Using an office printer in place of photocopier is worth considering for frequent 'mopying' - Dec 9 1997

For the last two weeks, we've looked at printers. Two weeks
ago, we played with Epson's Stylus 800, a high-resolution, colour inkjet aimed at small offices. Last week, we checked out multifunction printers -- devices combining printers with fax, scanners and copiers -- again, aimed at small offices.

Some of us, however, need more printer power. If you've got multiple users in your office connected to a local area network, it may make sense to invest in a faster, higher capacity network printer. While these printers are more expensive than personal laser or inkjet printers, it's clearly less expensive to buy one of these than to put an individual, less expensive unit in every office.

And printer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard suggests that using a network printer could cut down on your photocopying costs as well.

If you're like most of us, when you need a dozen copies of a report, you print out a single original, walk down the hall to the department's photocopier and make a dozen copies. The photocopier prints, collates and staples. Assuming it's working.

HP claims, however, that you can save time, wear and tear on the photocopier, and about two cents a copy by printing all dozen copies on a high-speed network printer -- a model that can print double-sided, collate and staple. HP gets that figure by factoring the time it takes you to walk to and hover around the copier, along with the costs of the printer and supplies versus the photocopier and supplies.

They're even trying to create a new word -- "mopy," as in "mopier" and "mopying," for sending multiple originals to your printer instead of copying. While I find their attempt at reinventing language ugly, the use of a computer printer in this way has a lot going for it. Ask yourself how much of your photocopying involves originals that you've just printed from your computer; if it's a significant proportion, it may be worth moving that fraction of your printing from the photocopier to your printer.

But to do so, you need a couple of things. Your typical personal printer, inkjet or laser, isn't designed for the load you'll want to give it. As well, it lacks the features -- collating, stapling, etc. -- of your photocopier. And its slow speed will send you back to the photocopier.

As well, typically, to make a dozen copies, your computer sends a dozen print requests to the printer. If everyone in the office is doing that, that's one more strain on the network. Newer network printers, from HP and competitors such as Lexmark and Xerox, avoid this problem with rewritten printer drivers. Newer models, like HP's LaserJet 5si Mopier, include their own hard disk, along with multiple paper bins, stapler, collator and so forth. It uses the hard disk to store your document, along with the commands for how you want it printed. As a result, a single print command is all you need to produce as many copies of your document as desired.

Sales of 24-page-a-minute network printers are booming, with growth in sales this year of 500 per cent over last year's level. And this at a time when sales of similar-speed, midrange photocopiers are dropping.

This is part of a more general trend. In 1995, for the first time, more pages were printed by computer printers than were photocopied.

Network printers range in price from about $2,000 to more than $10,000, and like photocopiers, vary in both features and target market. Lower-end models are slower (maybe 12 pages a minute), lack fancy paper handling and capacity, and are targeted at a relatively small number of users, perhaps a workgroup of about five.

Other models, progressively more robust, faster, feature-laden and pricey, target groups of a dozen or so, departments or even entire enterprises. Along with HP, Lexmark, and Xerox, other models aimed at network printing come from Apple, Brother, IBM, Genicom, Kyocera, and QMS. (If I've left anyone out, I apologize.)

One final tip: If you're connecting your users with a peer-to-peer network, such as is built into the Mac or Windows 95, you'll find performance increases tremendously if you can set aside an old computer as a dedicated print server.*

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan