Saturday, May 30, 2020

Top 5 Ways Nonprofit Organizations Can Save Money

It doesn't matter whether the economy is booming or busting - nonprofit organizations are always interested in saving money.  Of course, "saving money" doesn't necessarily have to mean "cutting corners" or "doing without altogether."  There are plenty of ways nonprofit organizations can save money and still operate effectively and efficiently.

1. Accept Donations
Whether you need a few simple pieces of equipment like telephones and cameras or larger pieces like computers and fax machines, chances are there's a family member, friend, or another business or organization that's already in the market to upgrade and willing to donate old supplies to you.

2. Buy Refurbished Electronics
If you can't find everything you need through donations, consider buying refurbished electronics.  Buying refurbished office equipment like refurbished machines, copiers, printers, fax, telecom systems, computers,  and even cameras is a great way for nonprofit organizations to save money.
After customers return them to the stores (either because they've changed their minds or found some minor problem with the way the electronics functioned), manufacturers inspect the items and make any repairs before certifying they're ready to return to store shelves as "refurbished" items.  The manufacturers can't sell the items at the same prices as they'd sell brand new items, so they sell them at significantly lower costs.  Purchasing refurbished electronics at lower costs than brand new electronics at regular costs helps nonprofit organizations save money.

3. Look for Volunteers
Many nonprofit organizations already acquire much of their own legwork through volunteer efforts, but they can also find volunteers to donate time and skills to things like building and designing websites, creating logos for contact cards and stationary letterheads, and writing copy for websites, newsletters, and fliers.

4. Do It Yourself
While many people have family members or friends (or friends of friends or family members!) who are skilled at tasks like writing and website and graphic design, not everyone will agree to provide these services for free.  If you can't find someone willing to donate his or her services, consider doing the jobs yourself.
There are many free and easy-to-use website templates available; these days, setting up a website, costs a little more than just the price to purchase server space.  If your nonprofit is a local chapter of a national organization, use the national logo and create your own stationary letterhead and contact cards.  If you need to know how to effectively write simple copy for a newsletter, advertisement, or your website, do a little research online for tips on how to keep your words brief yet effective.

5. Find Freebies
Volunteer work is free for you and many do-it-yourself projects are either free or cheap, but keep in mind that there are also tools available that are completely free and in constant supply.

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Thursday, May 21, 2020

What's The Difference Between A Refurbished Copier And A Used Copier?

If you're going to buy a copy machine, you may have heard a lot of different terms thrown around, like new, used, re-manufactured, demo and refurbished.  Not knowing the difference between these terms can dramatically affect how much you pay for your copier.  Read on to learn the difference between a refurbished copier and a used copier.


You probably know this one already, but a new copier is brand new, and comes directly from an authorized channel, like a dealer or distributor.  The phrase "authorized channel" sounds pretty fancy, but all it really means is that the manufacturer's representative receives commission on the sale.  Just like a new car, new copiers lose a lot of value as soon as they "leave the lot."  Generally if you want a brand new copier, your best and most inexpensive option is through a copier leasing program rather than outright buying it.


Refurbished copy machines have been audited, cleaned, tested, and updated by a third party (not the manufacturer).  Most refurbished copiers have been used less than three to six months as rated by their respective manufacturer's recommended monthly usage tables, and come with a "same as brand new" warranty.  Best of all, these copiers are sold at discount levels up to 75% off MSRP.  If you choose this option, just make sure that the company you buy from is as a good reputation and an A-rating with the Better Business Bureau.


Manufacturers sell refurbished copiers too, but they like to call them re-manufactured, which means the copy machine was refurbished by the manufacturer itself and not a third party. Re-manufacturing means that the manufacturer tested and updated the equipment.  As with the refurbished copiers, these copy machines are usually have less than three months of use, and have been acquired from off-lease contracts, sales demos, short term rentals and/or corporate downsizing.


Used generally refers to a copy machine that is being sold without any repairs, updates, cleaning and limited testing.  When you see a copier sold as used, without a warranty, most likely you're getting it "as-is" and should be aware of the risk you are taking.  Some unscrupulous companies might sell copy machines as "used" that should actually be sold for parts.

For the best deal on a copy machine for your business or office, your best choice may be a re-manufactured or refurbished copier that comes with a warranty.  That way you are spending a lot less money while still benefiting from the protection of a warranty.

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Do Compatible Toners Work For Scanners, Printers, Fax Machines, and Copiers?

The topic of compatible toners is widely talked about and very important to office goers.  Lots of people find compatible toners a much more efficient way of running their office when it comes to meeting all of their printing, scanning, faxing and copying needs.

There are often rumors that the compatible toners are less desirable to use in the office because of the quality but this is not true.  They are tested and made to work and last just as long as original toners.
Before a compatible toner is even made, every part of the toner is tested, inspected and approved.  

They are then tested after they are built and again picked at random off the shelf to be tested as well. 

They are built to work just as well as the original.

