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Direct printing vs shared print queues: which suits my business?

What’s the best way for your workplace to set up printing? Printing directly to the multi-function device (MFD) or printing via a shared queue? The former is the quickest method, but can mean no tracking, and isn’t highly secure if you have a large workforce. The latter is the more compliant option and unlocks control for administrators, but can slow down workflows, again, if you have a large amount of employees printing.

Like most things print, there isn’t an objective better option for all businesses. It depends on your organization’s printing needs. What advantages do you want to prioritize and what tradeoffs can you accept? What does implementation look like for your print environment? What’s your favourite chocolate bar? That last question will make more sense in the following paragraphs, I promise.

Direct printing and shared print queues: what’s the difference?

Direct printing is when each computer in your network has its own printer connected to it, either physically or wirelessly. Each user can print directly to their own printer without going through a server or a shared queue. Often the printer will be found on their desk or very nearby. Some offices will have a print congiured for direct printing for the entire space or for a zone of workers.

Shared print queues are when multiple computers in your network send their print jobs to a central server or a dedicated print server, which then distributes them to one or more printers connected to it. This means that users share the same printer or printers and have to wait for their turn to print. You’ll often see this in large organizations with lots of employees and printers.

Advantages of shared print queues

If you’ve ever had to fight for the last square of a chocolate bar between siblings, you’ll know every well, that in some situations, sharing can be inconvenient. So why do workplaces use shared print queues?

  • Saving space and resources: You don’t need to have a printer for each computer, which reduces clutter and power consumption. You can also use fewer and more efficient printers that can handle higher volumes and speeds.
  • Saving money: You can save on the cost of buying and maintaining multiple printers and consumables, such as ink, toner, and paper. You can also negotiate better deals with vendors for bulk purchases and service contracts.
  • Improving productivity and collaboration: You can reduce the waiting time for printing by using priority settings and load-balancing features. You can also enable BYOD printing so users can access printers from different locations and devices, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
  • Enhancing security and compliance: You can control who can access which printers and what they can print by using authentication and authorization features. You can also monitor and audit the printing activity and usage by using reporting and analytics tools. This can help you prevent unauthorized printing, protect sensitive data, and comply with regulations.

Security considerations for direct printing

Direct printing may seem more secure and convenient than shared print queues. After all, each user has their own printer and they don’t have to share. Like a single child who gets all the chocolate bar to themselves. But the main tradeoff with direct printing is a lack of control and security. 

  • Exposing data in transit: When you print directly from your computer to your printer, the data may be intercepted or tampered with by hackers or malicious insiders who have access to your network or wireless connection. This can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your data.
  • Exposing data at rest: When you print directly from your computer to your printer, the data may be stored on your printer’s memory or hard drive, which can be accessed by unauthorized parties who have physical access to your printer or remote access to your printer’s web interface. This can expose your data to theft, loss, or damage.
  • Exposing data in use: When you print directly from your computer to your printer, the data may be visible to anyone who can see your printer or the printed output. This can expose your data to unauthorized disclosure or misuse.
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Security considerations for shared print queues

Shared print queues may seem less secure than direct printing. Makes sens, right? Sharing printers with others means more hands coming close to potentially sensitive documents. But shared print queues are objectively the more secure option, because they protect your data no matter what it’s doing. 

  • Encrypting data in transit: When you print from your computer to a shared queue, the data can be encrypted by using secure protocols such as HTTPS or SSL/TLS. This can prevent hackers or malicious insiders from intercepting or tampering with your data.
  • Deleting data at rest: When you print from your computer to a shared queue, the data can be deleted from the server or the print server after it is printed by using secure deletion features such as overwrite or wipe. This can prevent unauthorized parties from accessing your data on the server or the print server.
  • Protecting data in use: When you print from your computer to a shared queue, the data can be protected by using security features like secure print released in conjunction with multi-factor authentication requiring several checkpoints for access including PIN codes, passwords, biometrics, or smart cards. This can prevent unauthorized parties from accessing your printer or the printed output.

Cost considerations of direct printing

Direct printing may seem cheaper than shared print queues because you don’t have to pay for a server or a print server to manage your printing. But there are hidden costs to consider.

  • Higher capital expenditure: You must buy more printers and consumables for each computer in your network. You also have to pay for installation and configuration costs for each printer.
  • Higher operational expenditure: You must maintain more printers and consumables for each computer in your network.

Cost considerations of shared print queues

Shared print queues may seem more expensive than direct printing. The idea of a print server itself seems like a costly addition to your print environment. However, shared print queues present cost savings in a few areas.

  • Lower capital expenditure: There’s a reason your parents made you share that block of chocolate. It’s cheaper than buying all of you your own. It’s the same reason work place opt for shared print queues. You buy fewer devices that are more efficient than smaller desktop sized printers. They do require maintenance, but your lease overtime is a more cost-effective option than more regularly replacing desktop printers.
  • Lower operational expenditure: Less devices means less power consumption, less ink, toner, and paper purchases. Not to mention the monitoring and analytic tools available with a shared print queue mean you stay on top of print usage, further keeping an eye on how much your printing is costing your organization.

Choosing the right approach

The best approach depends on your business needs, goals, and preferences. 

  • The size and structure of your network: The size of the chocolate bar, even if you’re sharing, depends on how manysiblings you have. Same with your print environment. The bigger the bite your users take, the bigger the chocolate bar, or amount of printers, you’ll need. 
  • The type and volume of your printing: If I can continue to overuse my chocolate bar analogy, which is what I do best, what chocolate bar you buy depends on your tastes: Peanuts? Caramel? Wafer? Nougat? The endless debate… mint? Get just as granular with your printing as you do your favourite type of chocolate. What kind of documents do you print? How many pages do you print per day, week, or month? How fast do you need to print them?
  • The security and compliance requirements of your printing: How sensitive is the data that you print? How do you protect it from unauthorized access or disclosure? How do you comply with regulations such as GDPR or HIPAA?
  • The budget and resources available for your printing: How much money can you spend on buying and maintaining printers and consumables? How much time and effort can you devote to managing and troubleshooting your printing system? Do you have money left over for chocolate bars?

We say this a lot on the PaperCut blog, but for a reason: there is no one-size-fits-all answer when choosing between direct printing and shared print queues. You tell your print vendor what your business needs, not the other way around. You pick your favourite chocolate bar, we can’t do it for you.

Evaluate the factors such as size, type, volume, security, compliance, budget, and resources of your printing system before choosing and implementing the right approach. Only then do you know which flavour chocolate bar is best. I really want to buy a chocolate bar now, for some reason…

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