Although more and more companies are trying to transform into a
"paperless office," you will undoubtedly see a printer somewhere. Even
if the office is paperless internally, it will have to use paper of some kind to
communicate with the rest of the world.
Printers come in many different
shapes, sizes, formats, means of connection to the system, ways of printing
characters, speeds, and so on. The two most common ways to connect printers are
by serial port or parallel port. Linux also supports Hewlett-Packard Laser Jet
printers equipped with JetDirect cards. These cards allow the printer to be
attached directly to a network,
thereby increasing its speed. I'll talk more
about these later. In addition, although they are not supported by Linux as of
this writing, SCSI
printers have appeared on the market.
sections, we talked about serial and parallel connections, so I don't need to go
into detail about them. I do talk about these connections in more detail in the
second part of the book, however, when I talk about installing and configuring
There are two kinds of printers that, although were once very
common, are now making way for more advanced successors: the daisy-wheel and
chain printers. The distinction these printers had is that they had preformed
In the case of a daisy-wheel printer, printing was
accomplished by means of a wheel, where the characters were at the end of thin
"leaves," which made the daisy shape. The wheel rotated very fast and
as the appropriate letter came into position, it was struck with a hammer that
forced the leaf with the character on it against the ink ribbon, which then
struck the paper. This mechanism uses the same principle as a normal typewriter.
In fact, there are typewriters that use the same daisy-wheel
Chain printers also have preformed letters. Instead of a wheel,
however, the letters are on a long strip called a chain. Instead of rotating,
the chain moves back and forth to bring the appropriate letter into position.
Although these printers are fairly quick, they are limited in what they
can print. You could get pretty tricky in which characters you use, and come up
with some rather cute pictures. However, these mechanisms aren't able to do
anything very detailed.
The next step in printers was the impact
dot-matrix printer. These, too, had hammers, but rather than striking preformed
letters, the hammers themselves struck the ink ribbon. Instead of a single
hammer, there was a column of usually 9 or 24 hammers, or pins. Such printers
are called 9-pin or 24-pin printers.
As the printer prints, the heads
move across the page and print out columns of dots. Depending on what character
is to be printed, some of the pins do not strike the ink ribbon. For example,
when a dash is printed, only the middle pin(s) strike the ribbon. When printing
a more complex character like an ampersand (&), the pins strike at different
times as the print head moves across the page.
As with monitors, the more
dots you have, the sharper the image. Therefore, a 24-pin printer can produce a
sharper image than one with only 9 pins. In most cases, the type of printer used
is obvious the moment you see something printed with a 9-pin printer. Some
24-pin printers require a closer look before you can tell.
began to get rid of the ink ribbon and replace the pins with little sprayers
connected to a supply of ink. Instead of striking something, these sprayers
squirt a little dot of ink onto the paper. The result, similar to that of an
impact dot-matrix printer, is what an ink jet printer does.
printers have two advantages over impact dot-matrix printers. First is the issue
of noise. Because no pins are striking the ink ribbon, the ink jet printer is
much quieter. Second, by extending the technology a little, the manufacturer
increased the number of jets in each row. Also, instead of just squirting out
black ink, you could squirt out colored ink, which is how many color printers
The drawback is the nature of the print process itself. Little
sprayers squirting ink all over the place is messy. Without regular maintenance,
ink jets can clog up.
Using a principle very similar to video systems,
laser printers can obtain very high resolution. A laser inside the printer
(hence the name) scans across a rotating drum that has been given a
static-electric charge. When the laser hits a spot on the drum, that area looses
its charge. Toner then spreads across the drum and sticks to those areas that
retain the charge. Next, the drum rolls the paper across, smashing the toner
onto the paper. Finally, the toner is fused into the paper by means of a heating
Although laser printers may appear to print a solid image, they
still work with dots. The dots are substantially smaller than those of a 24-pin
dot matrix, but they are still dots. As with video systems, the more dots, the
sharper the image. Because a laser is used to change the characteristics of the
drum, the areas effected are very small. Therefore, with laser printers, you can
get resolutions of even 300dpi on even the least expensive printers. Newer
printers are approaching 1,200dpi, which is comparable to photographs.
Some laser printers, like HP's LaserJet, use a technology called
resolution enhancement. Although there are still a limited number of
dots-per-inch, the size of each dot can be altered, thereby changing the
Keep in mind that printers have the same
problem with resolution as do video systems. The more dots desired, the more
memory is needed to process them. An 8 1/2" x 11" page with a resolution of
300dpi takes almost a megabyte
of memory to print.
