Essential tips to cut the cost of printing

26th Jan 2009 | 14:45

Essential tips to cut the cost of printing

We'll show you how to cut down on waste paper, too

The paperless home and office isn't a reality yet. Even the internet hasn't diminished our need for hard copies; in fact, it may have increased the small forest of paper that sits on most desks (how many emails do you print out a week?).

Some people even choose to have two printers in their homes: one for photos and another for all the other little (and large) jobs that need doing. But are printers so commonplace that you hit the 'print' button without a second thought?

In these cash-strapped times, saving resources has become especially important, which means thinking twice about the contents of your IT armoury. A few well-planned cutbacks here could save you a fortune.

Cartridge economy

Probably the single largest ongoing expense with a printer is its ink cartridges. If you're in the fortunate position of buying a new printer, you can opt for colour printers that use separate cartridges, replacing colour(s) as they run out, but there are other methods to consider.

First, there are refillable cartridges. It's a Marmite solution: some swear by the process, others question the quality or are put off by the fiddly nature of the task.

The only way to find out if it really works for you is to try. There are lots of websites offering information and the materials you need to get going. For instance, gives instructions on how to refill cartridges from lots of well-known printer brands.

Also consider own-branded versus generic cartridges. If refilling doesn't appeal to you, consider ditching own-branded cartridges for generic ones. Again, this is a 'suck it and see' test.

Even if you find generic ones aren't up to scratch for your top-quality prints, you could always try swapping in generic cartridges for everyday tasks.

Finally, ensure you don't replace cartridges until the last minute, as some printer software will tell you it's time to replace your ink cartridge long before that's a reality.

A tip for extending the life of a laser toner cartridge is to give it a little shake when you get the low-ink message. This can help get the toner flowing. Take care when you do this and don't be too vigorous. You just want to free up toner that's stuck in the corners of the cartridge, not shake it apart.

What about paper?

When it comes to photographic paper, printer makers tend to make their own-branded paper, designed to give the best quality output when used in combination with their own-branded inks. But generic brands are often more cost-efficient.

Similarly, it's worth looking out for sales and reductions. For example, a quick check of yielded 100 A4 sheets of Canon-branded glossy photo paper reduced from £21.66 to £13.10.

When it comes to ordinary white paper, you don't have to buy top-quality paper to get what you want. A lot of premium-grade paper is marked as 100gsm. This relates to the weight of the paper per square metre. Thicker paper often costs more, but using slightly lighter paper is usually fine. Next time you buy paper, try 80gsm sheets and see if you notice much of a difference other than the extra cash in your wallet.

There's one other great way to save on paper: start a tray for sheets that you've only printed on one side and would otherwise throw away. Next time you need a print of something temporary (an email you'll only need for a while, a test print, or whatever) then use the back of one of the sheets in the tray. That way you'll get twice the use from one sheet.

Use your printer's own software

Most printers have some associated software to enable you to control how the device works. You can make some great savings by getting to know this software and using the tools on offer.

The three most important settings you can use for economising with printing are draft mode, pages per sheet mode and duplex mode.

Draft mode uses less ink to print. It is as simple as that. This means the quality might not be as high, but it's only really noticeable with colour documents or craft projects.

In fact, some people find they only ever use draft mode, as it is perfectly good enough for all their printing needs. You may find your printer software uses a different term to 'draft', but the effect is the same.

Pages per sheet mode can be very handy. Your printer might be able to print two A4 pages on a single side of paper by turning it to landscape and printing them side by side.

Duplex simply means printing on both sides of the paper. Your printer prints on one side, then swallows the paper again and prints on the other.

Another setting that can be really useful is fit to page mode. This simply squishes content so that it all fits on to a single sheet of A4 paper. You might find a setting for this on your printer software, but you may also find it in the software you are using. For example, in the Firefox web browser you will find a 'shrink to fit' mode in the Print Preview area.

Use add-on software

If you want to really push at the edges of what you can do to save money with printing, you might want to look at some third-party options. Here are a few ideas.

Inksaver claims to save you money even when you are printing at the highest quality. The software is an ink manager and even calculates how much money you are saving by using it, which is quite an incentive.

Greenprint is a free download for home users. It identifies parts of a document that are wasteful to print, such as a few lines that appear on the top of a page when you print from the web. It has a built-in PDF creator as well as some other neat tricks.

ClickBook from BlueSquirrel is a utility for printing booklets and other variable-format projects. It does away with the need to 'test by printing', because the formatting is done on the computer and this saves you money by getting it right the first time.

Don't print at all, let someone else do it

Why not consider using a third-party service for photo printing? Uploading your pictures to a service suck as can be a lot cheaper than buying your own photo printer. Photos ordered on one weekday often arrive by the next day, they're usually great quality and you'll minimise waste.

Five top tips for saving money with your printer:

Check before you print
Proof-read documents before you print. Then you won't have to print a second, third or fourth copy to get it right. Every sheet costs money, remember.

Use print preview
Find the preview mode in your software and use that to check the layout of documents you're printing. Make tweaks onscreen rather than printing several drafts.

Use draft mode
Less ink per print can only be a good thing if you want to save money. Switch this off for printing high-quality documents, though.

Only print what you need
Instead of printing a full page, select the section you want and print that. Cut and paste from a long document to get the bit you need.

Have spare stock
Keep extra paper and ink cartridges to hand so you don't have to rush out to the nearest store or pay overnight delivery charges to get them quickly. Similarly, buy during sales or when you see stock going for cheap.


First published in What Laptop, Issue 120

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