It's too bad that it's illegal to make counterfeit money on your home printer. Because the real crime, it seems, is the wallet-crushing cost you can incur when you click "Print." In lieu of cranking out Benjamins using your home PC, you may have to settle for cutting printing costs wherever you can.
But pinching pennies on printing isn't as simple as picking the cheapest possible printer or throwing down cash on third-party ink cartridges. Such strategies could actually cost you dearly.
For example, if you pick a bargain-basement printer, you might be happy with the printer itself but find yourself burned by ink costs. Some low-cost printers use combined color cartridges, and when one color is depleted, you have to replace every color even if the other hues haven't run dry. Not only do you wind up throwing away good ink, but you have to buy new ink cartridges more often. Over the life of the printer you'd spend hundreds of dollars more on ink than you did on the printer itself.
You can also burn your budget by selecting the wrong paper. Don't use the fancy stuff unless you actually need to, and don't leave fancy paper in the printer to be accidentally used when you're just printing out a recipe.
That we pay these prices is a testament to the power of technology marketing and a sign of our dependence on the convenience of home printing. But there are ways to lessen your printing costs immediately. The results will directly impact your pocketbook in a multitude of money-saving ways.
Drop Ink Use in Draft Mode
One of the easiest ways to reduce ink use is by pulling back on the throttle. In your printer's software settings, you'll typically find an option for print quality, such as an option for draft or eco-mode.
These modes actually spray less ink on each printed page. Depending on the printer, you might conserve 5 to 10 percent per page, and over the course of many printouts, this tactic could save you a bundle of dough.
Draft mode works in various ways. Frequently, the printer simply prints fewer of the tiny dots that make up each bit of text or image. The result is often grainier text and pixelated pictures, so for professional presentations, draft mode typically isn't appropriate.
But for basic printing jobs that don't require the best printing quality, draft mode is an efficient method to cut ink costs. As a side benefit, most inkjets print much faster in draft mode, too.
Ignore Low-cartridge Warnings
Modern inkjets are equipped with the equivalent of air-raid sirens that warn of impending ink outages. The lights on the printer flash frantically. Dialog boxes of doom pop up on you screen. You are running out of ink, they say, the world is coming to an end. Change the cartridge immediately.
Ignore them. In some cases, testing has shown that these warnings appear when cartridges are still as much as 40 percent full [source: Bertolucci]. While newer printers tend to be more accurate than that, the warning system still normally fires when there's still life (or more accurately, ink) left in the cartridge.
If anything, use low-ink reminders as a helpful reminder to buy replacement cartridges. Just don't install them until you absolutely have to. Many ink cartridges have clear or translucent cases, so checking the level is as simple as looking at them.
Double-check Your Work
You are so, so thrilled to finally be done with your latest project regarding sales projections for wooden toilet seats in China. So overjoyed, in fact, that a split-second after you save your work, you hit "Print" and stand up and do a little happy dance. A few minutes later you see that you misplaced exactly 60 apostrophes, one on each page you printed.
Now you have to correct and reprint every page. Not only did you waste your presentation-quality paper, but you threw away ink, too. You could have saved on both if you'd just double-checked your document. Just to be safe, maybe even triple-check it.
The same goes for photo printing. Before you commit your pictures to paper, perform at least the most fundamental fixes such as cropping and red-eye removal, to make sure you won't want to immediately discard the results. And use the right paper. Printing a detailed photo out on paper that's not designed for photos may get you nothing more than an inky mess and disappointment.
Use Eco Fonts
Traditional fonts are smooth and unbroken lines, a tribute to the artistry and care that went into their creation. These fonts look great on a printed page, but they also suck down entirely too much ink. You can slash ink usage by choosing eco fonts instead.
Eco fonts leave minute spaces (usually empty dots or lines) throughout your text, creating a sort of Swiss cheese approach to printing. The result is slightly faded-looking printouts. The upside is that you wind up saving a significant percentage of ink, by some estimates more than 25 percent per page.
To get started, you can search online for various eco fonts. There are numerous ones available on the web, but you may or may not like what you find. If you're willing to skip over the freebie options, you can buy Ecofont software from the company of the same name and use it to punch holes in every font that you use. Either way, these fonts will minimize your ink consumption and save you cash.