With printers such as
daisy-wheel and chain printers, you really don't have this issue. Even a buffer
as small as 8K is more than sufficient to hold a whole page of text,
control characters that can change the way the other characters appear.
While such control characters may cause the text
to be printed bold or
underlined, they are relatively simple in nature. For example, underlining
normally consists of printing the character, backing up one space, then printing
Multiple-character sets (fonts) are something that this
kind of printer just can't handle. Different character sets (e.g., German) or
changing the characters form (e.g., italic) can easily be accomplished when the
letter is created "on-the-fly" with dot-matrix printers. All that is
needed is to change the way the dots are positioned, which is usually
accomplished by using escape sequences. First, an escape
character (ASCII 27) is sent to the printer to tell it that the next
character (or characters) is a command to change its behavior.
printers react differently to different escape sequences.
Although there is a
wide range of sets of escape sequences,
the two most common sets are those for
IBM Proprinters and Epson printers. Most dot-matrix printers can be configured
to behave like one of these. Some, like my (very) old Panasonic KX-P1123, can be
configured to behave like either one.
The shortcoming with this is
that you are limited to a small range of character types and sizes. Some
printers, like mine, can get around this limitation because they can print in
graphics modes as well. By viewing the page as a one complete image composed of
thousands of dots, they can get any font, any size, with any
attribute (assuming the software can handle this). This is
how printers like mine can print charts, tables, and, to some extent, pictures.
Viewing the page as a complete
image works when you have graphics or diagrams, but it's a waste of memory when
you're dealing with straight text.
Therefore, most laser printers operate in
character-mapped mode, in which the characters are stored in memory and
are the dots are generated as the page goes through the printer.
are controlled by other means than just escape sequences
of treating the page as
a single image. One most widely used means of control is Adobe Systems
Postscript page description language, which is as much a language as the
programming languages C or Pascal, with syntax and vocabulary. To use it, both
the software and the printer have to support it. However, the advantage is that
many applications allow you to print Postscript to a file. That file can then be
transferred to a remote site with a Postscript printer. The file is then sent to
a printer (as raw data) and the output is the same as though it were printed
directly from the application.
The nice thing is that the remote site does not
even have to have the same application
as long as its printer is
Selecting the best printer is more than just choosing the one with the
highest resolution and fastest print speed. Although these are two of the most
commonly quoted characteristics, they do not represent everything you need to
One commonly overlooked thing is administration. Most business are at a
single site, with a handful of people. Even if everyone had their own
printers, walking a few feet to figure out what's wrong or make changes is no
big deal. However, if you are dealing with dozens or even hundreds of printers,
spread out all over the world, physically going to the printer is not always
In many cases the only solution is to physically be at the printer, such as
adding paper or changing the toner. You hope that the people on site are
capable of doing that much However, there are a number of problems and
configuration issues that most users are notable to handle. Since calling in a
service technician for mundane issue might be too expensive, it would be able to
do some kind of administration remotely.
There are many printers on the market available that have built-in
network cards and others can be connected to printer
servers to allow you to do certain administrative functions across the network.
You simply use telnet to connect to a specific port where you get a
command line interface to the configuration options.
Although you can generally do all of the configuration across the network that
you can do locally, you still have the command line interface, which is typically
not all that easy to use.
If you can build a telnet server into the printer (or print server), why
can't you build in an HTTPD server. Well that's is what Brother did with a
you can administer any of the Brother internal or external print servers.
Their an external print servers are just like many others on the market in
that you can most any printer to it. It has both twisted-pair and thin-wire
connectors, which allows them to be placed in most any
network. In addition, the NC-2100h supports either 10 or
100Mbit Ethernet, making it perfect for high use printers.
The internal print server is basically an Ethernet
card built into the printer, with the same connectors as the external version.
This are essentially the same products with slightly different constructions,
which means the administration is identical. As with the external printer, the
Ethernet connector is auto-sensing. In addition, both support a large list of
network protocols, including:
TELNET (with user-definable ports)
SNMP(incl. proprietary MIB)
IPX/SPX (NDS and Bindery)
NetBIOS support (TCP/IP and NetBEUI)
One of the most interesting things for me was the inclusion of DHCP. I used
network printers from other companies before, which only
supported BOOTP. This meant that we either had to configure our
UNIX machines to support BOOTP, just for these printers, or
configure them by hand. With DHCP, you can configure all of your nodes using
just a single protocol.
