[IMGCAP(1)]We’ve all done it. Printed something out and forgotten it was lying in the output tray of the printer. The cliché of printing a resume and having someone finding it has been played out in many movies, but other than resumes or job applications, there are scores of sensitive documents that really shouldn’t be left exposed to prying eyes. Unless you’re a sole practitioner, if the printer is located more than several feet from your computer, either you rush over to it when printing sensitive documents, or you use another solution.

Other solutions, though probably not all that common, do exist. The one most often implemented is pull-printing, sometimes also called “follow-me” printing.

In its most basic form, pull printing involves printing a document to a secure server or to a hard disk contained in a multifunction product (MFP) or copier/printer, which is then accessed when a retrieval code or other authorization, such as an RFID swipe card, is entered at the device. Some of these applications are free, but most have at least some cost associated with them. Many of them are applicable to specific printers and MFPs, which may put them out of the running for you.

Many printer vendors offer some sort of pull-printing, though if you ask about it in an office supply or big box store it’s likely that you will get a blank stare. That’s because pull-printing, for the most part, is relegated to the big bucks office MFPs and copiers.

I’ve worked with a few software private print software solutions, but to me, there’s no clear winner. Most of the print accounting systems include some hold-and-release capability. Papercut, Nuance, and PrinterLogic are some of the companies in this market space. But these are generally somewhat complex and expensive solutions for smaller practices.

Xerox PrintSafe is another solution that I’ve tested. It’s primarily for Xerox devices with EIP (extensible interface platform) embedded technology. This is Xerox’s technology for running apps directly on a printer or MFP. Non-Xerox printers, MFPs or older Xerox devices that don’t have this technology can be used with PrintSafe, but require an Eltec Network Appliance which adds to the per-unit cost.

PrintSafe is installed on its own server, and each PC on which you want to incorporate secure printing has a client.

When you print, it’s to the PrintSafe server, which holds the job until you release it at the print device. Depending on how much you want security, the licensing isn’t too expensive: $15 for the server software and $200 (or less with multiple licenses) for each device that will be used as an output.

But for many users, especially in small practices, that licensing fee is going to be prohibitive.

The Best Things in Life are Free

Depending on your printer vendor, there may be free or low-cost solutions to the print privacy problem. For example, HP offers pull print solutions for some of their internet connected printers and MFPs as a function of the vendor’s JetAdvantage Private Print package. This service is free with selected Laserjet and Officejet SMB printers and MFPs.

To use the service, the document is “printed” to an internet account that you set up when the printer or MFP is first installed. You do this by selecting the Private Print printer option in the print drivers list. Then, at the printer, you connect to this account using the private print option in the printer or MFP’s app menu and select the document you want to print. The document is then downloaded to the printer and printed while you are standing there.

If much of your printing is done from a mobile device, you can achieve much the same print privacy by simply using one of the many free cloud printing apps and initiating the print job, from the mobile device, while you’re standing at the printer. Google Cloud Print is pretty much printer and device agnostic, and all of the major office printer/MFP vendors also have their own cloud print offering.

The way this works is that the printer has to be able to access the internet, as the cloud is being used as a sort of hold-and-forward utility. Once you have registered an internet-enabled printer, you simply sign onto the Cloud Print utility with a compatible app and print the job to the desired printer. There’s a list of apps that are compatible on Google Cloud Print’s web site. Epson, Brother, Canon, and HP all have their own apps to do remote cloud printing, as does Apple with its AirPrint.

While you can print a job while standing next to the printer for privacy, you can also use a Cloud print utility to print to a registered printer from anywhere that you have internet access, even halfway across the world.

Printer vendors including HP, Epson, and Brother all have internet connected printers, as well as their own cloud print applications. So with a bit of ingenuity you can keep your private documents safe from prying eyes, and do so with a limited, or non-existent budget.

And private printing is a nice feature to have, even in a small office, so it’s likely that other vendors will follow HP’s lead in offering on less expensive MFPs and printers. Epson already does, just not in the United States.

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