How to curb cost of the office printer: Malcolm Wheatley suggests ways to make savings in the production of that perfect document

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The Independent Online
WORD PROCESSORS and laser printers have brought about a big change in the quality of office-produced documents - but at a price. As a recent KPMG survey noted, the hidden costs of office PCs are very high - up to pounds 6,000 a year.

Document printing is no exception. Standards are higher today, and documents must look perfect. But several drafts can be required, and this costs money. First, there is the salary of the person producing the document. Second, each laser print-out sheet costs at least 2p, the main factor being the 4,000- page life of the printer's toner cartridge.

The use of fancy fonts is increasingly popular, but this only adds to the problems, according to users. Fonts take up a lot of computer disk space and print more slowly, as more instructions have to be sent to the printer. Where a number of PCs share a network printer, it may be necessary to buy another. These costs are incurred on a document that is already 'perfect' in terms of content and spelling - it is the layout that causes the problems.

There are several solutions. Many offices overlook the potential for using old-technology printers for rough drafts. Continuous stationery and dot matrix print may not look as nice but they are a much cheaper way of producing rough internal drafts.

Modern dot matrix printers come with a variety of fonts, some matching those on the laser printer, so text positioning can be ascertained more economically. Software vendors also suggest use of a word processor's 'WYSIWYG' (what you see is what you get) capability. The screen replicates what appears on paper.

Newer, Windows-based word processors work entirely in WYSIWYG mode, giving fewer surprises. Windows now employs fonts that give a very close approximation between screen and printed page. Fewer (if any) drafts should be necessary. WYSIWYG capability has helped Microsoft's Word for Windows package to become the UK's best-selling word processor.

Most laser printers have cartridge slots at the back, which many users never take advantage of. Printer manufacturers built them in to offer 'plug in' fonts but third-party vendors are getting in on the act, lowering prices and adding features. Cartridges hold the fonts at the printer, rather than on the computer, freeing disk space and reducing the amount of data communicated between printers and PCs. Cartridge-held fonts also print much faster because the computer does not have to 'describe' how each letter should look.

Ivor Smith, managing director of Hampshire-based vendor Fontware, says they have other advantages. A cartridge can be custom-designed with a company's own font, for example. It can also include logos and signatures.

He points to the opportunity they offer for businesses to reduce the amount of pre-printed internal forms they have to order and stock, particularly in multi-location businesses, which would otherwise need a box of everything in each stationery cupboard.

Design the form on a laser printer, instead, says Mr Smith, and simply distribute disks rather than stationery around the organisation. Each location prints out the forms as it needs them.

Microsoft has entered the market, too - partly, concedes Windows marketing manager Mark Edwards, in response to criticisms of Windows' printing speed.

The Windows Printing System comprises a plug-in cartridge containing 79 Windows-compatible WYSIWYG fonts, as well as sophisticated printer control software.

If the printer runs out of paper, for example, a disembodied voice intones 'please add paper'. Thankfully, this does not mean swapping one source of workplace irritation for another. The voice can be replaced with an on-screen message.