The percentage of pigments in the compatible toners is the same and they hold the same quality within the carefully designed formula just as the original toner cartridges are made.

These toners are made from recycled parts that are still good to use.  They are also made from repaired parts to recycle and conserve resources.  This will help you to give back.  You can go green by helping to reduce the amount of waste coming from toner use in communication equipment.
Compatible toners work for all different types of machines.  One might think that they only work when used for a printer.  The truth is, a fax machine, copier and scanner all have the basic internal structure when it comes to toner use so you can use them for all of the machines.

Most fax, copy scanning and printing machines used in the office are all in one machines now. Multi-functional machines have grown to be the most popular office tool, so it has become more of a priority for compatible companies to make sure they are top quality to satisfy all business communication needs.

Top compatible toners are made to fit many different brands.  Whether they are made from original parts, refurbished or re-manufactured parts they have been tested and approved by professionals before they are allowed to go out on the market for sale.

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What Do You Need to Know Before You Buy a Used Copier Or Printer?

Are you considering purchasing a used copier printer all-in-one office equipment from a company out or going out of business? You need to think a minute about this. The company is going out of business for a reason and the majority of the time it's because of cash flow.

Do you think they would spend their last few dollars having their copier repaired or maintained? Buying a used copier printer from a company going out of business is like buying a used car from a dirt lot 100 miles from a city. It's buyer beware and check your pockets before you leave because the seller will be gone!

Last week we received 11 service calls from companies who purchased used copier printers multi-function office equipment from a business going out of business. This is how most of the copier repair calls start: "Hi, I need somebody to come out to clean a copier because we are getting lines." or "Hi. we are getting paper jams and we need it fixed right away." Then the person tells us they just purchased the used copier at a great price from a business that failed. Now the company is gone and they can not get a hold of them.

Do you think once you buy the used copier they will help you if a problem occurs? They sold you the used copier printer, closed the business and left town for the mountains.

The bottom line is that the average repair on the clients' copiers cost more than what they paid for the used copier.

How to prevent this problem:

1. Contact a company who specializes in the used copier printer. Do not ask you neighbor doctor, nephew lawyer or next door electrician. Get a certified technician to review it.

2. Have the copier repair tech check the following: last copier maintenance cycle, the amount of life left of the toner, developer and drum. Get an unbiased view from a technician who will give you a report before you spend a dime on the refurbished or used printer copier.

3. Better yet, get the used copier printer from actual copier printer dealer. You may pay a few dollars more but it will prevent exposing yourself to problems and hundreds of dollars in repair bills later. May companies will give you a quick over the phone estimates of costs to check the equipment before you buy it. It only costs you a phone call and could save you hundreds of dollars!

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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Choosing the Right ID Card Printer For Your Business

Our modern world has changed the way we do business, and technology has certainly changed the way we obtain the photo ID cards necessary for that business.  Today in-house printing has replaced outsourcing.  That's because it's so affordable, and it provides you with a great deal of flexibility. Choosing the right ID card printer for your business is important, so take some time to learn what's available, and what it has to offer.

Choose from single sided, dual sided or laminating printers.  Single sided printers are capable of quality printing on one side, in either color or monochrome.  Dual sided printers offer the same quality, but they can print on both sides.  They also offer barcode, magnetic strip, encoding, smart card, and more. Laminating printers offer an extra layer of protection from wear and tear.  You also enjoy additional security protection, because altering these cards is very difficult.  Let's have a look at some of the most popular ID card printer manufacturers.

Fargo Printers
Fargo has been meeting the needs of business for a very long time.  They always offer cutting edge technology.  Yet they continue to provide an affordable product, with one of the best reputations for reliability.  Fargo offers single sided printers, dual sided printers, and laminating printers.  You can configure your Fargo printer to work with your photo ID software.  Choose from the many models on the market.

Evolis Printers
Evolis printers offer a full range of technologies including encoding.  Choose either single sided or dual sided printers.  The Evolis printers have a modern design that's sleek, and requires very little space. Evolis printers have a reputation for being very intuitive.  It won't take you months to learn all the ins and outs of these printers.  Evolis is considered one of the most competitively priced printers on the market.  Add easy maintenance, parts that are readily available, and excellent warranties, and you can see why Evolis should be on your short list.

Zebra Printers
If you're looking for plenty of product choice, and printers that you can afford, Zebra printers have you covered.  Besides offering some of the best print quality on the market, they also offer very competitive pricing.  Zebra is continuously striving to improve its already superior product line.  Choose from a complete line of single sided printers, dual sided printers, and laminating printers.

Magicard Printers
Magicard Printers have earned a reputation for offering something a little different.  What makes Magicard unique is its very low price point.  This makes it an attractive printer choice for a business just entering the market.  It's just as attractive for those that have been in the market for some time.  That's because they offer a full range of products from the most basic, quality, entry level printer to the top of line printer with all the bells and whistles.  Print membership cards, photo ID badges, or a host of other ID cards.

