and transparencies. On plain paper, the Z65 can reach 4800 x 600 dpi. The Z65, which prints up 21 pages per minute in black and 15 ppm in colour, also boasts technology that senses paper stock to reduce paper jams and utilizes dual ink nozzle diametres and ink bubble chambers in photo printing.

“”If you go back 10 to 15 years, what people printed was pretty sterile. Over time, there’s been a major explosion in content,”” Brunnick says, attributing the change to the Internet, improved hardware and more advanced application software. “”All of a sudden, they’re taking digital cameras and printing out pictures or taking 35 mm pictures ad scanning them in.””

Brunncik cites IDC and Forrester Research Inc. predictions of a 23 per cent increase in digital camera penetration and a 14 per cent increase in scanner penetration in the United States between 2001 and 2005. He notes digital camera resolution has increased to 5.2 megapixels and scanners to 5.8 megapixels, and that the Z65’s 5.76 megapixel digital output is part of Lexmark’s attempt to keep pace.

Though Brunnick acknowledged some potential colour laser customers might look to save money by purchasing a black and white laser and the Z65, he said Lexmark is prides itself on offering choices to its customers.

At the low end, Lexmark is trying to keep pace with a race to the bottom in the inkjet market. The $49 price tag on the Z25 is already below Lexmark’s costs for making the printer, according to Simon Giggs, Lexmark Canada’s marketing and channel sales director. Giggs doubts the company would ever engage in consumer printer giveaways in hopes of recouping more returns on ink cartridge sales, and notes the giveaway approach makes more sense when combined with cost-per-page corporate contracts. However, Lexmark will in the coming weeks begin offering “”moderately-priced”” cartridges, slated to cost about $35, for use with its lower-end printers.

The three other printers in the Z series range between $89 and $169 and offer increasing degrees of functionality. The $89 Z35 prints at speeds of up to 11 ppm while the $169 Z55 offers up to 3600 X 1200 dpi. All the Z series printers offer USB and parallel connectivity and are Windows and Mac compatible (supporting XP and OSX). The Z55, Z35 and Z25 are also Linux compatible.

Inkjets sales account for half of Lexmark’s Canadian revenue. Though the company’s share of the inkjet market has increased to 24 per cent in 2001, overall growth in Canadian inkjet market has declined. According to Toronto-based Evans Research Corp., vendors shipped 679,339 printers in the fourth quarter, well below projections of 769,300 shipments. Evans attributed the poor showing to a scant one per cent growth in inkjet vendors’ volumes from the previous year. Inkjets account for 75 per cent of total printer shipments according to Evans.

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