The new gel-based technology used in the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 probably won't revolutionise the printing market, but it merits closer examination. For a start, the much-vaunted speed boost appears to be there.

Major technology changes in the printers market are rare. In fact, in over a decade of PC Advisor, we can't think of another printer apart from the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 that honestly claimed to be touting brand new technology.

The Ricoh Aficio GX3000's quoted print speed of 29ppm (pages per minute) is an exaggeration, but only just. In our real-world testing, the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 was running off pages of text at the rate of 19.4ppm, while even colour images churned out at 15.8ppm.

The down sides

So why does this printer not win a PC Advisor Gold award? Well, there are a few problems, most of them connected to Ricoh's positioning of the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 as a dedicated office printer. The casing is robust and the paper tray is well built, but the paperfeed is not as reliable as on a typical colour laser.

Ricoh wants us to compare the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 to other inkjets but, given the strong business bias, we suspect most customers will see them as a cheap alternative to a colour laser.

The basic Ricoh Aficio GX3000 (which we've reviewed here) comes without network facilities, although you can upgrade for around £60. (There are two more expensive models, the GX3050N and the GX5050N (£178 and £249 respectively), which come with network facilities as standard, and the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 throws in an extra 500-sheet paper feed tray and boasts an extra 1ppm of print speed.

The Ricoh Aficio GX3000 comes with a two-year onsite warranty, and we like the convenient front-loading mechanism for the consumables. We love the fact that the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 ekes out every last drop of gel from each cartridge. You also get full duplexing as standard. The 'level colour mode' is very good for cutting down on unnecessary gel usage when you want to print a page with both graphics and text, and would prefer the printer to produce high-quality text but weaker colour graphics.

Unfortunately, we suspect most business users will want only the ability to print strong text. And here the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 falls down. Even at its highest quality mode, the text is rather poorly formed and lacks the crisp definition of even a cheap colour laser. The lettering is quite dark, but the results won't do for the typical professional.

And since in this mode you also have to make to do with a meagre print speed of 5.5ppm (whereas even a cheap colour laser should be capable of doing 13ppm or more), it compares poorly there too.

We think Ricoh should be saving costs on the expensive build quality and feeding facilities and concentrating instead on making the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 a competitor to sub-£100 photo inkjets – in this respect it's really pretty good. Even at the highest quality mode, the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 still turns out pages at the rate of 4.3ppm, which is fantastic for a top setting – the strong middle setting works at a sizzling 8.33ppm. And the results are pretty impressive.

The Ricoh Aficio GX3000 perhaps needs a little work on its lighter colours, but the darker end of the palette was stunningly reproduced.

Gel printing vs inkjet

Traditional inkjet printers create images and text by spraying drops of ink through a series of nozzles on to the page. This is simple and very effective, but it can also be quite slow, since the ink doesn't dry instantly. Not only does this slow down the process, but it's all too easy for print to be smudged.

Ricoh has spent many years developing an alternative to inkjet technology. The new Ricoh Aficio GX3000 replaces ink with a pigment-based gel. Because this is of a similar level of viscosity to wine, it doesn't run and soak into the paper like normal ink. Instead, it sits on top of the paper and dries very quickly – almost the instant that it hits the page.

Not only can the Ricoh Aficio GX3000 work more quickly, but it should theoretically be less prone to smudging and blurring than with traditional ink-based printers.

Ricoh Aficio GX3000: Specs

  • 3,600x1,200dpi
  • print speed B=19.4ppm C=15.8ppm
  • USB 2.0
  • 416x491x263mm
  • 14kg
  • ink costs B=£41 C=£49 x 3
  • print life (pages) B=2,000 C=2,300 x 3
  • 2-year warranty
  • 3,600x1,200dpi
  • print speed B=19.4ppm C=15.8ppm
  • USB 2.0
  • 416x491x263mm
  • 14kg
  • ink costs B=£41 C=£49 x 3
  • print life (pages) B=2,000 C=2,300 x 3
  • 2-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

The Ricoh Aficio GX3000 is a photo printer posing as a business model – it's aimed at the wrong market. Office users would be well advised to set their sights on a laser printer instead – these have far more reliable paper feed mechanisms, and if you want any kind of quality they're faster and offer better prints than the Ricoh printers. The Ricoh Aficio GX3000 is too expensive, but if a cut-down sub-£100 variant comes out, Ricoh's interesting technology could yet provide strong competition for the likes of HP, Canon and Epson.

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