Finished preparing your document? It’s time to hit Save, then Print. And out comes your document in from your handy printer. What more could you ask for?
Actually, you might need a lot more from your printer. We already know to expect departmental multifunction devices to do all sorts of useful tasks, but we don’t always expect the same of smaller, personal printers that are commonplace in the workplace, whether they are in small home offices or in corporate settings. Here are five features to consider before you choose your next printer.
One at a Time
Does your new printer have a way to feed a single sheet of paper? A large tray full of paper is a good thing, but it doesn’t help when you need to print one or two sheets of something other than plain paper. Perhaps you need to print on company letterhead, for instance. Rather than reload the paper tray, it’s easier to just shove a single sheet into a manual feed slot or auxiliary paper tray.
A manual feed slot also can make a huge difference when you need to print on something that’s not letter-sized. Perhaps you have handwriting like a doctor; your postal mail stands a much better chance of successful delivery if you print the address on the envelope instead of writing it yourself. A manual feed slot can make this a simple task rather than having to adjust your paper tray’s settings.
And if you still pay bills by check, a manual feed slot can handle the single checks much more easily and reliably than the paper tray.
Two at a Time
How would you like a printer that can cut your paper costs nearly in half? That’s what you get with a printer than can duplex print automatically, giving you print on both sides of the page.
Not only does this save paper, it also means that your reports take up less space in your filing cabinet or on your shelf, so you save valuable storage space as well. (For ideas on how to bind those reports most efficiently and save space too, see Book ‘em Dano.)
Sure, many printers can do manual duplexing where you print half the report and then reload the pages to print the reverse sides, but this requires intervention on your part. And your time is more expensive than your printer’s.
One feature that has become increasingly rare is a “straight through paper path.” If you’ve never encountered this feature, it simply lets a sheet pass through the print engine with little or no change of direction.
This may not seem important at first glance, but the problem is that manufacturers have worked hard to make their printers smaller and smaller. This saves on manufacturing materials and shipping weights, and it also makes them more attractive to consumers who don’t want to surrender more desk space to a printer than is necessary.
One consequence of shrinking the physical unit is that the paper path requires sheets to make tighter and tighter turns. This is rarely a problem for regular copy/print paper, but it can be a serious challenge for stiffer paper such as business card pages or cover stock. You may want to print a classy cover for your latest sales report or proposal, but many printers today cannot reliably handle a less-flexible sheet. With a straight through paper path, you can be assured that heavier and stiffer paper stocks can be used without a hitch.
Whether you have an ink jet or laser printer, your largest operating cost is for ink or toner. Fortunately, many printers offer an “draft mode” which doesn’t bother to print every dot for the printed pages. The result is a page that may look slightly faded, but only when compared to a full-measure print. Most people probably won’t notice the difference, and it is certainly a frugal measure that’s useful for the still-under-review reports that don’t need to be printed in their utter glory.
While econo modes are fairly common, the feature that you want to look for is how easy it is to turn this on and off. A front-panel button right on the printer is ideal. If you have to drill down through three or four levels of printer driver settings on your computer, or if you have to press a dozen keys on the front panel to negotiate the menu system, it will probably be too much of a nuisance for you to use unless you’re willing to leave the printer in draft mode all the time. Either way, you won’t be using the printer in the most efficient manner.
Halt! Who Goes There?
Departmental printers have all sorts of security features built in, such as holding print jobs until a specific user comes to release it for printing, or limiting the number of pages that a user can print in a given period of time.
It may seem silly to expect these sorts of controls in a personal printer, since it seems to fly in the face of the very definition of “personal.” When you stop to consider that all but the least expensive printers connect to networks these days, however, you realize that it can be helpful to have some security features in place when you share a printer, no matter what size the printer or your business may be.
So if you plan to share a printer with others in your workplace, you may want to look for ways to control access and manage print jobs so that private information remains secure.
Don’t forget energy consumption as a purchasing criteria. Newer printers from HP and other manufacturers offer significant energy saving features.
What Do You Really Need?
This list is by no means exhaustive. The basic point is to consider carefully how you plan to use your new printer, and then make sure that it has all the features that you need to get your work done with the least amount of time and frustration. With the possible exception of duplex printing, these are not features that you can retrofit to a printer once you’ve chosen it. So plan ahead to be sure that you get the printer that you need.