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“I just want to print”

Issue #0937/1 – During a round table session at a recent industry briefing, a guest presenter made that – oh, so classic – comment, “I just want to print”. Although there are many, many different aspects to this simple statement, it often seems as if it just isn’t going to be like that.

The key to the whole thing is that the vast majority of users (including myself) really are interested only in clicking the ‘Print’ button and expecting everything to just ‘happen’. Unless there are specific reasons for making adjustments to the print settings, they don’t really want even to confirm the print command, let alone enter the print ‘properties’. If at all possible, the one-click print command from Microsoft Office applications would be the preferred option.

However, there are pitfalls to this easy-print approach and printer and software manufacturers do not necessarily make it easy for users.

Firstly, and probably most importantly, there is a very high potential for wasted pages and paper, thereby increasing the overall Total Cost of Printing.

  • Default print settings are only as good as the decision-making behind the settings. For instance, if the printer manager (whether you, as the printer owner, or the IT director of a large company) decides that default printing should be single-sided when duplex is available, then a user will need to change settings whenever a duplex job is required – but may not bother to do so.
  • Therefore, if ‘Print’ is hit indiscriminately, there is huge potential for the first print run to be wasted, perhaps:
    • the page orientation needed changing
    • the paper type or quality setting was not best-suited to the output
    • a spreadsheet did not quite fit to a single page
    • the wrong media was in the printer from a previous job
    • the wrong paper feed was selected!
  • In fact, one of the most common causes of wastage at this point is printing the whole document accidentally when only a single page was required – because the ‘Current Page’ button was not checked.
Wasted paper stackWasted paper stack

Probably the main reason that I rarely use the quick print button in MS Office is that I like to confirm that the print job will produce exactly what I want first time – wasted pages annoy me even more than taking the few seconds to check the settings. This may appear eccentric and paranoid but I do still occasionally forget to select the ‘Current Page’ option and end up with half a dozen pages being printed before I can cancel the job and resend it correctly – more time wasted as well as the paper and ink/toner!

On a slightly different note, one of the things that annoys me most about printing from the internet is that, frequently, a second page is printed that contains only the internet page header information, or perhaps a small amount of irrelevant menu information as well, but no useful or desired information.

This wastes a sheet of paper, a small amount of time and a small amount of ink or toner every time this occurs. I cannot count the number of pieces of paper that have been spoiled for me as a result of not knowing that a second page would be printed from an internet page – and I kick myself every time it happens and think, “I just want to print!” and try to remember to click on ‘Print page 1 to 1’ for the next time I print from the internet.

There is no intelligence applied to internet printing to avoid a single line being printed on a sheet and no means for the user even to preview the print job, let alone tell the system to fit the job to a single page. Perhaps Microsoft Office 2010 is really onto a winning feature here with a print preview provided as standard as soon as the ‘Print’ command is selected (see for further description and comment)!

While internet printing is now very much better, and is more efficient than it used to be five years ago, achieving a really attractive print, with nothing missing and everything readable, is not necessarily as straightforward as it may seem.

It is partly for this reason that applications such as Hewlett-Packard’s HP Smart Web Printing have a place in the print toolbox, allowing users to pull together an effective page of content for printing, from a number of different online sources if required. Even this does not actually address the printing frustrations caused by web browsers themselves though (nor is it designed to).

Secondly, how about human failure as a factor? By this I mostly mean, ‘do you really need to print in the first place’? Sometimes it is just too easy to hit print without even considering whether that print job is necessary or not. If the page is required for archiving or records, could it be saved as a PDF and stored digitally instead of printing it and storing it manually (with all the costs associated with handling and storing paper)? Maybe company systems and policies need to be reviewed to reflect this savings potential and a digital store created on the company network for these documents to be sent to.

Taking this one stage further, how many sheets are printed for no apparent reason, globally, I wonder – often as not just left lying in the printer out-tray? I was witness to a classic example of this a few years ago when I visited the trading floor of a major international bank. There were printers everywhere – at least two printers per 10 personnel. Also everywhere, and I mean everywhere, were stacks of unclaimed paper in the printers’ out-trays and next to the printers – thousands of pages across the trading floor.

I also witnessed this syndrome closer to home recently. Consider the scenario of a person printing directions and agenda for an event or conference and then setting off for the event (several days later!) still without bothering to collect the pages from the printer! It happens! Not only are the pages wasted at the end of the day but the individual also has to find another way to locate the venue.

So, what else can we consider to impact on “I just want to print”?

Apart from the basic operational and driver factors already considered, the most important factor must be encapsulated in the whole reliability issue. Here, we can include a wide variety of factors:

  • Quality of setup/installation software and routines
  • Paper feed errors/failures
  • Hardware (mechanical and electronic) reliability – within warranty
  • Hardware (mechanical and electronic) reliability – outside warranty
  • Supplies reliability
Trash a printerWhat would you really like
to do with your printer?

These issues will be examined in a series of articles over the next few weeks, to highlight how easily things can go wrong and, just as importantly, what scale of costs can be associated with any kind of printer failure.

If, for any reason, the printer fails to produce the printed page exactly as desired, first time, there is a resulting frustration building within the user. This may be as simple as the ‘ink out’ or ‘toner out’ message being given, requiring the cartridge to be changed. But, it could also be far more serious and costly – and often avoidable – resulting in the cry going up, “I just want to print”!

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