Ricoh Aficio SG 2100N: Fast, cheap gel printing

Hands-on: A great small and home office printer that prints quality colour, super fast

Picking a printer? There are more options than just laser and ink-jet.

Although there have been a few other technologies over the years (like melting wax blocks), inkjet and laser printers dominate the market. And it's usually easy to choose between them. If you want a cheap printer, you get an inkjet. If you want a printer that's cheap to use, you get a laser printer, because toner is more economical than inkjet cartridges. If you want good photo printing, an ink jet gives you better results. If you want fast printing, a laser printer usually wins.

But Ricoh's Geljet printers sit right in the middle. They use a gelatinised pigment-based ink that dries on contact; so you don't get any smudging and if the label you print gets wet it doesn't smear - both problems for some inkjets (which lasers don't share). You load the paper like a laser printer, in a pull-out paper tray and a laser-style electrostatic transfer belt picks it up; that's less likely to jam or feed two pages at once than the roller systems that load paper from most inkjets and you don't have the usual flimsy paper holder sticking out in mid air.

The quality - both for colour and black and white pages - is excellent. Photos taken on a dSLR and the 38-megapixel Nokia 1020 printed at A4 size in superb quality, with excellent colour gamut. A complex image from CorelDRAW that I've been using to test printers since the 1990s, with a range of textures and styles from plain penwork to complex reflections, printed extremely well. I compared it to a printout from an early Phaser colour printer, a high-end system costing a few thousand dollars, aimed at the professional graphics market of its day, which produced superb quality and rich colours, and it was very similar - which is a sign how far technology has developed, since the 2100N is an £50 printer designed for the home or small office.

Geljet printouts
A selection of images printed on the Ricoh Aficio Geljet shows the detail and quality Mary Branscombe

And the Geljet is also one of the fastest printers I've used. A full-page colour image printed in the fast setting is done in five seconds. Switch to the highest DPI and quality settings and it takes 90 seconds; high resolution full-page photos printed in two to three minutes. Letters, forms and documents print in a few seconds as well. That's because the print head is enormous; 1.3" rather than the half in of most inkjet printers, so you get more of the page printed on every sweep.

There's a range of Geljet models, including combination printer, copier scanner systems and one model that can even run on batteries (and has a built-in LED light on the paper tray so you can see it in the dark corner of a warehouse). The 2100N is the basic model, with USB and Ethernet connections and at around £50 it's priced more like an inkjet than a laser printer.

For most offices, a laser printer is the obvious choice, unless you need the photo printing of an inkjet, the Geljet range is a really interesting compromise, with the photo printing chops of an inkjet and the reliability of a laser printer. And the printing speed is a huge convenience, making it well worth considering. The only drawback are the cartridges; they cost about £20 each and only last for about 600 pages; if you print enough to make that pricey, Ricoh has another model that prints duplex and takes high-capacity cartridges.

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