Nisca Printers
Nisca offers a unique line of printers.  They offer a superior line of dye sublimation printers.  This technology allows Nisca printers to provide brilliant 24 bit images.  There are also a wide range of models, all of which offer top notch performance and security.  Nisca offers a premier name in PVC card printing technology.  Analyze your company's needs and choose a printer accordingly.

Datacard Printers
Datacard printers have a reputation for providing the highest quality photo ID badges, membership cards, and other types of ID cards.  You simply personalize your printer to your company needs.  Choose from a range of security features and performance levels.  From the most basic printers to the most sophisticated printers Datacard has a printer for every budget.

The ID printer is a big part of your ID printing process.  There are many excellent printers on the market. If you aren't sure, which one is right for you, take a little time to do some research, and learn what the various printers are capable of performing.

When deciding on which printer is right for your company needs, ask yourself a few questions.

1. What type of cards do I want to print?
2. Do I need to print single sided or double sided ID cards?
3. Do I need barcode technology?
4. Do I need laminating technology?
5. Do I have any special needs in my ID card printing?
6. Do I need to print in color?
7. What is my budget?
8. What am I looking for in a warranty?
9. What does my ID card software recommend for a printer?
10. Which printers are comparable and which offer the best prices?

Give your ID card printer the attention it deserves, and find the printer that's right for your business.

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

How to Buy POS Receipt Printer?

There are many models of printers in the market to look for.  The most common are the dot matrix or also known as impact printers, thermal printers and multi-functional printers.  However, before you decide to buy a printer for your POS system, you must consider the software requirements, hardware compatibility, device drivers, and option of receipt cutting feature in the printer, cable interfaces, environmental restrictions and added benefits.

Some of the printers will work only with specific device drivers and software applications.  You wouldn't want to buy a printer that has limited use in your business.  Assuming that one of your receipt printer breaks down at one of the many POS systems you have, your printer must have the ability to fill in the place of the printer that broke down.  The printer must also be compatible with the Operating System that you are currently using.  It is a wise choice to opt for a printer that is compatible with multiple OS.

Even though most of the printers can work with Windows drivers, some printers will require OLE or OPOS drivers to print the receipts.  Ask you dealer about the compatibility issues that you might have with the printers and your POS.

You can replace your existing printer with a printer from any brand.  Most of them are manufactured in such a way to emulate most of the other brands.  However, asking your dealer about the options to replace the existing printer will be a good decision.

The receipt printer can connect to your POS system through a cable interface, which can be serial, parallel, USB or Ethernet connection.  All the printers will support at least the basic type of interface, i.e. the serial and parallel interface. In some of the printers, the USB interface is an option.  If you think a particular printer fits your requirements perfectly, but doesn't have an interface that you are for, ask the dealer about adding an additional interface.  They usually can do it but at an extra cost.
Another feature to look for in the printer is the option of receipt cutting.  There are two types of receipt cutting: partial and full.  If you do not want a receipt cutter option in your printer, go for a manual receipt cutting option.  If you run a huge business that has a streamline of customers at the checkouts, it is better to have an auto-receipt cutter option since it will save time.  However, for places like a small grocery store or any other business establishments that do not have a heavy inflow of customers, you can opt for the manual receipt-cutting printer.

The printers come with the option of single color printing and 2-color printing.  Printers with the option of two-color printing come with black and red color for printing purposes.  Usually the logo of your company is printed in red and the remaining details of the transaction in black.  You can use the red color to highlight any special deals, discounts and privileges received by the customer.
One thing you must bear in mind before purchasing the printer is the environment it will be used in.  Will you use the printer in the kitchen, POS, hospital, temperature controlled settings etc.  There are different printers that fit into the above categories.  If you end up buying a printer that doesn't suit the environment, your printer will not work properly.

Ask these questions before you buy a printer: Do you need a printer with 2-color? Do you need auto receipt cutting option? Do you need a printer that can handle the printing of receipts, labels and barcodes? What is the speed of the printer you expect to have? Do you want your printer to accommodate huge printing rolls?  Do you want a drop-in paper loading mechanism?  Do you want a printer that can print 2-ply and three-ply receipts?  Do you want to endorse checks and read MICR codes using your printer?

As you read the above questions, more questions will pop up.  Make sure that you address all the questions with the dealer before making the purchase.

How many types of printers are there?
Basically there are 3 types of printers: Impact, Thermal and Multifunctional.

1. Impact Printers: Impact printers are also known by the name of Dot-Matrix printers.  These printers are not only less expensive but also flexible.  They use pins and ribbons to print on the paper.  The printers can print two-ply receipts, one for the customer and the other for the vendor.  These printers are resistant to heat and make an ideal choice for use in the kitchen.  The printer can print two colors - black and red.  However, you must purchase the required ribbons to print the above said colors.

Where can Impact printers be used?
Kitchens, POS checkouts, manufacturing units that have too much heat, places that require 2-ply receipts printed in 2 colors.

