Printing from the System i sucks as much as printing from any other platform – but with one added twist. The System i has it’s own proprietary printing system called IPDS.
In general, the System i can talk to network enabled printers that support a PCL or PS datastream directly – they must also support a print control protocol like SNMP or the more popular PJL. If you want to attach a desktop printer, you will have to use IBMs iSeries Access. And then there’s IPDS, which some printers can support through either a option ROM, a network appliance, or a conversion software.
If you’re wondering if your printer supports PCL/PS, look it up at the manufacturers website. Here are my quick and dirty rules, which are usually 99% right:
- SOHO equipment usually doesn’t support PCL/PS
- Workgroup equipment always does – there’s a small exception for low price workgroup equipment
- B&W desktop printers above 300 CHF usually do, Color desktop printers above 500 CHF usually do
iSeries Access can be used to connect printers without a network interface, or without PCL/PS support to the System i. This functionality is quite rudimentary, and can’t be used to print customer facing documents. For the quick printing of a query or a joblog, this is usually sufficient.
If you have a printer that does support PCL/PS, but has no network interface (or an unsuitable one, like cheap print servers), you can use HPT through iSeries Access – this will allow you to support all the printout options that HPT supports.
iSeries Access without HPT is not really an option, except for some quick & dirty printing. iSeries Access with HPT isn’t quite as bad, but a network interface for the printer can be had for just a bit of money.
Host Print Transform
Host Print Transform, also known as HPT. I’ve written about this earlier.
HPT isn’t that bad, and can work well for desktop printers. It’s what we usually use for desktop printers.
IPDS Option roms
You can get IPDS option roms for most workgroup printers. The problem with IPDS option roms is that they’re hugely expensive (around 1500CHF for a single printers). So you’ll have to buy an expensive workgroup printer, but also have to buy an expensive IPDS option rom. If your printer dies, and you can no longer get a similar replacement – your investment has just become worthless.
The good thing about IPDS option roms is that they’re usually troublefree, and come with all the important fonts (like OCR-B) preloaded. This allows for a very easy deployment, at a in my opinion unreasonable cost.
There are many products that do conversion from IPDS to PCL. I only have experience with a single product ExcelliPrint. This product works quite well, though there are a few things that you’ll need to think about, like OCR-B support.
There are also embedded appliances available that do the same thing. I’ve never used them, so i can’t tell much about them. Maybe those have embedded font support, avoiding the soft font issue that you’ll need to be aware off when using ExcelliPrint.
ExcelliPrint costs about 750 CHF, about half that of an IPDS ROM. If you only have a single printer, an IPDS ROM might not be that more expensive. But when we’re talking about 5-10 printers, the difference becomes quite noticeable.
So what should you do?
I generally recommend against any use of iSeries Access, even with a HPT printer. Purchase a simple desktop laser which is supported by HPT. For printing of invoices etc., i would recommend a workgroup printer with ExcelliPrint.