If you're tired of paying top dollar for proprietary ink cartridges, you can always opt either for third-party cartridges or refill original equipment manufacturer (OEM) cartridges with third-party inks. Printer companies prod you to use only their proprietary ink cartridges — they insist that only their formulas work properly in their products, and in some cases will tell you that third-party inks may void your warranty.
Of course, most companies want you to purchase their inks, but if you do want the best possible prints, those businesses may actually have a point. Third-party inks often don't achieve the same color quality or clarity of manufacturer formulas. And thanks to a built-in identification chip in the cartridges themselves, a lot of printers won't accept anything but fresh, genuine cartridges, anyway. If you do manage to make non-OEM cartridges work, the inks may ultimately clog or damage your print heads.
However, if you don't mind the risks and you don't need top quality, third-party cartridges are available all over the web for a fraction of the cost of proprietary inks. If you print frequently, this strategy alone could save you hundreds of dollars in a single year.
Buy in Bulk
There's a tendency to put off buying paper and ink cartridges until you absolutely need them. That might mean a late night run to an office supply store to buy a single magenta cartridge or a fresh ream of paper so you can finish an important presentation. And that also means spending a lot more money.
Individual ink cartridges, particularly at brick-and-mortar office stores, often have a high markup. Even when you buy online, single cartridges tend to be comparatively expensive. Paper is the same. If you buy the small packages often aimed at consumers, your cost per page is higher than if you stock up.
Consider buying multi-packs online. Just like almost any other product you purchase in bulk, there are some pretty significant savings to be had. Multi-packs of ink typically include every color you need to keep your printer running, and they're often several dollars less per cartridge, meaning you might save $10 or more. You can purchase an entire case of inkjet paper for a substantial discount over what you'd pay for single reams. Buying paper from an office supply store rather than a general retail store will generally get you more pages for your dollar as well.
Rather than buying a stack of printer cartridges all in one go, you can also get a bargain by subscribing to an ink replacement service. You'll get regularly scheduled deliveries of replacement ink, often for a lower cost than if you bought those same cartridges one at a time in a store. Newer, Internet-connected printers may even have this as a factory-installed option. You subscribe to the service, and then your printer orders its own ink automatically when it's running low. Bonus: You get all the perks of buying in bulk, without having stacks of cartridges lying around.
Not only are you stocking up and saving money, but you'll have fewer panicked trips to the store, too.
Go for Grayscale
Do you really need a Jackson Pollock when an Ansel Adams will do? By default, most inkjets print in color, which means you spend more money on ink. If you don't need to be splashing all of that color ink around, save it. While color may make graphs and charts look more exciting, in many cases, the information will still be clear in black and white.
When you click print, most software programs will open a print dialog box that's full of various printer settings. Sometimes, switching from color to black and white is as simple as ticking a checkbox on that screen.
Other times you may have to click a button for your printer settings and do a little digging through menus. You'll see options for paper size, orientation and the like. You'll also see a menu that lets you change from color printing to black and white, monochrome or grayscale.
Some printers still use color ink to create blacks, but by switching out of color mode you'll reduce your ink use and save a few cents.
Buy a Better Printer
These days, many inkjet printers are ridiculously cheap, sometimes going for as little as $50. In these instances, manufacturers may actually be losing money on the printer with the anticipation that they'll make back that revenue on ink. So it's no surprise that cheaper printers have some of the highest ink consumption ratings.
Manufacturers make page-yield ratings (fairly) clear for each printer model, offering at least a ballpark figure for how many pages each cartridge will provide before running dry. Sometimes they provide that information in the printer specs, and other times you'll find it on the same webpage where you order ink.
Cheaper printers almost always have a lower page yield than models that cost $250 or $300. But your printing habits matter, too. If you rarely print, then you won't use much ink to begin with, meaning a budget printer is probably a suitable choice. If you print frequently, though, take the time to find printers with higher page yields; the cost savings will be higher, too.
Paper Matters, Too
Ink is the gasoline of your inkjet — it's pricey, and your printer goes nowhere without it. Paper is the oil. You don't need to buy it as often, but it's just as necessary. You can save a fair chunk of change just by altering a few of your paper-plundering habits.
Start by evaluating whether you really need a hard copy of your document. These days, email and PDF files are suitable stand-ins for just about every purpose, whether personal or professional.
If you do need a physical printout, you may consider printing on both sides of every sheet. Many printers are equipped with automatic duplexers that flip each page and feed it a second time, thereby cutting your paper use in half.
