Have Printer Will Travel

Thursday Feb 10th 2005 by Drew Robb
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A portable printer could be the missing link in your mobile operation. Take a look at what's available to keep your SMB moving forward.

Mobile printing isn't just convenient, it can add to your bottom line. Imagine you've found an interested buyer for a prime piece of property, but you don't have a printed fact sheet handy, and you're away from the office.

Or perhaps you're visiting a prospective client and just finished the proposal you are supposed to hand to him in ten minutes, but there's no Kinko's in sight.

Think of the edge you'd gain on your competitors if you could print out the estimate you just made to a potential customer instead of returning to your office and mailing it.

If any of these scenarios apply, you should be slapping yourself on the forehead saying, "I need a portable printer"

Unfortunately, peripherals have not mirrored the big advances in laptop and PDA technology. "There aren't a lot of players in portable printing and not many models from which to choose," said Jennifer Thorwart, senior research analyst covering printers for IDC in Framingham, Mass.

The good news is that the dearth of portable printing options is gradually changing. Mobile printing is a trend that vendors can no longer ignore as the ranks of road warriors continues to swell. After all, there are nearly 130 million notebooks and handhelds in use today.

"The idea that mobile printing is expensive and used only by professionals that travel extensively is finally being seen as a myth," says Kriss Kirchhoff, Vice President Connectivity, Business Imaging and Printing for HP. "Today's business environment is shifting toward mobile printing," he said. "Based on our research and industry reports, SMBs will increasingly embrace mobile technology in the years to come."

Pick A Printer
When it comes to printer selection, most of the main printer companies now sell portable printers. HP, Canon, Brother and others offer an increasingly wide selection. You'll find printers that can handle simple black-and-white documents, full-color or photo quality images and high-definition laser output.

Clearly defining your exact needs will help you find the right model. What type of printing will you be doing? How important is the quality? Do you need color or not? And most important of all, how much material do you print?

The most versatile of all printers is the inkjet. They can produce graphics, photographs and text. The accuracy and quality is mainly based on dots per inch (dpi). Obviously, the more dots of ink the better in terms of shades and colors in photographs and in the sharpness of text or graphics.

However, a word of caution here, dpi varies with colors, shading, fonts and even the type of ink used. You have to look at the quality yourself, and that means going to reputable dealer and asking for a demonstration. Inkjets use different types of paper, depending on the task at hand, and the kind of paper you use influences the print quality. For instance, photographs require photographic paper, while business letters should be done on heavier bond than reports and other documents.

Portable inkjets prices vary. However, you should be able to pick up a decent model for under $300.00. The Canon i 80, for example, is only 12.4 in x 6.9 in x 2 inches, prints 14 pages-per-minute (ppm) &#151 fast for a portable &#151 at about 4800 x 1200 dpi for color, and it costs less than $250.00. It weighs about four pounds.

Another possibility is the HP Deskjet 450ci. It costs $249, prints up to nine ppm at 4800 x 1200 dpi (color), weighs 4.2 pounds, and it's 13.3 x 3.2 x 6.5 inches.


 HP Deskjet 450ci
Road Writer &#151 Versatile inkjet printers, like HP's Deskjet 450ci, can handle text, graphics and photographs.

Inkjet Alternatives
If your presentations run to hundreds of pages, then an inkjet printer may not be the wisest investment. Instead, a laser printer may be a better bet, especially for black-and-white documents.

The initial cost is around $700.00, but lasers use long-lasting toner instead of expensive ink cartridges. If you need high-volume of printing on the road, a laser printer may cost you less in the long run.

If all you print are invoices and receipts, you might consider thermal printers. The original fax machines used this print transfer method although they changed over to plain paper and toner, because thermal paper is costly. If you choose this route, find a good supplier and use the paper sparingly.

Thermal printers typically cost less than other printers mainly because they don't use toner or ink. Citizen has a good line. Or if you want to go really light, Brother offers the MPrint MW-100, a sort of hybrid thermal printer that works with Smart Phones, PDAs and laptops. It's only 0.70 inches thick, weighs less than 10 ounces, offers 300 dpi and up to four ppm for $299.

This last option &#151 the dot matrix printer &#151 has been around almost as long as the mainframe, and it's possible that some small businesses have never seen one. These were the workhorse printers and were present in most companies until the mid-nineties. The paper quality was poor and the sheets were passed through the machine via tear-away edges with holes in them. Clerks would then have to rip off the edges and tear off their documents before filing. Surprisingly, they are still available from IBM, but not as a mobile accessory. Intermec has created the a portable dot matrix product called PK 80 using wireless technology.


 Brother MPrint MW-100
Port-A-Peripheral &#151 Brother's 10-ounce MPrint MW-100 works with a variety of Smart Phones, PDAs and notebooks.

Relative Portability
It's also important to realize that some portable printers are actually far more portable than others. While the Brother MPrint weights 10 ounces and fits in your pocket, others are as heavy, or perhaps heavier, than the laptop to which it's attached. No matter which printer you choose, the likelihood is that you'll see a lot more portable printing in the years ahead.

"Today's business environment is shifting toward mobile printing," say HP's Kirchhoff. "Based on our research and industry reports, mobile technology will increasingly be embraced by SMBs in the years to come."

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.

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