2. Thermal Printers: Thermal receipt printers as the name suggests, use heat to print the image on the paper.  They do not use ribbons and pins to print the images.  You require special receipt paper to use with your Thermal printer.  The paper has a special heat sensitive coating that is activated on coming in contact with the printer head.  The printer does not require you to replace ribbons and are cost less to own and maintain.  You can upload the logo directly to the firmware to increase the speed of printing. These printers must not be used at places like the kitchen or any other environment that is prone to heat.

3. Multifunctional printers: These printers are used to carry out multiple functions apart from printing receipts. The multifunctional printers are used to endorse checks, read MICR codes, and print slips.  These printers are more expensive than the previously mentioned ones due to their versatility.  These printers can be used at checkouts to print receipts or in concurrence with POS set-ups.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Printer Usage

Some printers are good for general printing, while others are better at specialized tasks or combine several functions into one machine.

o Photo: If you take lots of pictures, consider getting a photo printer.  Photo printers can be in the form of photo inkjets -- which can print both photos and text; snapshot photo printers -- for outputting small 4x6-inch prints; or professional photo printers -- for large, tabloid-size photos and often including network connections to enable printer sharing.  Most consumer and professional photo printers use inkjet technology, while most snapshot photo printers that print 4x6-inch prints rely on dye-sublimation technology.  Regardless of the type or technology that is used, the most important thing to look for in a photo printer is photo realistic quality.  Everything else is secondary.

o General Purpose: As the name implies, general purpose printers can be used for printing almost anything, including text and photos.  Choose a general printer with a laser format if you print more text than photos; and choose an inkjet format if you print more photos than text.

o Multi-function: Multi-function printers (MFPs) combine in one device several functions such as printing, scanning, faxing, and copying. MFPs cost less than buying separate stand-alone devices and cut down on the hassle of setting up individual machines.  If you are strapped for budget or space, consider these all-in-one devices.  Take note, however, that a malfunction with one component takes down the whole device, and individual components may not be upgradeable.  MFPs are available with either laser printers to emphasize speedy text printing and the occasional graphics output; or they are available with inkjet printers for vibrant photo printing.

Environment and Applications
When deciding on a printer, think about where and how you plan to use it.  The home user will have different printing needs from that of the office worker, photographer, or traveler.

o General/Basic home use: Versatile, affordable printers are the best choices here, and inkjets usually satisfy the printing needs of most home users looking to output photos from their digital camera or for other light printing needs.  Ink cartridges can be expensive, so look for inkjets with separate cartridges for each color.  This way, you need not throw out entire cartridges -- simply because one color has been used up ahead of the others -- but replace only the ones that run out.

o Home office: An MFP may be a great device to have in your home office, especially if it comes with an automatic document feeder that can process multi page documents unattended.  Extra onboard memory increases efficiency and allows for processing of larger graphics and documents with ease.  If scanning and photocopying are important to you, get an MFP with a higher resolution.

o Photography: Photo printers are the obvious choice if printing photos is your main thing.  Choose either the smaller, snapshot photo printer that produces 4x6-inch prints; or choose larger-sized, professional photo printers that are capable of delivering tabloid-size 11x17-inch prints -- even up to full-bleed 13x19-inch prints that include a border to allow room for registration marks.

o Text printing: If printing large amounts of text is what you'll be doing most, monochrome standard laser printers are your best bet -- as they can turn out page after page of crisp text fairly rapidly.  These printers are ideal for printing black-and-white text and simple graphics, so you may need to get a separate inkjet or photo printer in order to print color photos - unless you wish to invest in the more expensive color lasers that can print both black-and-white and color documents.

o Small network: A workgroup laser printer can be what you need if your home office or small office is built around a network.  Workgroup lasers pack faster print speeds and have more memory to handle multiple print jobs.  They also offer more advanced handling capabilities such as larger trays, and may offer duplex (double-sided) printing, sorting, and stapling.  More expensive than standard laser printers, the majority of workgroup lasers are monochrome -- designed for printing text and simple graphics.

o Traveler: For the businessperson on the go and looking to print, portable printers provide the solution with their compact size (small enough to fit into a briefcase), light weight (less than 5 lbs.), and handy power (operates on batteries or with a car charger).  Newer models can print wirelessly -- making it a non-issue if you forget your USB cable at home.  Some portables offer great extras such as a sheet feeder for automatic page feeding, are able to handle transparencies and envelopes, and even support an optional scanner cartridge that replaces the ink cartridge and turns the printer into a scanner. Portable printers are more expensive and print more slowly than standard printers, but convenience is what you're paying for.

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Printer Buying Guide

Printers are essential peripherals, performing a critical role as they render electronic information into tangible records or material output.  You're simply not using your computer to its fullest potential if you are unable to print reports, presentations, letters, photos, or whatever it is you need to output. Choosing a printer can be confusing, in today's competitive, ever-changing landscape.  This buying guide rounds out some of the more important criteria to consider before you make that all-important purchase decision.

Printing Technologies
This is the biggest decision to make before anything else.  Your choice should be based on how you work and the kind of output you will be expecting from the printer.

