Realizing a childhood geek fantasy

In 1990 when I was 14, I visited an IT show in Singapore with one of my ACS classmates and we were ooh-ing and ah-ing over all the cool PCs and peripherals of the day.

Remember, these were the days of 486s with a whopping 2MB of RAM.

Then I came across this booth which was selling a dream machine from the future.

A Tektronix Phaser thermal dye printer.

In plain English, a very early ancestor of the color laser printer.

My eyes widened as I held a full color printout of a Ferrari, drawn using a vector program like Aldus Freehand. The dots that made up the color image were pretty big (think of newspaper moire dots) but can you believe it, in my hands, was a full color printout that was neither from a dot matrix or from an inkjet (in those days, the best color inkjets were pretty poor in quality).

Laser quality…in color! Who would have thunk it?

Innocently, I asked the salesman, “How much is this printer?”

He bent down and gave a condescending smile: “How much do you have in your little piggy bank, boy?”

I was so insulted I just glared at him and walked away.

If memory serves me right (which isn’t always), the Tektronix was anything from $10,000 to $30,000 in the day. The price tag was worth the state-of-the-art technology though.

I didn’t know it back then, but I had to wait about 19 years before color lasers finally reached an affordable level for home users.

Today, I opened up my new printer – a Canon LBP-5050 color laser (below). It was S$599, but Canon SG is giving away $200 worth of NTUC supermarket vouchers. So effectively, it’s a S$399 color laser!


Now, I know Samsung has a smaller and cheaper model at about S$350, but samples I’ve tested produce quality that’s simply not up to my expectations, or the retailer has been using lousy paper to print samples.

My friend Sin Yee at Canon took some of her precious time out to accompany me to the Canon Vivocity showroom where we did some test prints and I was sold immediately. On 80gsm paper, the text was tack-sharp and there was little to no banding in the images.

Honestly, from my window shopping experience over the past month for a color laser, the Canon 5050 hits the sweet spot of price vs performance. Add to that fact that retailers in Singapore seem hardly interested in pushing color lasers. You won’t find many SOHO-sized color lasers on shelves, and when I asked around for print samples, retailers just shrugged and said there were none.

How could I possibly convince myself to buy  an OKI, Fuji-Xerox or Brother color laser then? Then again, perhaps Singaporeans have yet to desire having a color laser at home, so why should retailers bother? I tell you though – in three to five years’ time, your home mono laser will probably be upgraded to a color laser – if you don’t mind the cost of color toners though (about S$400 for a full set of CYMK).

I haven’t done much prints at home, but as expected, the 5050 is no photo printer like my Canon i4200 inkjet (colors on the 5050 are a bit too saturated). But as a color document workhorse, I must say I’m very very pleased.

It’s a childhood fantasy of many geeks to own their own color laser, and with this, nearly two decades of waiting has come to an end.

I’m still pretty sore about how I was treated by that salesman though.