By Katherine Murray
Personal or small-office printers have been fundamental components of our computing environment since the earliest PCs. But they can also be expensive and temperamental beasts.
With the growing prevalence of cloud computing, PDFs, and other means of handling digital documents, it’s time to re-evaluate your printing practices.
Save time and money with portable documents
In the 1980s, the printer room in a company was a gathering place; you might catch up on the latest office gossip while you waited for a big machine to collate and print 14 35-page documents for the afternoon meeting. Today, instead of waiting by the printer, you can simply create an e-mail message, enter the recipients, attach a digital PDF of that 35-page document, and click Send. Fast and easy (though gossip will have to wait for lunch). Consider how much time, paper, and energy were saved!
Although the chances are good you create you documents in Word, it’s not the best format for distributing documents to others. Send them as PDFs (Portable Document Format), which are easily read by others — whether they have the program you used to create the document or not. PDF preserves all the elements of a printed document. Recipients of the file do need Adobe Reader (download page) or Foxit Reader (page) to be able to view the file, but that’s available online as a fast and free download.
The process of creating a PDF is significantly easier than it was a few years ago. Many popular business applications today (including Office 2010) include a Save as PDF option. And there are free and low-cost alternatives to Adobe’s PDF creation application — Acrobat. A quick Google search will turn up sites such as PDFCreator, CutePDF, and deskPDF. You can even create PDFs from your Google Docs (select File/Download as/PDF).
Digital signatures can replace a John Hancock
Many of us might still think that a legal signature requires printing documents and conveying them to the recipients whose autographs are required on the dotted line. That simple process often involved mailings, messenger services, or other transfer costs — and certainly time. Electronic signatures are fast, easy, and sometimes free. For example, DocuSign (info page), an online e-signature tool, enables you to create, mark, and send up to five documents per month for digital signatures at no cost. If your signature requirements are higher than the maximum free allotment, or you have multiple users you want to add to the account, you can sign up for a paid version of DocuSign to handle the load.
Back up and share files in the Cloud
Another common use of printers is to print backup copies of information we might need again someday. For example, if you ordered something online, chances are you printed and saved the receipt; if you found an interesting article, you printed it and filed it away for future reference. If you had a letter from a friend, a sign-up sheet for softball, or a household-inventory listing, you probably printed it and stuck it into an accordion folder for safekeeping.
Today, there are many choices for backing up information digitally — typically physical devices such as external hard drives, flash drives, or writeable CDs and DVDs.