Sharing print resources within a workgroup can be easy to do, but most of us fall into some standard traps when we first try it. Here, then, are our top 10 tips for workgroup printing.
1. Buy a printer with a network adaptor
Many workgroup printers come with either a built-in LAN adaptor or an optional one. Even if you only have one computer that's likely to use that printer, go for the LAN option if it's not built in as standard. In this way, when the day inevitably arrives for you to add a second client workstation, you've nothing to worry about.
2. Use native, direct printing if you can
Many printers can talk natively to various clients (e.g. Macs can communicate natively with printers that have AppleTalk capabilities) without the need to hand-configure things such as IP addresses. Where this is an option, make the most of it a rule of thumb is that you should try to focus on protocols that have the least onerous set of prerequisites. This approach means that when, say, your DHCP world goes all screwy, your graphics department can still print.
3. Use a dedicated print server if you can't connect direct
Some printers don't have built-in network adaptors, and so you can't just connect them to a LAN and share them among your workgroup. Don't ever be tempted to connect the printer to someone's desktop PC and use (say) the built-in sharing facility of Windows you're placing too much reliance on that PC, which the user can reboot, switch off or drop off the desk at will. Dedicated print servers that can connect, say, a USB-based printer to an Ethernet LAN cost 50 quid or less, and they're worth every penny.
4. Look at the spec of your print server
Check the spec of your print server box correctly. We've seen cheap-and-cheerful products that work just great except that they have esoteric little bugs (such as the inability to present non-Postscript printers to Macintosh workstations). If you have to spend a few more pounds to ensure compatibility, do it.
5. Avoid cross-platform, server-based print queuing
The concept that gives us the most grief over and over again is cross-platform printer sharing. By this we mean, say, connecting a Mac server to a printer using native AppleTalk protocols and then trying to share that printer via a server-based queue using Windows SMB protocols. There are so many steps in the chain that when you get a problem, it can be a nightmare to track down and fix.
In such cases, see if there are non-native ways to make a direct connection from workstation to printer. For instance, printers that can't do SMB (native Windows) sharing may well be able to do Unix-style LPD printer sharing, which all the modern versions of Windows are able to do too. Okay, you have to nail down the IP address of the printer to a fixed value, but in the absence of a more convenient native approach, a direct, non-native approach is far better than a cross-platform, server-based one.
6. Use the right driver
Sounds stupid, we know, but it's all to easy to select the wrong driver for a given printer. Just because a Bloggs XYZ123 looks like a Bloggs XYZ120, though, doesn't mean that they're the same underneath in fact they probably aren't, otherwise Bloggs wouldn't have bothered making two different models. Having exactly the right driver means being able to use all of the printer's features correctly, not just most of them particularly when it comes to add-on options (see below).
7. Use your trays wisely
It's common for workgroup printers to have multiple paper trays, as standard and/or as optional extras. Make the most of such features, as they enable you to (say) have letter-headed paper in tray 1, plain paper in tray 2 and shiny photo paper in tray 3. Assuming you took heed of point (6) above, you'll have the right drivers on your workstations, which means you can define custom print settings for your users (so when they select the "Letterhead" setting, they know the document will print on letter-head paper, as the driver is able to tell the printer which tray to use).
8. Write a cheat-sheet
Most printers have their little foibles, and it's best that you let the users know sooner rather than later how to get around them. Probably the most common is when someone tries to print to "Letter" size paper when the printer knows it has A4 many printers have a button you can press to tell it: "I don't care, just print on whatever you've got", but if you can document this and stick it on the wall/desk beside the printer, it'll save a whole lot of user whingeing.
9. Work out how to do common tasks
Aside from users saying: "The printer's telling me I have the wrong size paper", the next most popular question is: "How do I print envelopes?" Not far behind that (at least, for those whose printers don't have duplex units) is: "Which way up/around do I put the paper to print double-sided?" (Note that the latter question usually flies in the face of a little imprint that the vendors emboss into the paper tray for the sole purpose of actually telling them that. Document how you do all this stuff before you give the users the printer, and you'll save hours on the phone.
10. Calculate your costs
There comes a time when it's significantly cheaper to walk to the photocopier than it is to print zillions of copies on a printer. And particularly with colour printing, it doesn't take many copies before it would be cheaper to drive to the local copy-shop. Work out your costs (remember, alongside your consumables budget, to allow for replacing semi-permanent components such as fuser units after however many thousand pages) and let the staff know the rules of engagement!