However, if you look at the list, the Brother print servers are not just
limited to specific protocols. Basically, all of the most common protocols are
supported, allowing the Brother printers to fit into any
network environment. In addition, the
Web configuration interface allows you to switch between Printer Control
Language (PCL) and PostScript.
Near top end of the scale is the Brother HL 1660N, which is designed for very
demanding businesses. It can provide resolutions as high as 1200x600 dpi, in
256 shades of gray. Although it has a default of only 4Mb of
RAM it can be expanded to 66Mb using industry standard
SIMMs. This is an important issue, because some hardware manufacturers require
you to buy your memory upgrades directly from them, although they are the same
as what you buy from other places. The result is that you can pay as much as ten
times the streets price just to have the hardware vendors name on it. I realize
that many companies make most of their money through after sales service, but
this is ridiculous and unnecessary.
The HL-1660N is
ready to work amazingly fast. Many printers can take several minutes to warm up,
even if just in standby mode. However, the HL-1660N is usually up in about a
minute, meaning basically no waiting when you walk from your desk to the
printer. Keep in mind that if 10 people a day have to wait an average of three
minutes for the printer to warm up, that's 2.5 hours a week or over 500 hours a
The speed of printing is also another factor in determining how much
time your printer can save. Depending on the amount of text,
resolution and other factors, the HL-1660N can get up to 17 pages a minute or
just under 4 seconds per page.
The HL-1660N can also help you save paper. When you print,
you can tell the printer driver to print in "draft" mode which decreases the
resolution. This is useful for seeing exactly how the print out will look or in
cases when high quality is not necessary. In addition, it supports 2-in-1 and
4-in-1 printing so you can get multiple pages of your document on a single piece
For business with less demanding requirement and even for home
users, Brother also produces a number of printer with slightly less speed and
throughput. For example, the HL-1040 has a resolution of 600 dpi, but only gets
about 10 pages per minute. It also includes an internal processor and supports
Brothers data compression, thereby increasing throughput.
produces several color laser printers. The HL-2400C has a resolution of
300x300dpi in color mode and 1200x600dpi mono, with a throughput
of 4 and 16 pages per minute, respectively. Once again, throughput
is enhanced with an internal processor, this time with a SPARClite and a default of 32Mb
HL-2400CN is network
ready and supports all of the features discussed early
and POP3 allowing your to automatically print out incoming mail.
If you work with people like some that I do, then you will appreciate the additional
security features. The HL-2400C and the HL-2400CN both allow you to block access
to the printer based on IP
Therefore, you won't have certain users
blocking the printer by outputting all of those images they downloaded from the
One group of users whose printer needs are often forgotten as
those that are always on the road (out of sight, out of mind.) If they are
visiting a customer site, for example, it is either embarrassing or cumbersome
to get the customer to make a print out for them. Therefore, it would be nice to
have a portable printer. Many vendors provide solutions which require cumbersome
parallel cables and the inconvenience of a bulky power-supply.
answer to this is the MC-21P series of "mobile" ink jet color printers.
Connectivity to the printer for both data and power is provided by a PCMCIA
card. Although it can only get about 2.5 pages per minute, the convenience far
outweighs the delay in getting your print out. In addition, the MC-21P can print
on transparencies, as well as plain paper, which helps you make last minute
changes to your presentations, reports and so forth.
From a business
perspective it is important to look at having a single company satisfy all of
your printing needs. The larger your company the greater the need is. With a
hand full of printers, the need is not as great. However, I can speak from
experience when I say how hard it can be to manage a large number of different
kinds of printers.
Keep in mind that you not only need to deal with different
drivers, but with different quality of printouts and different
materials (i.e. toner cartridges). In addition, there is the issue of support.
You need to keep track of different warranty information, different support
numbers, as well as different problems. If you have discovered how to solve one
specific problem on one printer, you will end up having to call to another
vendor when the problem arises on a different printer.
One thing Brother
printers and other devices emphasize is straight-through printing. This can make
them slightly larger than similar devices from other vendors. However, I get
annoyed when my pages come out with a slight curve to them.
provides multi-function printers, which are slightly different than their
multi-function centers. As with the multi-function centers, these provide
printer, scanner and copier functionality, but no fax or other communication.