Dye-sublimation: Dye-sub printers can print continuous tones and a superior range of colors that laser printers are unable to, making them ideal for more demanding graphic applications or color printing. Dye-sub prints are also less prone to fading and distortion over time than dye-based ink prints.  In addition, many consumer-based dye-sublimation printers can print directly from digital cameras and also accept memory cards.  They are, however, more limited in the range and size of printing media that can be used -- usually letter-size paper or smaller.

 Laser: Laser printers are the perfect choice if you need to print large amounts of text documents. They print faster than inkjets and have a lower cost of operation over the long-term -- even though they may cost more to buy initially.  There are trade-offs, however.  Monochrome laser printers produce crisp black-and-white text but cannot be used for color printing.  Color lasers deliver excellent text and graphics but are much more expensive and can be costly to maintain.

Paper Handling
Paper is obviously an important issue in printing. Here are some important tips on paper handling for printers:

o When buying a printer, make sure that it's equipped to accommodate all the paper sizes and types that you'll be using.  If you need to print on heavy stock, for instance, make sure the printer can handle the heaviest paper you use.  For this purpose, a printer's paper path can give an indication of how it handles paper: Inkjets generally use straight-through paper paths, while lasers use S-shaped or U-shaped paths.  Generally speaking, the straighter the path, the thicker the media that can be used. However, the curved paths typical of laser printers also makes it possible to have more flexible configurations for input and output trays.

o Using the correct type of paper will also make a difference to your printing. Inkjets can print on a variety of matte or glossy photo paper, but make sure you choose the right kind of paper for your printer to obtain optimal print results.  For example, matte papers are suitable for both pigment and dye-based inks, while luster finishes are generally more suitable for dye-based inks.

o In terms of size, most inkjets and lasers can handle printing of letter and legal sizes.  If you need to print larger prints, however, consider a printer that can handle sizes like 11 by 17 inches.  You may also consider getting a printer with multiple paper drawers if you'll be switching between different paper sizes on a regular basis.  For a laser printer, multiple output trays, duplexing (double-sided printing), collating, and automatic stapling can be additional useful features.

o If you plan to use third-party paper, make sure it works well with your printer.  Before you buy a large quantity of third-party paper, try a few samples by printing the same photos on both the printer manufacturer's paper and the third-party paper, and then compare the results.

Printer Specs and Key Features
Printers feature various specifications, so navigating the spec sheet intelligently requires familiarity with what each specification entails according to the printing technology involved or for the type of usage planned for the printer.

o Resolution: For laser printers, 300 dpi is adequate if all you need is to print black-and-white text, but choose at least 1200 dpi for photo realistic grayscale or color printing.  For inkjets, choose one featuring 1200-dpi or higher resolution with a droplet size of 4 picoliters or smaller for sharp, clean output.  With photo printers, resolution varies according to technology: Output at 300 dpi by photo printers using dye-sublimation technology is comparable to photo printers using inkjet technology outputting at 1200 dpi or higher.

o Speed: Speed ratings vary greatly, and the print speeds cited by manufacturers usually refer to printing in draft mode or at the lowest resolution.  For laser printers, a more accurate way of measuring actual print speed is to time just how long it takes from the minute you hit "Print" -- to the time that it takes the printer to warm up, spool the job into the print queue, and for the printed output to finally come out.  For inkjets, print speed is not one of its stronger suits; so don't be overly concerned with this spec.

o Memory: Extra memory will come in handy for laser printers to enable them to handle large graphics and documents more easily.  Check the maximum upgrade-able memory allowed for your printer, if it features a hard drive with similarly upgrade-able memory, and if the printer can use generic memory or needs the manufacturer's brand.  In the case of inkjets, memory is built-in and not upgrade-able, but this is not an issue inasmuch as processing occurs on the side of the computer -- so there's no need for large amounts of installed RAM to begin with on inkjets.

o Connectivity: Most printers today no longer support the older parallel connection but feature instead USB 1.1 or Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0 or 3.0) -- either of which should work fine with USB computers.  For printers to be used on a network, it will need to have an Ethernet port to enable printer sharing.  For more flexible printing options, you may want to look for printers with infrared input/output ports that allow wireless printing from notebooks or other devices with infrared ports.  And if high-speed or long-distance printing is what you need, consider printers with a FireWire port.

Consumables and cost per page
The purchase price of the printer is just the beginning of its overall cost because over time, the hidden cost of ink or toner, paper, and parts will add up.  These "hidden costs" are the consumables; dividing the total cost of consumables by the number of pages that can be produced from the consumables gives you the cost per page.  Laser printers offer the lowest cost per page, using relatively inexpensive toner and normal-weight, uncoated paper.  

On the other hand, cost per page for inkjets can be four or five times as much, depending on how much ink you use and the cost of the paper -- normally more expensive, coated, glossy paper for higher-quality color output.  The tank configuration for inkjets should also be taken into consideration.  Inkjets with a single cartridge for the colored inks will incur higher replacement costs because the cartridge must be replaced as soon as one color runs out -- even if the cartridge still contains plenty of ink for the other colors.  To save costs, get an inkjet with separate cartridges for black and each individual color.

