Review: HP CM1312nfi Color Laser Multi-Function Printer

Thursday Apr 24th 2008 by Aaron Weiss
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HP's budget-minded MFP makes a great office mate for anyone in need of a light-duty, high-quality color laser printer that can also scan, copy and fax.

The HP CM1312nfi, which sells for an impressive $499, certainly puts the "multi" in multi-function – including a flatbed scanner enhanced with an automatic document feeder, Ethernet networking, fax line and a built-in memory card reader for photo printing without a PC. And, of course, color laser printing.

The good news is that the CM1312nfi's weakest feature is the box it comes in. Getting to the product inside involves more effort and puzzle solving than it should. Here's hoping you only have to do it once.

The Setup

Like most multi-function printers, the CM1312nfi looks a bit like someone welded a flatbed scanner onto a printer. Still, the unit maintains a modest 17-inch footprint. At just over 50 pounds, the machine weighs about ten pounds more than a comparable multi-function inkjet.

Setup is literally a snap—you snap the keypad bezel onto the unit's face, snap in the automatic document feeder tray and paper input tray. The four toner-ink cartridges arrive pre-installed in their own tray. The CM1312nfi uses one black and three color (cyan, yellow, magenta) cartridges.

You connect a PC or Mac to the CM1312nfi using either its USB 2.0 port or Ethernet jack, both located at the rear. An incoming telephone line can be plugged into an RJ-11 jack for faxes, and a second RJ-11 jack lets you daisy chain additional phones through the unit.

With its simple setup, you'll have this printer up and running in less time and angst than it took to remove it from the box.

Menus and Software

Navigating the CM1312nfi's menus and customizing the many configurable printer features – from copy count and size to contrast and networking – is intuitive and easy to use and hardly even requires reading the manual.

The PC software installation, however, takes you through a long series of steps, which ultimately install the necessary printer drivers. Drivers are available for PCL 5, PCL 6, and Postscript Level 3 emulation. On the Mac this process is a little more streamlined.

Still, the HP printer driver is full-featured with many presets of task-oriented goals, like "general everyday printing", "envelopes", "cardstock", "labels", "photos" and so on. Alternatively, you can manually set driver parameters like paper type to customize your output.

While printing, an HP status window pops up displaying print progress and toner levels, but in our testing it never acquired toner level data from the printer. Fortunately, the issue is moot because you can thoroughly configure and monitor the CM1312nfi through its built-in Web server.

The Web interface hosts a comprehensive range of printer settings and reports, from default paper sizes for different media to print quality to handling paper out and paper jam conditions. You can view toner status, and after 25 percent of a cartridge has been used, the printer will estimate how many printed pages remain.


The HP CM1312nfi Color Laser Multi-function Printer
The HP CM1312nfi multi-function color laser printer includes a flatbed scanner with 50-page ADF, memory card reader and fax.

Print Jobs

With a single 150-page paper tray and recommended 250 to 1,500 monthly page output, the CM1312nfi is best described as a light-duty printer designed for smaller scale jobs. Its rated speed of 12 PPM for black and eight PPM for color falls on the slower side relative to costlier color lasers.

The CM1312nfi outputs its first page more quickly than some more expensive color lasers. It's LED-based "Instant On" technology does not require the lengthy warm-up time that can slow down first-page output, even for printers with a higher PPM rate over longer print jobs.

The CM1312nfi excels in two important areas: print quality and supported media types. Black print quality is crisp and strong, while color prints are sharp and vibrant. There is a subtle but attractive gloss to the prints, even on plain paper.

In fact, the CM1312nfi can print on actual glossy photo paper, something that some more expensive color lasers cannot do. While the CM1312nfi will not compete against a good inkjet on photographic print quality, it can produce very acceptable 8x10s and smaller, particularly with good quality glossy media.

HP claims that its ColorSphere toner formula increases color range by 22 percent and gloss by 40 percent over other toners, and while we can't put these precise measurements to the test, the look is impressive—particularly coming from a three-color toner palette.

In addition to glossy paper, the CM1312nfi handles a range of weights from light to cardstock, and a range of formats including letter, legal, A4, envelopes, labels, and transparencies. Unfortunately, the CM1312nfi lacks a separate manual paper feed slot. To print the one-off envelope or other unusual media, you have to load it into the primary (and only) paper tray—an unusual feature omission.

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Scans and Copies

Copying a single page on the CM1312nfi couldn't be easier: lay it on the scanner bed, and press either the "black" or "color" copy button. Scanning is fast, and the copy is output in seconds. Using the copy menu on the unit's LCD display, you can adjust the number, size and contrast of copies.

You can also stack up to 50 pages into the CM1312nfi automatic document feeder (ADF). If you increase the copy count, the printer will collate the output so that your output pages are in the proper sequence. Unfortunately, the ADF does not duplex. As with printing, the copy menu allows for two-sided copies, but only if you manually flip the page between scans.

You can also use the flatbed or ADF to scan documents, including thick books thanks to the lid's floating hinge. The HP software installs the CM1312nfi as a scanner accessible from imaging software like Photoshop. Optional HP software also allows you to initiate scans directly from the unit, to pre-defined destinations like e-mail attachments. Scans can also be saved directly to any of these memory cards—Compact Flash, Memory Stick, MMC, SD or xD.

When you initiate a scan either to a computer or memory card, it is saved in JPG format and no other formats are supported. Multi-page scans through the ADF are saved as individual JPG images per page. It would be nice to support added for scanning to PDF, or other uncompressed image formats.

Photo Management

Although the CM1312nfi is not expressly designed as a photo printer, per se, it can be described as photo-friendly. When you insert one of the supported memory cards, the printer automatically scans it for pictures. You can preview pictures directly through the LCD display.

You can also print photos directly from the card either by scrolling through photo previews and manually marking each one you want to print, or by selecting a numerical range of photos.

You can also print a proof sheet of images on the memory card. Using a pen or pencil, you can mark directly on the sheet which images you would like to print, and at what size and layout. You lay the completed proof sheet on the scanner bed, and the printer will read your markings and print the selected photos.

Fax Central

You can manage fax operations through included HP software or the unit's built-in Web server. You can add 120 phonebook entries and access eight via speed dial on the unit's keypad, and using the HP software lets you import entries from Microsoft Outlook. Outgoing documents can be sent through the 50 sheet ADF.

The CM1312nfi supports advanced fax management, including templates, dialing groups, fax polling, distinctive ring, and incoming number blacklists (to prevent junk). HP doesn't support third-parties fax applications, but offers one if its own should you want to fax from your PC.

Consumables

The CM1312nfi uses a black toner cartridge ($70) for monochrome prints with an average yield of 2,200 pages. The three color cartridges cost $64 each and yield approximately 1,400 pages apiece. Actual yields can vary considerably depending on the kind of material you print.

Bottom Line

The HP CM1312nfi provides a very capable scanner, convenient memory card support, comprehensive fax, and most importantly, excellent print quality in both monochrome and color. It may not be designed as a workhorse for a demanding environment, but its budget-friendly price tag prioritizes quality over quantity.

Aaron Weiss a technology writer, screenwriter and Web development consultant who spends his free time stacking wood for the winter in Upstate New York. His Web site is: bordella.com

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