Magazine article Technology & Learning

The Fine Print: How Schools Can Get the Best Value for Their Printer Dollar

Magazine article Technology & Learning

The Fine Print: How Schools Can Get the Best Value for Their Printer Dollar

Article excerpt

Printers represent a big chunk of school districts' IT budgets. Unlike computers, however, most of the money schools spend on printers isn't on the machines themselves but on keeping them serviced and filled with toner, drums, and paper. Here are critical questions to ask before you buy.

1 What are your printing requirements?

Before you wrestle with issues such as "inkjet vs. laser" or "purchase vs. pay-per-page," determine your school or district's printing needs. It's not just a matter of figuring out how many classrooms you need to serve, but how each will use its printer. Will they be pumping out copies continuously, so that page-per-minute speed and laser capacity are paramount? Or will they only use the printer occasionally, allowing you to consider a lower-cost inkjet model?

2 What's your need for speed?

When buying printers, one acronym persists: PPM. Short for pages per minute, PPM is the best indicator of how much, or how little, a printer can do for the money.

"Speed is important for a teacher who needs to print 30 to 40 progress reports at a time," says Nancy Sintic, district technology coordinator for the 4,200-student Ashtabula Area City Schools in Ashtabula, Ohio. "Such high-volume users can't afford to wait for reports that take two minutes per page to print." In contrast, classrooms that print single images every now and then don't need to pay a premium for speed.

Another point to consider is how long it takes for a printer to produce its first page. A 60-PPM printer isn't much help if it takes 30 seconds to get the first page out!

3 What kind of quality are you looking for?

A second printer acronym that will dog you is dpi, or dots per inch. DPI describes how good the printed image will be in terms of its resolution. "Just remember that the more dots per inch, the more detailed the image printed," says Sang.Woo Kim, printer specialist at CDW-G. "This is why buying a 4,800 dpi printer to only produce documents doesn't make sense; 600 dpi will do." He adds that some manufacturers have designed their printers "to print at 600 dpi and still produce quality 4,800 dpi [images] by interpolating the dots," optimizing image detail and printing speed.

What about color? Well, since color printers use multiple toner cartridges, they cost more to operate per page than monochrome (black on white paper). So unless you really need color printing, stick to monochrome.

In the same vein, consider whether letter-size printers (8.5-by-11 inches) will suffice for your school or if some of your classes (such as art) need oversized printing capabilities. "This is where working out your needs before going shopping will pay off," says Sintic. …

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