Printer prices are in freefall. Inkjet and all-in-one printers under a hundred dollars, laser printers under two hundred dollars – and now color laser printers have dropped below five hundred dollars. At that price, small businesses have to consider them – the cost per page is far lower than inkjets, and they print far more quickly.

The color lasers have some interesting quirks. They’re bulky and frequently noisy. After the printers go into their power-saving sleep mode, they take longer to come to life and print the first page of a print job – although pages come out with gratifying speed after that. The HP Color Laserjet 2550 is easily the coolest looking of the $500 crop of color lasers, but HP carefully conceals that the front tray has to be swung down to feed paper, making it take up more room and spoiling the cool looks a bit. Some of the others have paper feeding from odd places or inconvenient envelope handling.

I bought the Samsung CLP-500 for $549. It’s relatively quiet and has built-in duplexing (automatically prints both sides of the page), along with built-in networking. Quality is very good – you won’t use a color laser printer to handle your 4×6 glossy photos, but you’ll send every other print job to it.

I’m still taken by surprise when prices drop so quickly. Whether you’re printing web pages or printing redlined text, color printing is a natural – and at these prices, even small offices can join in.

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