Print Quality
All the specs and fancy features in your printer won't mean a thing if you don't have good, solid print quality -- whether of text or photos -- to back it up.

o Text: Text should be smooth and crisp. At the smallest font sizes, the individual letters should be clearly readable, and they should not bleed into one another. Medium-size fonts should have no fuzzy edges, and the largest fonts -- especially bold ones -- should be filled with solid black, not a muddy brown or bluish tone. You should also be able to see well-formed and well-rounded counters (the openings) in letterforms; if you don't, it's usually a sign of the printer laying down too much ink. (Remember, however, that inkjet printers will display some wicking on plain, 20-lb. paper, as the ink bleeds along the paper fibers.)

o Graphics: For color printing, look for gradients -- or areas where a color goes from dark to light.  Color should transition smoothly, and you should not see any color banding, where distinct bands progress from dark to light.  On a test page, you will likely see a gradient bar that goes from black to white through a series of progressively darker gray shades; the transition from shade to shade should be smooth without a noticeable line. Also, look for a nice balance of colors in color-graphic printing -- something that's not overly saturated nor flat and washed out.

o Photo: A good photo print should like the original photo. Colors should be accurate and balanced, vivid but not oversaturated.  Good detail should be present in all areas, with no jagged lines or pixels or any other visual artifacts.  Good contrast should exist between shadow and highlight areas -- not muddy or flat and without color.  You may not always be able to tell the difference from one great print to another, but almost everyone can recognize a bad print when they see one. Trust what you see.

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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Printers - A Practical Buyers Guide

Buying a printer can be a complicated business, there are more shapes, sizes and types of printers available to the home and small business user than ever before. Printers have also become specialized for their intended purpose.

It is no longer a case of "a printer is a printer".  Printers are now designed to be good in a particular area rather than a "Jack-of-all trades", which will do everything.

An often overlooked issue, is the very serious consideration of cost of ownership, which is all about of how much it will cost to keep your printer running (see below).  So making that decision on which printer to go for, can be a seriously arduous task, especially if you are keen to buy a printer that is not only affordable to buy, but also cheap to run.

So here is the information that you need to know and consider, that no one tells you about!  We have not expanded on which printer is the best at any given time, because models constantly change and you can find that information in any current glossary PC magazine off the shelf.  Instead, here you will find the good, bad and ugly bits from the different types of printers available so you can make an informed decision yourself.

Laser Printers
Laser printers work in a similar way to photocopiers, except they use a laser instead of a bright light to scan with.  They work by creating an electrostatic image of the page onto a charged photo-receptor, which in turn attracts toner in the shape of an electrostatic charge.  Toner is the material used to make the image (as ink is in an inkjet printer) and is a very fine powder, so laser printers use toner cartridges instead of ink cartridges.

Laser Printers have traditionally been the best printing solution for heavy office users as they produce a very high quality black text finish and offer relatively low running costs.  However, laser printers have advanced a great deal recently and their prices have steadily dropped, as a result there are now compact laser printers, multi-function and color laser printers all at very affordable prices.  Laser printers make sense if you need to do a lot of high quality black or color prints, not photos.  The great thing about a color laser printer is that they can print a very good quality color image on standard copier paper, so you do not need to use expensive photo paper for large jobs.  Do check the prices of the consumables before you buy the printer as these can be very expensive for color laser printers.
Laser printers are the best solution for people who are printing in large volumes, that is, in 100's of pages at a time or 1000's of pages per month.  Color lasers also take quite a while to warm up, so are not ideal for printing single pages.

Solid Ink Printers
Solid ink printers use solid wax ink sticks in a "phase-change" process, they work by liquefying wax ink sticks into reservoirs and then squirting the ink onto a transfer drum from where it is cold-fused onto the paper in a single pass.  Solid ink printers are marketed almost exclusively by Tektronix / Xerox and are aimed at larger businesses and high volume color printing.

Solid ink printers used to be cheaper to purchase than similarly specified color lasers and fairly economical to run owing to a low component usage, today it is not necessarily any cheaper than a color laser printer.  Output quality is good but generally not as good as the best color lasers for text and graphics or the best inkjets for photographs.  Print speeds are not as fast as most color lasers.

Dye-Sublimation Printers
Dye-Sublimation printers use heat and solid color dyes to produce lab-quality photographic images. Dye-Sub printers contain a roll of transparent film made up of page-sized panels of color, with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dye embedded in the film. Print head heating elements vaporize the inks, which adhere to a specially coated paper, as the ink cools it re-solidifies on the paper. Color intensity is controlled by precise variations in temperature.

