What You Said: Printer Tips, Tricks, and Cost Minimizing Moves

By Jason Fitzpatrick on October 21st, 2011


Earlier this week we asked you to share your tips and tricks for minimizing your printing costs and getting more out of your home printer. You responded and we’re back with a roundup of your comments.

Photo by Purdman1.

Several themes appeared throughout reader comments, including avoiding printing altogether, using laser printers, and outright avoiding inkjet printers to avoid high costs and wasted ink. Printing costs struck a chord with quite a few readers, as seen in the lengthy comments many left. Lady Fitzgerald sounds off with:

I avoid printing as much as possible, as much to save space as money. Even though the upfront cost of a laserjet printer is higher, the per page cost of one is far less than an inkjet (there is no way I’ll own another one of those ink thirsty, clog prone POSs). I have a B&W laserjet which is cheaper to use than printing at a copy center. On the rare occasions I need a color printout, I take the file to a copy center on a USB stick for printing. For the rare color photo prints, I do the same, only at Walgreens.

I try to be paperless as much as possible. Any data I see online I want to keep, I either copy and paste to a Word file (only when I need to edit the document or combine several snippits of info), or I convert directly to PDF using Adobe Acrobat (has more control than most virtual printers). Photos and graphics I usually save in their original file type.

All the photos I’ve taken the past seven years have been digital. I keep the files on my computer for viewing and storage. I very rarely print them.

Steve-O-Rama weighs in with an even longer comment detailing ways to cut printing costs to the bone:

Ditch the damn inkjet printer. It’s a pox thrust upon mankind by the cartridge manufacturers. The less you use it, the more-often they clog. The more you use it, the more it costs (disproportional to the amount of pages printed, IMO). DIY refills are a bad joke at best, as are the generic cartridges. There is no way out of this cycle, save getting rid of it. Don’t give it to a friend either, unless it’s an Epson and they intend upon converting it into another type of printer, e.g. PCB (printed circuit board) masks, 3D, etc. [Epsons use piezoelectric cartridges.] The quality of prints from inkjets have increased over the years, as has their speed, but the costs rarely justify the few perks of owning an inkjet, in my experience. It should be at least a potential indicator of deception if the printer costs the same or less than the replacement cartridges, no?

That said, I almost exclusively recommend laser printers to my associates, family, and friends. Luckily, I had a very intelligent girlfriend get me an HP laser printer for Christmas two years ago, and it’s been absolutely wonderful. Not only are the prints clear and smear-free, but I can use a highlighter on them without the prints bleeding. On top of that, I can use it to print PCB masks onto transparencies and/or magazine pages, and use that to make my own PCBs at home. Oh, and it spits out pages faster than any inkjet printer I’ve ever seen or used. Be mindful of WHAT you print though, since images with large black/dark areas will eat up toner very quickly.

What if I want color prints? I have the option of hoping and praying that my old all-in-one inkjet printer’s cartridges aren’t clogged or out of ink (it’s still around; the scanner still works a treat, as do its integrated card readers), or I can go the more-economical route of having someone else print for me. I usually go through Kinko’s (now FedEx Office), and either send or bring the file in on a USB drive for printing. It’s fast, easy, relatively cheap, I don’t have to pay for cartridges or maintenance, and the quality is more than acceptable for my needs. Rarely, if ever, do I need a color print “right NOW,” so picking them up the next time I’m out for groceries is fine with me. If I need more than a handful of B&W copies, they go off for printing elsewhere, too.

An option for college students might be to use their on-campus printing facilities, if they’re available. Black-and-white, and even color prints, were priced very economically when I attended university, and I’d imagine that the costs may be even lower by now, given the pace of technology. Might be worth a shot for the students out there, especially if your campus computer labs enforce a strict printing quota, or if the labs are full of people trying to print off their reports at the same time near the end of the term.

Finally, the best way to minimize costs is, of course, to print less, which can be accomplished with higher efficiency (just go with me here). But in this context, what does efficiency mean? Printing less pages simply isn’t an option in some circumstances, advertising and related fields especially, but in others, it can mean taking some very simple actions: print on both sides, print more than one page per sheet, expand the margins, use recycled paper if it’s available, and turn down the contrast/quality (use Econo-Mode) settings as appropriate. Do those, and you’re getting the printing done using less supplies, i.e. higher efficiency. As always, YMMV.

Printing to PDF or otherwise electronically saving documents is a popular option. Hisa writes:

I absolutely always print to PDF. CutePDF and BullZIP PDF Printer are my personal favorites though there are so many free ways to print to PDF that you would have to be crazy not to invest the 3 minutes it would take to find one, download it, install it, and figure out how to use it.

If I absolutely need hard copies, I go for black and white on a laserjet. Screw graphs and charts in color; people will just have to deal with black and white. And yeah, quickprint is a lifesaver. I see a couple people have mentioned that, and they aren’t wrong about doing quickprints. Saves time and toner. Even my boss has expressed his enjoyment at my thrifty printing :) (saves him money!)

For color jobs such as printing photos, I use an inkjet printer (HP and Kodak depending on the job). That right there is where most of my money goes as I do photography and print promos for my customers. They have to be perfect, and it is cheaper for me to do it perfect than for me to pay a company to do it half-@$$ed.

Hit up the full comment thread for additional tips and tricks to cut down on your printing costs. Have a tip that wasn’t covered here? Sound off in the comments.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 10/21/11
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