"By the year 2005, 70 percent of all documents will be created and maintained electronically compared to only 10 percent today," said Xplor International, an association dedicated to advancing the art and science of electronic documents. If that's true, what future is there for computer printers and all the people that work for the more than 100 companies that make them?

Well, don't sell your printer stocks just yet, because by 2005, printers will pump out twice as many documents as they do today. Why? Because the amount of information in our wonderfully creative society is doubling every three to four years. By 2005, there will be more than eight times as much information produced annually as today. As executive director of Xplor, Keith Davidson, put it, "the paperless office is about as realistic as the paperless toilet."

Other than the sheer volume of information to be printed, there are other trends that will ensure printers have a long life. For one, printers are replacing copy machines. We're now "mopying" instead of "copying." Mopy means "multiple original prints." Instead of printing one page and walking to the copy machine, we're making multiple originals on the printer. Why not when you can simply type in the number of copies you want while you're sending the job to the printer? Analysts expect that in 10 years the stand-alone analog copy machine will no longer be made. They will all be digital with printers and copy machines having merged into one. You've already seen it at the low end in every office supply store with multifunction printers (MFPs) offering printing, copying, scanning and faxing in one unit.

At the higher end, printers now come with huge hard disks that can hold the formatted output and print pages one, two, three, etc. in order, then offset the stacker one half inch and print the next set and so on. Even stapling and three-hole punching, heretofore only available on copy machines, are wending their way to the network printer. Options abound. For example, Xerox's 4517 laser printer offers a 10-bin lockable collator. The bins are used to collate output or separate it by department, but they are also lockable to keep sensitive documents from unauthorized eyes. Only the right password opens each bin.

Printers are also replacing the traditional printing house. For years, high-speed digital printers have generated those wonderful "Dear Mr. Freedman, Congratulations, You qualify for the ... yak, yak" letters. Screamingly fast page printers from companies such as IBM, Xerox and Oce Printing Systems (formerly Siemens Nixdorf) have been pumping out this kind of material at speeds up to 744 pages per minute. Every document coming off a machine such as this has bypassed the traditional offset printing process. We're now in the "have it how, when and where you want it" world of POD, or "print on demand." No more creating films, proofs and all that manual stripping on the light table. After all, if the documents are created digitally in the first place, why not just print them and be done with it? Last year, POD was a $42 billion market. POD jobs are considered short-run jobs with less than 5,000 total pages. For example, 2,500 two-page flyers, 500 10-page booklets, or 10 500-page books.

IBM's 3170 digital printer is POD in full color. Handling paper up to 12.5 inches wide in rolls that are cut to any length after they're printed, the 3170 can print 70 pages per minute with outstanding color quality. You'd love all your reading material printed with full-color graphics as good as this. At two tons and $365,000, this is not your average network printer. However, any organization with major color POD requirements will save money in the long haul and get their jobs out a helluvalot sooner. Nothing competes today with huge offset presses spitting out millions of pages, but, in time, they too will succumb to all-digital printers.