Dye-sublimation printers lay down color in continuous tones one color at a time instead of dots of ink like an inkjet, because the color is absorbed into the paper rather than sitting on the surface, the output is more photo-realistic, more durable and less vulnerable to fading than other ink technologies.
The downside of Dye-Sub printers is that they are generally more expensive to buy and run, usually limited to photo sized prints only and can only print onto one type of specialized paper as well as being quite slow to print.

Dye-Sublimation printers are best for those who want to link up their digital camera to a purpose built printer and print out the finest quality photos at home without fuss.

Dot Matrix Printers
Dot matrix printers are relatively old fashioned technology today with poor quality print, slow and very noisy output.  This type of printer is no longer used unless you wish to create invoices using the continuous paper with holes on both sides.  The good thing is that they are very cheap to run!

Cost of Ownership
Many printers today are very cheap to buy, but people are sometimes shocked to discover the cost of replacing the consumables (ink or laser cartridges, imaging drums, fuser, oils, specialized papers etc). The cost of replacing the ink can sometimes cost more than the printer itself!  This is one of the most commonly overlooked factors when printers are reviewed and yet one of the most important things to consider before handing over your hard earned cash.  Tests run in 2003 by Which? magazine famously compared the cost of HP's ink with vintage 1985 Dom Perignon.

A Sheffield City Council report aimed at helping schools decide on the best-value printers to buy, calculated total cost of ownership over the lifetime of a printer (not sure how long that is!).  Adding up all the running costs, ink or toner, paper, maintenance and even electricity, SCC worked out that a color inkjet costs approx 38 cents per page to run compared to a color laser which costs approx 7 cents per page. Sheffield City Council advised its schools that if they printed more than three color pages a day (assuming a 40-week academic year) they should buy a laser.

These figures cannot be taken hard and fast due to the many variables involved, but it is generally accepted that the cost per print of a laser printer is cheaper than that of an inkjet, which is in turn cheaper than that of a sub-dye printer.  However, you would have to do a fair amount of color printing to take advantage of the economy cost offered by a laser printer.

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Printer Security is Not Worth Worrying About - Right?

When looking at enterprise security, we commonly refer to and consider firewalls, Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), Virtual Private Networks (VPN), encryption and authentication.  When we think of securing our data, we think of securing critical servers and databases.  Rarely do we think of printers. Billions of dollars are spent worldwide on security each year, but how much did your organization spend on securing their printers this last 12 months?  If you answered zero, you would be in the vast majority.

Printers have come a long way since their widespread adoption in the late 1970's and early 1980's.  Back in the day, each printer was connected to an individual system and could only process a single print job at a time.  Today, printers have matured into multi-functional devices that bare little resemblance to their distant origins.  Printers in the 21st century perform dozens of tasks including, but not limited to, printing, scanning, photocopying, faxing and even emailing documents.  What most users, and even system, network and security administrators do not realize is what really goes on inside a printer and what functionality they truly have.  Most users still think of the printers of 30 years ago; unintelligent devices that only possess the ability to print documents.  This view is far removed from the truth.

When discussing printers in this article, we are not only talking about the behemoths you see in most large enterprises, but also your low-end multi-functional printers you now find common in regular households.  Rare is it to find a printer, no matter how small, that only performs the single task of printing.  Most, at a very minimum, provide faxing or scanning and with these come increased memory requirements.  Scanning a full document in preparation to print, scanning a document to be saved as a PDF or similar file, or scanning a document to allow faxing all require the ability to buffer the data within the device.  A buffer is basically a region of memory that allows the storing of temporary data.  Printers use this buffer to store a digital version of the document you are printing, scanning or faxing.  Depending on the device, this buffer can range from a small piece of Random Access Memory (RAM) to a Hard Disk Drive like the type found in your desktop or laptop computer.  In larger enterprise printers, this buffer is not the only memory store found within the printer.  A larger, non-volatile memory area is provided to store semi-permanent or permanent information.  For example, some printers allow scanning of a document and saving it within the printer as a PDF.  The user may then connect to the printer as if it were a network drive, or via a web page, and download their document.

So where are we going with all this? The leakage or theft of sensitive and confidential corporate information.  Large enterprises may have developed and implemented data retention and destruction policies but rarely do these include, or even mention, printers.  Companies look at hard copies of documents, CD's, DVD's and workstation, laptop and server hard drives when developing their data destruction policies.  While it is clear they identify hard drives as a source of sensitive information, rarely do they consider the hard drives contained within their printers, if they even know of their existence. Printers are also commonly overlooked when security policies, procedures and guidelines are developed and implemented.  Little time, if any, is spent looking at printer security or the implications of not securing the corporate printers.  

All the more disturbing this becomes when you contemplate the common types of documents that pass through printers in a corporate environment.  Depending on the industry or the department within the organization, documents can vary from sensitive financial records, personal customer data or detailed network diagrams, to name a few.