Don't spring for expensive paper when cheap copy paper will do. Unless you're printing something important, the bargain stuff works fine.
Finally, always consider whether you need to print an entire document. Official tax documents, for example, are often loaded with extraneous details that you don't need in order to complete a task. Print just the parts you really require, and you'll use far fewer consumables.
Don't Print Photos at Home
Inkjets, particularly ones intended specifically for photos, can make prints that rival any professional print lab. The convenience is wonderful. The cost is not.
Photo-grade paper sells for anywhere from 5 to 20 cents per small sheet. Ink, of course, will add substantially to the total, simply because you use a great creating sharp, crisp images. If you're printing more than a few photos, you'll always save money by uploading them to a print lab. With many online shops you can even skip the shipping costs by opting to pick up your pictures at a local store.
In a pinch, feel free to make your prints right in your home office. For bulk orders, upload your images, let someone else do the work and save money in the process.
Inkjet printers are a wonderful but wacky modern convenience. The text and images they make are exceptionally good, they're dependable and they let you print in your pajamas. The tradeoff is that they aren't cheap to operate. With a bit of caution in your choice of printer and some forethought in how you print, you'll trim your printing costs, potentially save a small mountain of cash and find peace with your home office budget.
HowStuffWorks checks out technology firm ICON and nonprofit New Story, who have developed a low-cost 3-D-printed house.
Author's Note: 10 Ways to Save Money on Printing
Years ago, a friend provided me with a stack of photo paper that happened to be specifically made for my photo printer. I was ecstatic at the idea of making my own prints at home without having to spring for the costly glossy paper. Then I realized that even with free paper, the cost of ink was so steep that I wasn't really saving any money over online prints. That's the irony of inkjet printing. These devices are wonderful for many tasks, but if you don't keep tabs on your expenditures, their convenience may come back to haunt you.
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More Great Links
- Bertolucci, Jeff. "How Much Ink Is Left in That Dead Cartridge?" PCWorld. Nov. 2, 2008. (Aug. 4, 2015) http://www.pcworld.com/article/152953/printer_ink_costs.html
- Consumer Reports. "The High Cost of Wasted Printer Ink." June 2013. (Aug. 1, 2015) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2013/08/the-high-cost-of-wasted-printer-ink/index.htm
- Ecofont. "Ecofont Saving Evidence." (Aug. 1, 2015) http://www.ecofont.com/en/help/ecofont/faq/0030.html
- Grotta, Sally Wiener and Daniel Grotta. "How to Calculate Cost Per Page — and Save Money Printing." Computer Shopper. (Aug. 1, 2015) http://www.computershopper.com/small-business-tech/printers/features/how-to-calculate-cost-per-page-and-save-money-printing
- Hoffman, Tony. "8 Tips to Save Printer Ink." PC. July 24, 2014. (Aug. 1, 2015) http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2412307,00.asp
- Jacobi, Jon L. and Melissa Riofrio. "Ink-onomics: Can You Save Money by Spending More on Your Printer?" PC World. May 2, 2012. (Aug. 1, 2015) http://www.pcworld.com/article/254899/ink_onomics_can_you_save_money_by_spending_more_on_your_printer_.html
- Preton. "Ink Save Options for Printers: Draft Mode, Economode, Toner Saving Mode." (Aug. 1, 2015) https://www.preton.com/ink-save-options.asp
- Quality Logic. "Cost of Ink Per Page Analysis, United States." June 2012. (Aug. 1, 2015) https://www.qualitylogic.com/tuneup/uploads/docfiles/QualityLogic-Cost-of-Ink-Per-Page-Analysis_US_1-Jun-2012.pdf
- Riofrio, Melissa. "The Cheapskate's Guide to Printing." PCWorld. March 3, 2004. (Aug. 1, 2015) http://www.pcworld.com/article/114728/cheapskate_printing.html
- Vogel, Sandra. "Set Up Your Printer to Save Ink and Paper." PCWorld. July 29, 2010. (Aug. 1, 2015) http://www.pcworld.com/article/202178/set_up_your_printer_to_save_ink_and_paper.html
- Wood, Lamont. "Printer Ink: Tired of feeding the cash cow?" Computer World. March 28, 2012. (Aug. 1, 2015) http://www.computerworld.com/article/2503134/computer-hardware/printer-ink--tired-of-feeding-the-cash-cow-.html