Dell’s Colour Laser Printer 1320c offers surprisingly good colour quality for a low acquisition price. Its toner is expensive, however, and its control panel is confusing.
Setting up the printer is very easy. The documentation (a printed setup poster and owner’s manual, plus an HTML-based user guide) is thorough. The included CD offers an automated setup process, and live-action videos illustrate all the steps. Inserting the PHD (Print Head Device) unit is the one tricky part, as it’s heavy and the handles are small. You also have to heft this thing over the transfer belt, which lies belly-up within the opened front cover. Though many colour lasers have a similar design, they don’t require you to maneuver something so heavy within this space. Dell says the transfer belt can handle a scratch or two and that you’ll rarely, if ever, have to move the PHD unit.
The unusual toner-cartridge design is the other reason why Dell thinks you shouldn’t worry too much about the transfer belt’s welfare. Many printers force you to expose their innards to replace toner; with the Colour Laser Printer 1320c, you simply open a side door and slide a cartridge into its keyed slot. The downside: The toner cartridges are rated for merely 1000 pages in the standard size or 2000 pages in the high-capacity size (per Dell’s specs). Those small capacities translate into higher costs for both black and colour pages–at best, 3 cents for a half-page of black text and 15 cents for a page with small amounts of black plus all three colours. Low-volume users may not notice for a while, but a busier office will feel the pinch pretty quickly.
The front control panel is minimalist to a fault. It consists of two clearly labeled buttons and seven LEDs, most placed in specific locations in and around a line drawing of the printer. The LEDs change colour or blink to communicate the status of the printer or its various parts. The dozens of possible LED combinations take up several pages’ worth of explanation in the user guide–many would be indecipherable otherwise. The best way for a printer to communicate is in human language, with words running across a display; I’m sure it’s pricier to design, but it’s easier for the user. To Dell’s credit, the other user resources, such as the status monitor and some maintenance and diagnostic tools, are nicely designed. The driver offers a wealth of features in an accessible format.
Inkjets still tend to handle colour better than lasers do, but the Colour Laser Printer 1320c strikes an impressive balance. It plodded through plain-text documents at a mere 12.4 pages per minute; all fonts looked slightly thick but otherwise precise. High-resolution photos printed quickly–3.1 ppm on average–and looked surprisingly smooth; colours seemed a tad bluish but essentially natural.
The Colour Laser Printer 1320c is best suited for a small or low-volume office. Because its paper capacity is limited (just one main input tray and a single-sheet multipurpose slot) and its toner is pricey, a larger or growing office should consider its cousin, the Colour Laser Printer 3110cn, which is expandable and has higher cartridge and paper capacity.