To understand how sensitive data is leaked via a simple printer to the outside world, it requires an understanding of the corporate environment, security controls within that environment, and the general flow of information between users, printers and file systems that house restricted data.
In the ideal, secure corporate environment, a user has restricted access to files that pertain to his or her job function.  The files reside on a secure server within the corporate network and are protected by strong access control policies requiring a user to authenticate before being allowed access to files. In our example, a user requires a sensitive financial document for a meeting he is about to attend.  The user authenticates to the server, access to the file is authorized by the access control policies set on the file and the user opens the file in Microsoft Word.  

He clicks on the print icon and sends the document as a print job to his nearest printer.  With this simple act, we have taken a secure document that very limited users have access to, and have created two copies that are no longer protected by any form of access control.  The first is the obvious; the paper copy our user requires for their meeting.  The second is a copy housed in the buffer on the printer.  In the ideal world, our user will keep the printed copy safe at all times and follow the organization's data destruction policy and destroy the copy of the document when they no longer require it.  As for the virtual copy created on the printer, the user has no real control over this, nor probably knows it even exists.  If we are lucky, the document is overwritten when the next print job comes through, but this is very dependent on the brand and model of printer and how the printer was initially set up by the administrator.

Slightly different to the straight printing of documents, scanning of documents or receiving faxes on a multi-functional printer writes documents to non-volatile areas of memory, usually a hard disk drive.  If documents are not manually removed, they will remain there indefinitely, often long forgotten by the original user that scanned the document or received the fax.

In either of these scenarios, improper disposal of a decommissioned printer could have catastrophic consequences for a company.  Leased printers may be returned to the leasing company for resale. Purchased printers are discarded in the trash or sold at auction or online via auction sites such as eBay. Either way, countless sensitive documents could pass into the hands of nefarious individuals.  While the leaking of some documents could financially affect organizations, leaking personal information pertaining to hundreds or thousands of customers or clients could have reputation ramifications that could destroy a company.

Most organizations do not realize the full potential of their printers or the functionality they have available.  While much functionality is non-security related, these functions have considerable impact on the security of the data within an organization and need to be understood and addressed.  These include, but are not limited to:

1. The ability to copy files to Windows or Unix SMB file servers

2. The ability to email scanned files to a user

3. Functionality that allows printers to receive faxes and then forward the fax onto predefined users via multiple methods, such as email or as another fax, and

4. The ability to store files which have been scanned, printed, emailed or uploaded locally on the printer.

While the previous data leakage scenarios have been accidental in nature, data remaining on printers could be the target of an educated attacker, one that understands the value of data residing on printers and who has the ability to compromise that data.  While organizations invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure their network, dividing networks and systems into zones of trust with firewalls, Intrusion Prevention Systems and other network access control points, have they rarely considered where printers are logically placed within the network.  In most cases, they are located among the users, or in some organizations, even on the server networks.  Some organizations do not even have zones of trust and the printers exist among users, servers and even Internet accessible systems.  In the worst case scenarios, the printers may even be Internet accessible themselves.  Printers are not seen as critical devices, and as such, are not secured in their own zone of trust where access to management interfaces is not accessible except to trusted printer administrators.  

By limiting access to these interfaces, compromise of the data housed on these printers becomes exceedingly difficult.

While most printers have the capability to authenticate both printer administrators or normal printer users, the majority of the time, this functionality is disabled or left in its default state; disabled.  Five minutes on Google and an attacker will be able to find the default password to almost any printer.  Once administrator access is gained to a printer, it takes little time and even less ability to make changes to settings that could be catastrophic to an organization.  While it would be little but annoying to find yourself locked out of your printer, or the interface changed to another language, so no-one could control the printer, if the attacker was to redirect your printing or copy documents to a location outside the internal network, depending on the contents of the file, it could ruin an organization.

So how does an organization protect itself against attacks against printers and leakage of sensitive data?

A few simple steps:

1. Disable unnecessary functionality.  If any function within the printer is not required within your business, disable it.  The less services or functions a printer has running, the less avenues of attack or leakage the printer has.

2. Add printers to your data retention and disposal policies.  Make sure all memory inside printers is disposed of via secure destruction or secure wiping when printers are decommissioned.

3. Ensure data is overwritten immediately after printing.  This requires the printer in use to support this functionality, but if your data is highly sensitive, this should be a priority when looking at new printers.

4. Print from memory rather than hard disk drive if available.

5. Use the secure printing option, if available, so printouts do not start before you reach the printer and enter your password.  How often have you hit print, walked to the printer and your printout is no-where to be seen, only to turn up lying on a table days or even weeks later?

6. Examine where printers are logically located within the network.  Printer management interfaces should be restricted and only accessible from defined management IP's.  Ensure printers are never accessible from the Internet.  Assess whether some or all printers should be located within their own zone of trust.

7. Use the inbuilt security within the printer to restrict who has access, what access they have and where they may access from.

Securing printers should be an integral part of securing your data.  Security policies should exist that address the risks and define how printers should be secured.  Develop printer security guidelines and procedures for implementation of new printers and follow these standards to ensure all printers are secured and do not become a high risk to your organization.  By securing your printers, you are contributing to your overall layered security model and protecting your organization's critical data along with its reputation.

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