Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) unveiled several new products and partners last week in a move intended to help bring rich digital colour into consumers’ photographs and small businesses’ marketing materials at a lower cost.

Most people prefer colour images, but high-quality colour laser printers have been too expensive for many small businesses and home photographers, said Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice-president for HP’s Imaging and Printing group, during a press conference. New laser printers, digital cameras, and even paper will help small businesses spice up their presentations and brochures with affordable colour images, he said.

The HP Colour LaserJet 2550 is HP’s first colour laser printer under US$500, with a estimated list price of US$499. This product will allow small businesses to bring sophisticated colour printing jobs back in-house and save money on external printing costs, Joshi said.

HP also announced a colour laser printer, the HP Colour LaserJet 4650, that costs US$1,799 and can print up to 22 colour pages a minute, faster than all but one of HP’s Colour LaserJet printers and the fastest Colour LaserJet under US$2,000. The company introduced new paper for documents, postcards, and address labels designed especially for its new colour laser printers.

For consumers, HP now offers the US$99 HP PSC 1315 all-in-one inkjet printer, copier and scanner designed to print digital images, such as the ones captured by HP’s new 5.1-megapixel Photosmart R707 digital camera, priced at US$349.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company’s renewed focus on digital colour extends beyond new products. HP also plans to work with imaging companies such as Adobe Systems Inc., Apple Computer Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Quark Inc. on new software with improved colour management technology that will help consumers and businesses edit digital images and publish documents.

Just about every PC company has focused on products and services outside the core PC market as it has matured. HP’s historical strength in printing and imaging has led it to emphasize digital photography over other consumer electronics products such as music players or digital televisions touted by companies such as Apple Computer Inc., Dell Inc. and Gateway Inc.

The Imaging and Printing group at HP is generally its most profitable business. In the second quarter of this year, its US$953 million in operating profit accounted for the vast majority of HP’s total operating profit of US$1.4 billion.

Dell’s recent push into the printer market has caused some analysts to wonder if Dell can harm HP’s printer margins with its less-expensive products. In response, HP has emphasized its research and development efforts into new enterprise printing products, such as the focus on digital color highlighted in last week’s announcements.

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