Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Printing for Fun and Profit

When I started with my current company, I was more than a bit surprised at the number of printers - almost every other PC had a printer attached, and most of those were inkjet printers. There were so many different makes and models that keeping track of them was a problem - and there were almost 40 different cartridge types that had to be bought. We were ordering replacements every single week, and not just a couple at a time, but literally dozens. We had a storage cupboard just for these cartridges.

Now to me, this is simply crazy. Although there are some inkjet cartridges that hold larger quantities, most will have less than a standard pub spirit measure (25ml) - and while you can still get a single measure of scotch for £1.50, the same amount of ink will set you back £15 - £25. Given the choice, I know which one I'd prefer!

My predecessor had simply bought cheap printers - and every time, he bought a new one, it needed a different type of cartridge. He also considered it easier to attach them directly to a PC so there were very few people doing any form of network printing. The problem is of course that this is exactly what the printer manufacturers want - they sell the printers at a cheap price, knowing that they will make their money on the ink (and boy, do they make their money). And of course, a cheap printer will fall apart quicker, but hey that's OK as it doesn't cost that much to replace it (although you'll then have yet another different type of cartridge!).

So we started by working out where the most appropriate place was for a networked printer, then ordered up some decent mono laser devices. Within a year, almost all of the older inkjets were gone. In fact, we now have about 50% more users, but 30% less printers. And we are now down to about 5 toners with about 5 inkjets, so it's easier to keep track. Plus, the laser toners last much longer so it works out much cheaper. In fact, we reckon that we save about £25,000 to £30,000 per year over what we had been spending.

Now of course, there are those that will say "use compatible cartridges" or even "refill them". Tried those and they are an absolute waste of money and more importantly, time. You end up spending so much time fiddling around - I really think we have more important things to do. Also many of the compatibles don't work; and a lot then cause cleaning issues. I just think that it's far better to get decent equipment and be done with it.

That's not to say that users were happy; far from it. When we first started moving them onto networked printers, you would not believe the fuss it caused. People really don't want to walk 20 feet to get their print jobs. But eventually, they started to accept it and now the situation is so different. Although we still get some problems, there are far fewer than we used to have, administering them is easier and most of all, we save money that we can then spend on other things that help us do the job better.

In fact, this is such a simple thing to do, that I am astonished how many companies are still using large numbers of inkjet printers. I spoke to a manager at another company and they have around 500 users - he told me that he has one member of his IT staff almost permanently dealing with printer issues. He couldn't actually tell me how many they have as they have actually lost track of them; they think that they have over 300. (that's not a typo; yes it's three hundred!)

Now no disrespect to him, but for me, that is a red flag - time to make some serious changes. And if people complain, then I would insist on charging them for buying cartridges. If these consumables end up on their budget, I guarantee they will take notice!

So do yourself a big favour - get rid of all inkjet printers, replace them with laser printers. You'll feel better for it.


  1. Nice idea, shared network printers. Unfortunately didn't work for my firm. Although we encourage staff not to print every email, to do stuff electronically, to use email rather than post, etc, this solicitors firm is very set on using paper - reams and reams of it. I've seen a secretary get through a whole 200 pack of A4 in a single morning! She works for the most profitable partner here, so can't complain about inefficiency I suppose. The result is that basically everyone has their own printer attached to their PC.

    However, I agree with you on printer models - we use exclusively HP LaserJets, with a few shared colour HP laserjets and photocopiers for just the few colour print outs needed. Last I checked, we don't use a single ink jet, and we are mainly limited to 5 different models (1200, 1300, 1320, 2420, P2015) however, they're nearly all local PC ones. Some of the 1200 laserjets are over 7 years old - excellent durability - a pity they use LPT!

    To ask a mean question, how do you square network printing with the "user in control" mantra many like to talk about these days? Some would say network printing is an example of IT controlling users, rather than empowering users to make their own decisions regarding computers (e.g. getting their favorite ink jet, not having to share print resources with others, etc) ?

  2. Robert,

    Unfortunately we still go through huge quantities of paper printing; in many cases, it's totally unnecessary, but it's not easy getting people to change their habits. I think that you have a done a good job to get them using laser printers instead of inkjet and that will save a lot to start with.

    For those HP models, you might be able to get little network print server devices; I've used one from Netgear that works well. They do fit parallel printers and connect to Windows Server - I think that they are about £30 each. (Definitely cheaper than the HP JetDirect units)

    I don't have a problem with enforcing network printing; after all, that means that they have access to more than one printer and can choose which one they use. So, lets say that one printer is always used for letterhead documents, and another always uses a coloured paper, then the paper tray for those printers always has the relevant sheet loaded.

    People will complain, but they actually do get used to it; particularly if they can still print when their "own" printer is out of action.