How-To Geek

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


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

Comments (13)

  1. Trevor

    Sadly my on campus printing is not very cheap. It is about 40 cents per page. There is one area within my degree program that offers free printing for Honors students so I take advantage of that as often as possible. Sometimes they run out of paper though, and the area tends to be fairly busy so it is not the place to go if you need to print something quickly between classes.

  2. Tracie

    I’m not sure what the problem is that everyone has with inkjet printers. Contrary to the comments above, I have absolutely no problem at all refilling my cartridges myself, and a generic or remanufactured cartridge that costs $11 with free shipping lasts at least a year or two before there’s ever an issue where it has to be replaced.

    I found a company in Ohio that sells refill kits that charges $13 with free shipping for a package of 20 refill kits with the little accordian-style squeezy bottles, 5 black, 5 red, 5 blue, 5 yellow…. or they’ll sell me all black if I ask. Each refill bottle actually refills a color twice (except black, which has a bigger well because it’s a separate cartridge and takes a whole refill, of course). So that’s 35 refills, total, for $13.

    When my business really started taking off and I had to print even more, I found a company in Florida that sells a package of 4 16oz. bottles of ink (red, blue, yellow, black), that’s a half-gallon of ink, for $35 and free shipping. For refilling now, I just use a hypodermic needle I got from my vet. I have no idea how many refills I’m getting from a half-gallon of ink, but I believe it’s safe to assume the cost is literally pennies per refill.

    So what’s the problem? I really don’t get it.

  3. David Lewis

    I have an inkjet and a really old hp laser b&w. I use the Inkjet for my kids to print out things to colour in, or things they’ve already coloured in online. It never gets turned off saving a little ink lost to the start-up routine. I have bought a continuous ink supply system reducing ink costs by 75%. I recommend ciss to my customers who can’t live without their inkjet printers. My next printer will definately be a color LaserJet ha Ing read this article!

  4. Silas Alexander

    if u want to save money or ink.. u can also print in draft out put.. the ink won’t be as dark as the normal print, but it helps to save!!!!
    1. Click the Tools menu
    2. Select Options
    3. Click on the Print tab
    4. Under Printing options select Draft output
    5. Click OK

  5. Björn

    I love FinePrint on my PC:
    – have ALWAYS a preview before printing (independent on any application from where I want to print or any printer!)
    – in the preview, I can check if it will print in the correct way – especially web pages
    – delete unwanted pages or blank pages
    – print two / four pages on one sheet!

    => this will save paper!

    BUT, I’m missing such a cool tool un the Mac!

  6. CAfromCA

    When I bought a new computer and went from XP to Win7 I never got around to hooking up my printer. I try to print very little and what few pages I absolutely need I do from work. Usually I am going the other direction–taking printed items and scanning them to pdf (again at work, too lazy to hook that up at home either). Then I either email them to myself or use a flash drive. I even do this with handwritten notes where I wasn’t able to use my laptop. At work too, we have been implementing more and more paperless methods. Aside from saving money on paper and ink and obvious environmental benefits, it ends up saving a LOT of time not filing and dealing with with the papers. And it saves storage space and document shredding costs. I think hard before printing anything.

  7. Lady Fitzgerald

    Tracie, you apparently have a sufficient printing volume to avoid clogging the heads of your inkjet printers. Some of the more expensive ones are less prone to clogging (but then, a color laserjet wouldn’t cost much more than a high end inkjet). Most inkjets are prone to head clogging when used infrequently. When the heads clog, the machine has to force large volumes of ink under pressure to unclog them. Unless an inkjet is a high end machine (aka expensive) that uses more expensive inks, inkjet printouts will run if they get wet or smear if they even just get moist.

    You are saving money on ink when you refill your own carts but does that take your per page printing cost below a laserjet (keep in mind toner carts can also be refilled). What is refilling costing you in time? Frankly, I have far better things to do than deal with refilling carts, especially the mess involved and having to store bottles or jugs of ink. The cart on my laserjet will last me for years at the volume I’m printing.

    When I had an inkjet, I was constantly having to clean the heads before I could print anything, even if I printed something more than once a week. I replaced it pretty quickly with a relatively inexpensive laserjet that has been in use for the past eight years and has never given me a problem. It seems to thrive on neglect. It can set for weeks without printing anything, then all I have to do is turn it on and within seconds, it’s churning out a perfect printout. On the rare occasions I need a large number of printouts, it will churn them out much faster than any inkjet will ever be able to.

  8. Nancy

    I guess I’m unusual because I have an inkjet and it never clogs. I also use it quite a bit and buy my cartridges at Sam’s in the XL extended use size which makes them more economical.

    You can’t print to PDF and all the other suggestions here when you do photography; print labels for your CD’s/DVD’s and the cases; print all those manuals for whatever hobby or interest that now only come on the CD and do you no good in the sewing room or garage when you need the instructions.

    I have gone paperless for credit statements and the bank. I read my books on my IPad. I can’t go paperless for the rest of my things as sometimes the written word is necessary.

  9. Richard

    @Tracie, What is the company in Florida? I’ve been looking for a company near by to get bulk ink from.

  10. Parsnip

    Paper is a small part of the cost (and/or if you like to recycle), discarded paper that was printed on only one side, may run through inkjet or laserjet printers. Just be sure that the pages are flat, and the edges are smooth and sharp, especially the edge that feeds first. Even stapled pages can be OK, if you (obviously) remove the staples, and feed from the non-stapled edge.
    Align used paper carefully in the feeder tray, and note which side to face up.
    If you insist on fresh paper, many office supply companies sell reams for one or two dollars at the beginning of each school year.

  11. Jerry Guinn

    Having just retired, I’m not as concerned with printing costs as I was at my previous employer. However — and this is based ONLY on personal experience and preference — I found that , over time, the refilled cartridges which I used caused an ink “escape” buildup over the interior of the printer. I then began to experience problems with smears on my printed page from contact inside the printer. As I said, this was only my personal experience, and I realize that things might improve based on the vendor who provided the cartridges. With whatever minimal printing I do now, I just prefer the ease of using original mfg cartridges. With HP being my preferred choice, the print head is changed with each replacement of the cartridge, unlike other brands on the market.

  12. Larry Brown

    Our problem with inkjet printers is that they quit doing something, seemingly always unique, after the warranty has run out.

    One of the better printers was a $50 HP from Wal-Mart. It lasted two years of home printing.

    We are strictly home use users, and like cell phones, have a requirement for only a single purpose: print something (or make a phone call). We do use a scan or copy function infrequently.

    The big problem is every time we get a new printer, we get to go through the flail of connecting the thing, and going through the learning curve again. Wireless printers help a lot.

    It would be interesting to see some reliability information related to costs also.

  13. Russ

    Sooo – anyone know a laser that prints onto printable CDs then? That’s why I have inkjet.

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