Hard copies for easy money

The final output from a creative suite can take several forms. Material could be published on CD-Rom or DVD for children to take home, examples of good practice and good work could be placed on the school intranet for use by students and teachers, work could be displayed on whiteboards or plasma screens throughout the schools or it could be uploaded to a website for general viewing.

The most common output, though, is still likely to be the printer. It can be used to create wall displays and calendars, to enhance coursework or media such as CD covers. All of us - parents, teachers, and children - like pictures and we especially like colourful ones.

And therein lies the problem. Colour printing is expensive. Go mad on beautifully presented photo quality A4 sheets and there will be significantly less money to spend elsewhere. With printer ink reckoned to be more expensive than its equivalent weight in gold, a comprehensive printing strategy, particularly in a large school, is paramount.

Outsource work. Unless you've got a professional reprographics set-up, large-scale jobs such as leaflets and school magazines may be managed cheaper and better by a local printing firm. Similarly, it may make more economic sense to get those digital images printed up at the likes of Kodak or Jessops. There's also the option of online printing services such as www.photobox.co.uk or www.ofoto.co.uk.

Standardise, whether toner or inkjet cartridges or devices such as memory cards; interchangeability can save money.

More controversially, consider the option of third-party consumables.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) will steer you away from third-party suppliers citing incompatibilities between machine and cartridge that may lead to warrantee voiding. What they won't tell you is that the cost of replacing an entire set of original cartridges for a high-end inkjet is almost half the cost of the printer. For a balanced view at BETT call in at the Canon (A50) Epson (D100) and Inkjets and Toners (V98) stands.

What printer and why? Laser colour printing is now a viable alternative to inkjet. It's quicker, and laser printers are arguably more robust than inkjets. They don't, however, produce such lustrous images. One option might be to use a colour laser for general printing and an inkjet for specific high-quality prints. Other possibilities worth exploring are printers with wireless capability and so-called mutlifunctionals, all-in-one devices that incorporate printing, scanning, photocopying and fax capabilities.

Free up that computer. Many of the new generation of printers allow you to print directly from camera (printers and cameras that perform this function are described as PictBridge enabled) or memory card, the obvious advantage being that it doesn't tie up a computer. The trade-off is a loss of the editing functionality you'd expect with a program such as Photoshop Elements. BETT attendees will be able to discuss these options at the Canon and Epson stands.

Classroom policy: considerable savings can be made by printing draft copies in either black and white or draft mode and only using best-quality mode for final output. Let's not forget though, as Kathryn Macaulay, head of ICT at Bedford High School, points out, "that nothing beats the wonderful experience of watching pupils hold their own creation in their hands, realising their incredible ability".

Five Printers

Canon 1455 pound;79

A4 inkjet Canon's cheapest PictBridge printer

Canon i990; Epson Photo R800 pound;300

Top of the A4 inkjet printing pile. Two excellent printers but long-life prints and CD printing capacity may just shade it for the R800

Epson Photo 2100 pound;371

One of the best A3 inkjets, if not the best. High resolution, roll-paper support, paper cutter and CD printing

Epson Photo RX600 pound;280

A4 inkjet multifunctional that prints, scans, copies, has LCD screen and PictBridge and Bluetooth connectivity.

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