GPSolo Magazine - December 2003

Printers

I remain amazed each time I visit a law office for the first time and find lawyers and clerical staff printing to low-cost inkjet printers on their desks. One firm I visited had “inexpensive” inkjets on every desk for all routine printing, even though a new high-speed printer/copier/scanner on the network sat idle but for photocopying. This was an incredible waste of time and money.

Don’t get me wrong—I like inkjet printers, in their right place—as a home printer, or as a shared resource on the office network for printing the occasional color document. But they are clearly overused in the law office environment. Lawyers working without the assistance of a technology consultant often mistake low initial-purchase price with economical long-term operation.

The Facts

Inkjet printers may cost less than $100, but the cost of consumables such as special paper and replacement ink cartridges make inkjet printers the least economical way to print monochrome documents. For a solo or someone with a home-based office, a laser multifunction machine, often called an MFP, would be a good choice. HP (www.hp.com), Brother (www.brother.com), and Samsung (www.samsung.com) all make nice laser MFPs in the sub-$500 price range. These machines print, scan, and copy, and many send and receive faxes.

 

Quick Tips and Model Recommendations

1. If your printer has both a parallel and a USB port, use the USB port—it’s faster.

2. If your printer has a toner saver, draft button, or software-selectable feature, use it for all but final versions to be sent outside your office. You can nearly double the life of your toner cartridge without losing any significant quality.

3. For internal documents, try printing two pages on a single sheet of paper using the new Zoom feature in Word’s print dialog box. This will reduce paper consumption while still yielding a readable document. Better yet, send it by e-mail and save the paper altogether. In a truly efficient office, only the final version of a document makes it to paper.

4. For color printing with an inkjet printer, the quality of the paper is key to a good result. Don’t use standard laser or photocopy paper—it’s a waste of very expensive ink. Invest is some high-quality inkjet paper in your choice of finish (matte, satin, or glossy). The results are worth the extra cost.

5. Personal laser printers to consider: Hewlett Packard LaserJet 1000 and 1300; Samsung ML-1450 and 1710; Brother HL-1435, 1440, and 1450.

6. Workgroup laser printers to consider: HP LaserJet 1300n and 2300n; Samsung ML-2151N; Brother HL-1470N, 1870N, and 2460N.

7. Network laser printers to consider: HP 4300 and 5100 series; Brother HL-7050N.

For most small law firms, a monochrome laser printer is the best option. Which laser? Choose from three categories depending on your needs:

1. The personal laser is designed for a single user. Although it can be shared over a network, its lower speed and volume rating suggest that it not be used as a firm-wide printer. Most newer personal lasers have a parallel or USB (or both) connection. Like all laser printers, personal lasers have dropped dramatically in price and increased in speed and output quality. I have seen printers in this category for as low as $100 after rebates, featuring 17 pages per minute (ppm) print speed and 600 dots per inch (dpi) resolution. A few years ago a printer with these specifications would have cost more than $500. If you want a printer on every desk, this is the type to choose. However, if your users are located close together (within arm’s reach), you may get better performance and efficiency sharing a workgroup laser printer.

2. The workgroup laser provides built-in network connectivity with an integrated Ethernet port. It connects to your network hub/switch instead of to a single computer’s parallel or USB port, but it can be used by all computers on the network. It is designed for up to six users, features faster print speeds than a personal laser, and can be equipped with optional paper trays and envelope feeders. The optional trays are important because users generally will not want to leave their desks just to insert the paper into the input tray—use the printer driver software or the print command options on your word processor instead. Most law firms with more than a couple of users should have at least one workgroup laser printer. Workgroup lasers have fallen in price to the $400 to $1,000 range, but optional paper trays or envelope feeders can increase the cost to as high as $2,000.

3. A network printer is like a workgroup printer only larger, faster, and with more paper options. Also in this category are network-enabled multifunction machines that copy, print, and scan. This type of printer connects directly to your network and is great for printing a 50-page brief or 300-page prebilling worksheets in just a couple of minutes. Also, if you need five copies of a long document, it’s often more efficient to select multiple copies from within your word processor’s print dialog than to print a single copy, retrieve it from the printer, walk to the copier, and make four additional copies. A network laser with the capacity to handle these large print jobs is expensive but is justifiable with ten or more users. Depending on paper tray options, a network laser can cost $1,500 and up.

A note about scanning on network multifunction machines: I am not a fan of centralized scanning. I think scanning is more effectively done on the desktop of a lawyer or staff person who is familiar with the document and will know where to save the scanned image. Small desktop scanners in the Strobe series from Visioneer (www.visioneer.com), with bundled PaperPort software (www.paperport.com), are best for routine scanning. These scanners start about $270 using the Visioneer Legal Advisor Board discount that can be accessed through my firm’s web site (www.intouchbc.com).

Which brand of laser? It is said that no one ever has been fired for buying a Hewlett Packard printer. There is no doubt that HP makes an excellent product that is well supported by Microsoft and other software vendors, and compatibility problems usually are minimal. However, we did have a troubling problem with Microsoft Word printing to the HP 4000 series lasers that took many months for HP to resolve by the issuance of an updated printer driver.

Brands such as Brother and Samsung (my personal favorite) often provide greater performance and features for the dollar, so shop carefully. I recently saw a 17 ppm Samsung personal laser printer for $100 after rebate at several national electronics retailers. This printer (model ML-1710) was highly rated in the computer press.

If a firm needs to print color documents in higher quantities than an inkjet printer can handle, a color laser printer is a good option. With entry-level color lasers priced between $600 and $1,000, this is more of a luxury item than a necessity for small firms and should not yet be on your “must buy” list. But as prices continue to fall and color print speeds increase, that could change, even for the smallest firms. Currently, the Minolta-QMS Magicolor 2350 EN (list about $1,000; www.minolta-qms.com) offers the best combination of speed, photo-quality output, and network connectivity.

What to do with all of those spare inkjets you’ll have left over? Take them home, give them to your employees, or donate them to a church or school. They are costing you money every day in lost time and expensive consumables.

Scott Bassett is an attorney and legal technology consultant with InTouch Business Consultants, Inc., in Seminole, Florida. He can be reached at scott@intouchbc.com.

 

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