With printing, photocopying and faxing holding 'mission critical' status in most businesses, companies generally try to invest in the very best and most appropriate equipment their budgets permit.

Then they try to save money by using inferior paper.

And that, says Bevan Gordon Davies, support service manager at Motion Business Solutions, is not only false economy, it could turn into a costly mistake if the machine is damaged in the process.

"Paper does make a huge difference to the performance of your printer, photocopier or MFP/MFD.  While users tend to blame their equipment, a significant proportion of the service calls we receive can be traced back to paper problems.  These problems affect most machine brands in similar ways," he adds.

Motion is South Africa's largest multi-brand supplier of office automation equipment, supplying and supporting most of the country's leading brands including Kyocera, Oki, Samsung, Mecer and HP.

According to Gordon Davies, there are two major problems with inferior quality paper: an excess of paper fluff and uneven edges.

"Most people know that they should protect their equipment from dust because it can interfere with the machine's operation.  However using paper that fluffs effectively delivers this contaminant right into the heart of the machine," he explains.

"Poor quality paper is also often cut using blunt equipment and this creates uneven edges which cause the paper to curl – and jam – as it is fed through the machine."

There are also other causes of 'paper curl' – one of the most common reasons for paper jams.  

According to Gordon Davies, there are several other do's and don'ts that can help eliminate paper jams:

* Don't allow paper to stay in the paper drawer overnight as this leads to paper either drying out or absorbing too much moisture, depending on the location of the machine. Only fill your paper drawer with sufficient paper for that day's tasks.

* Store excess paper in its original (waxed) packaging which is kept closed.  Alternatively, place the excess paper in the water-and-dustproof packet which was probably in the machine's paper drawer when it was delivered and installed.

* Fan the paper before inserting it into the paper drawer. This also assists in reducing the chance of paper jams.

* Don't allow dog-eared paper to be fed through the machine.

* Don't 'recycle' paper that has already been fed through the machine once.  It will have dried out.  Don't be fooled by the fact that paper appears to pass through a machine when it is in duplex mode – when it prints on both sides of the paper.  The machine uses a special mechanism for this which prevents the paper from drying during the first printing pass.

Another factor that can impact the performance of the machine is the weight of paper chosen.  

"Most commercial machines are designed for 80g bond paper but can handle different sizes and weights.  If the job at hand requires high coverage of ink or toner, it is wise to use a thicker grade paper, and the paper's specifications will allow for this.  However, this should not be the norm as consistent usage of paper at the higher end of the machine's specification capabilities will affect it negatively.  Stick to 80g paper for everyday printing," Gordon Davies says.

"And when it comes to printing or photocopying on to transparencies, don't try and save costs by using standard transparencies.  These melt in the machine's fuser unit – and repairing the damage can run in to thousands of rand," he warns, adding that there are 'laser-friendly' transparencies that have been specifically designed for today's high-speed, high-temperature equipment.

The temperature at which high-speed machines operate can also have a negative effect on embossed paper.

"There's a growing trend among businesses today to emboss their logos on to their letterheads and other stationery papers.  While this looks good, toner won't stick to it.  An even greater problem is the use of foiling: the high temperatures can result in the foiling coming off the paper – and potentially damaging the machine.

"So it's best that companies check with their office automation equipment supplier whether their machines can handle foiled paper, before taking that design route," he concludes.