The MFC-P2000, for example, is a laser printer, which gets up to 10 pages per
minutes with a resolution of 600x600, which is perfect for the small or home
office. It can scan at the same resolution and comes with a copy of the Xerox
TextBridge OCR soft. So, what do you get when you combine the functionality of a
scanner with that of a printer? A copier, which is the third function the
MFC-P2000 provides. It, too, has a built-in processors and warms up in under a
Keep in mind this is not all that Brother has to offer. I barely
touch on what printers and multi-function device are available. If I hadn't I
would have needed an entire book. To find the exact printer to suit your needs,
check out the brother web site (www.brother.com)
There are also a number of
ink jet printers that brother produces. At the high end of the scale is the
HS-5300. This gives you a resolution of 600x600, with a quality that is
extremely close to a laser printer. It too comes with a built-in processor and
default 24 Mb
but can be increased up to 72Mb. As an upgrade option, you
can get it with the NC-2010H network
card, which then gives it the same
functionality as any of the other Brother network
has the built in compressor of the driver, which helps increase speed across
In addition, the ink cartridges are replaced through a panel in the
front of the printer. No need to open up the cover and deal with the cartridge
attached to the print head.
One important aspect that I often see overlooked
with printers is the total cost of ownership. Some companies will consider it
for their computers, but often overlook it for their printers. The reason is
often that many people are not aware of what aspects can increase the total cost
of owning a printer. One important aspect is the expendable materials that have
to be replenished at regular intervals or the parts that can wear out and need
to be replaced.
Let's take a laser printer as an example. As you print, you
use toner and eventually you will need to replace the toner cartridge. Normally,
there is at least one cartridge provided by the vendor when you first purchase
the printer. Therefore, you may not be aware of how much a new toner cartridge costs. In
many cases, it can be anywhere from $50 to $100, or more. The more often you have
to change the toner cartridge the more you pay in total for the toner and the
more the total cost of ownership.
Let's take two theoretical printers. One
costs $300 and the other $500. Assume that both have the exact same quality and speed,
and each can print 10,000 pages before the toner needs to be replaced. You might
think that $300 printer is less expensive. Let's assume that the toner cartridge
for the $300 printer costs $70, but the one for the $500 printer costs only $50.
It has either 10 or
100Mbit Ethernet interface, making it reasonable to expect the printer to
last 3 years and in that time, you also expect to print over 200,000 copies.
This means, you will need to buy twenty new cartridges. With a price difference
of $20, that means you will pay $400 extra for the toner cartridges for the less
expensive printer. Therefore, the more expensive printer actually comes out
Unfortunately, the calculations
are not always as easy as that. Often the total number of pages you can print
with a single cartridge will differ from printer to printer. Therefore, you need
to first make an estimate of how many pages you will print during the expected
lifetime of the printer and then calculate how many cartridges your will need.
In addition, you need to find out how long parts like the drum will last before
it needs to be replaced. This also adds to the total cost. When you have done
your calculations, the best choice is the printer that has the lowest cost per
This is one place where I often seen people complain about Brother
printers. If you are using your printer at home with just a couple of dozen
pages per month, then perhaps many of the Brother printers are not for you.
However, once you start getting toward hundreds or thousands of pages per month,
this is where Brother printers become extremely attractive. In some cases,
Brother printer can be as little as half as much per page.
Another problem I
often see is buying generic toner or ink. As with other products, generic or
less known printer supplies are often cheaper than their brand-name counter
parts. I intentionally used the word "cheaper" here, as such products often take
on the other meaning of "cheap." For example, I have found many vendors who sell
ink for ink-jet printers that has a lot higher water content than the ink from
the printer vendor. It doesn't dry as quickly and therefore produces a less than
acceptable printout. (Maybe it's okay for a draft, but nothing you would want to
send to a customer.)
However, this is not always the case and it often depend
on the paper. Therefore, you might want to test a single cartridge and package
of paper before you buy them in bulk.
With color printers another place to
save money is if it is a color printer and there are separate cartridges for
each color. If your company logo has red letter on a yellow background, then you
might end up using more yellow and magenta. The cyan cartridge could be almost
full, but you end up having to through the ink away if there are separate
You should also look into refills for the ink cartridges. This
usually allows you to refill a specific color, without having to replace the
entire cartridge. However, this can be a messy job if you are not familiar with
it. In addition, how easy it is to use the refills will be different from vendor
to vendor. If you only do refills a few times a year, the savings compared to
buying completely new cartridges may not be worth the hassle.