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Printing Remotely: One Solution

In the trenches print provider discovers time saver

As with so many small graphic-arts businesses, I have a project schedule that has tight deadlines and I often have large swells in the volume of work to do. Although I'm not in a position to increase my staff size to accommodate those increases in volume, I still need to fulfill the production commitments. Often, the simple answer is to tackle some work during my normal off hours"? typically it's the actual outputting of files that gets handled in "non-prime-time."

I live 26 miles from work, and have two very active children in elementary school. Like many of you, I don't want to shortchange my children by becoming a workaholic "?but I still have to get the job done. So, after a normal workday, I make my long commute home, have dinner with my family, and go to soccer practice or dance lessons. Finally, around 8:30, I get my kids to bed and try to complete at least one full conversation with my wife.

Then, however, it's time for round two: I get in my car, drive back to work and, with no interruptions, I'm able to send a whole bunch of files to the printer. I can get so much done in just a couple of hours! By about 2 am, I'm home and in bed.

I decided, however, that there had to be a better way. I don't mind the additional work, but if only I didn't have to drive back to the office to accomplish it.

After talking with our tech-support people at my office, I realized that with very little effort I could print remotely from my computer at home. In fact, it turned out that I had everything I needed with my existing office computer and printer. It just never dawned on me that I could make it all come together so easily.

First, our tech-support people gave me a VPN (virtual private network)"?a "tunnel" through the firewall, requiring a password and VPN address. Next, I needed a static IP address for my printer and work computer. On my work computer, which already had remote-access software installed"?in my case, Netopia's Timbuktu Pro"?I set up a remote username and password. My work computer was now ready.

I then set up my home computer, onto which I loaded the Timbuktu Pro software. Using my VPN server address, username, and password, I configured my Internet connection setting. I was ready for a trial run.

I left my work computer on when I went home the next day, making sure to set the power saving settings to "never sleep." I loaded a 100-ft roll of media onto our HP printer's take-up reel.

At home, I selected "VPN" in my Internet connection settings and selected "connect." I then started Timbuktu Pro, selected "new connection," and entered the IP address of my work computer, and hit the enter key. Finally, I entered my username and password.

Instantly, I was able to see my work computer screen on my home computer. The beauty of this is that I was not sending any large files over the Internet"?rather I was just remotely controlling my work computer from my home computer. So, as with any normal printing job where I was actually at my office desk, I could open a file, configure the page, and send the file to the printer. In addition, I was not limited to just my own work computer"?I could also access all of my department's computers (as long as I had the IP addresses), which could come in handy if the job resided on another computer besides my own.

Two other aspects to note here:

  • Our HP Designjet 5000 psUV printer has an internal Jetdirect network card, which allows browser access through an IP address. With this feature, I could check out how much ink was left in each cartridge, how much print media was on the roll, whether nesting was on or off, etc. I could even manage the job queue by pulling up previous jobs and printing additional copies. Some other printers in the marketplace have similar internal print servers that allow for like functions.
  • For the icing on the cake, I added an Apple iSight camera ($149) to the work computer, positioning it so that I could view the printer. I leave a light on when I go home, and, with the camera, I can actually see the printer live while it's printing. I can see if I have forgotten to load media, for instance, or if the paper has "kinked" and isn't correctly winding onto the paper reel (the latter is something the printer's sensor may not catch but I can see first-hand with the help of the camera).
  • Now, on any given night, I can bring home a stack of work orders, and send prints without having to make the long drive back to work. Not only is there a substantial time savings, but with the cost of gasoline these days, there's a pure dollar savings as well.

    Remote Access Options Several choices are available when it comes to remote-access software, here are just a few:

    • NetOp Remote Control, from Binary Research International: $179.55, www.remoteadministrator.com
    • RealVNC: free download, www.realvnc.com
    • TightVNC: free download, www.tightvnc.com
    • Timbuktu Pro, from Netopia: $94.95 (single user, Mac), $159.95 (twin-pack, Windows), www.netopia.com
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