If you think your laser printer is only good for business correspondence or publishing the occasional newsletter, think again.
With the right software, a laser printer can perform all kinds of interesting tricks that can make you and your business look a lot better.
One of the niftiest laser printer programs I've used is Avery Label Pro. It's been one of my workhorses for almost two years now, and the latest version is an example of good software getting better.
As its name suggests, Label Pro prints labels -- mailing labels, shipping labels, file folder labels, inventory labels, square labels, round labels, diskette labels, audio cassette labels and videotape labels.
But over the years, the program has been expanded to print overhead transparencies, index cards, postcards, Rolodex cards, name tags, badges and other goodies.
Label Pro is available for IBM-compatible and Apple Macintosh computers. The IBM version requires 640K of memory and two megabytes of hard disk space. It will run with virtually any graphics adapter.
Naturally, Label Pro is designed to work with Avery Dennison's extensive collection of label products, but office and computer supply stores often carry other brands that will work with the program.
Label Pro lets you mix typefaces and graphics to produce an almost infinite variety of label designs. While you can do the many of the same things with a word processor or drawing program, it's a lot of work. While Label Pro is more limited, it makes the job easy, and the output is superb.
Installing Label Pro is a snap. Just follow the on-screen prompts and select your printer. The program supports all printers compatible with HP LaserJet and DeskJets, the Cannon LBP-8II, the Xerox 8045 and standard PostScript printers.
Once you've selected a printer, you calibrate it using a test sheet supplied with the program, and you're ready to go. The whole thing takes about five minutes.
Designing a label is straightforward and logical. First, select a label type from a menu (the selections use Avery's numeric codes and descriptions, as well as a picture of the label sheet in case there's any confusion).
Having chosen the label, you'll see a choice of layouts incorporating text, rules and graphics in a variety of configurations.
Creating the label itself is as simple as filling out a form. First, you decide whether to use a graphic. The program comes with 30 pieces of clip art, but you can use any logo or design saved in the popular .PCX for mat produced by PC Paintbrush, Microsoft Windows Paint or a variety of other graphics programs.
Then you type the text of your label, line by line, selecting the typeface, point size and alignment. Label Pro comes with four typefaces -- standard variants of Times Roman and Helvetica, a stencil face called Calico and script font called Quincy.
For simple jobs, that's all there is. You can print as many sheets as you want and save the specifications to disk. Label Pro's Job Manager displays an alphabetical list of the labels you've created, with descriptions. To print any job you've saved, just highlight the name with your cursor and hit a key.
The scalable typefaces are in Atech Software's FF1 format. You can order additional typefaces from Avery or use FF1 faces from other programs by copying the font files to the Label Pro font directory.
The newest version of Label Pro also includes two bar code formats, one for Postal Service Zip Codes, which can dramatically speed up mail delivery, and Code 39 bar codes, which are commonly used for retail inventory.
Labels for mailings require a little more work, but not much. Label Pro includes a basic mailing list data base capable of holding up to 300 entries, but since it's not useful for anything else, you'll probably want to use files from an external data base.
Label Pro will import all dBase data files, comma-delimited data files (most data base programs can create these), and mail-merge files created by WordPerfect, WordStar and Microsoft Word.
To create a mailing, you can choose your data base file from a menu, then insert the fields you want (name, address, ZIP, etc.) anywhere you want on the label you've designed. It takes almost as long to read about it as to do it.
But be warned that Label Pro won't sort or search these files for specific entries (such as all customers in California). You'll have to do that with your data base program and save a new version of the file containing only the entries you want, in the order you want them.
The professional quality of the output is well worth the trouble. If you've used a dot matrix printer to create mailing labels before, you'll be amazed at how professional these look.
While I'd like to see more data management capabilities and a few more design features (it would be nice to import graphics in other formats), Label Pro does what it does with a minimum of effort and terrific results can be well worth the extra cost of using laser printer labels.
Label Pro lists for $99.95, but it's heavily discounted (Avery makes its real money selling you the labels, not software). For information, write Avery Dennison, 818 Oak Park Road, Covina, Calif. 91724.