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Before You Buy a Printer/Scanner/MFP - Considering Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the science of determining how to make a device -- or an environment -- healthy, comfortable, and efficient for a human to use. When purchasing a printer, scanner, or multifunction, you should consider whether the ergonomics of that particular unit is appropriate for your own needs. Here are some things to look for:

Size and Weight

While printers and scanners have become much lighter than they used to be, they can still be difficult to move for smaller people. This can be especially true of multifunctions or laser printers, both of which tend to be larger and heavier than printers or scanners.[P] Keep that in mind when purchasing a printer. If you feel you may not be able to manage the weight, find somebody to help you set it up -- and make you have access to the back connections without having to move it around.

Finding the Footprint

The "footprint" of a printer or scanner is the amount of space it takes up on a surface -- your desk, for example. When planning where to put your new device, look to see where the paper input and output trays will be located, and make sure you have allowed enough room. You should also keep in mind that your output tray may not be quite as long as the paper that will be dropping into it.

Take Control

Where you put your printer or scanner can be an issue. These days, most printer controls are duplicated by the software it comes with, so you can set almost any parameters sitting at your system. In that case, the printer can be across the room, if you want. (Keep in mind, though, that USB cables shouldn't be longer than about 16 feet.) [p] However, if you are more comfortable using the device directly, or if the machine you buy demands it, then make sure it's close enough for comfort.

Mixed Toner Cartridges

If you're using a laser printer, you will have a choice between an all-in-one toner/drum cartridge, which combines two necessary replaceable components in one, or separate toner and drum cartridges. The latter is more economical and ecological, since drum cartridges have to be replaced much less often than toner cartridges. However, if you are uncomfortable replacing cartridges, an all-in-one is usually much easier to deal with. It's your call.

On Display

Many multifunctions have small displays that help you configure them for, say, how dark the printing will be, or the size of the paper you're using. Some of these can be very easy to use, but some are so badly designed that that practically need their own manual. [p] If you're buying a multifunction, it's a good idea to try it out in a store first. See if you're comfortable with the display -- and with the way the control buttons are set up. And try several -- it's always wise to comparison shop.

Awkward Scanning

If you're only going to scan the occasional sheet of 8.5 x 11-inch paper, almost any scanner will do. However, if you're going to be scanning legal-sized sheet, or pages from books, check out that scanner carefully. Make sure that the glass is large enough to accommodate the size of document you're going to be using. And for books and other awkward sources, make sure that the lid either lifts up off its base, or comes off entirely.

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