Save Money on Printing

Ahh, the inkjet printer: a burning moneypit of frustration and despair!

Printing is terrible.  Here are some tips for reducing the pain.

Do You Need to Print That?

Can you scrawl it on a notecard?  Can you bring it up on your electronic device?  Can you close your eyes and remember it?

If so, don't print it.  Printing depletes resources and costs you money.

Rarely Print?  Stick it to The Man!

By 'The Man', I mean wherever you work.

Most office jobs will probably let you print a shopping list or a map every now and then without any trouble.  If your personal printing volume is low, the capital cost of a printer is unlikely to be worth it, and inkjet cartridges will likely dry out and gum up on you before you have a chance to use them.

Choosing a Printer

1. The most expensive printer is often a free printer

You may come across a fairly new-looking printer on the curb, find some mail-in rebate, or even get a printer for free bundled with a computer or digital camera. Beware! Printer manufacturers have to make money somewhere, and many do so by killing you on ink.

A couple months ago, I found a brand-new-looking Epson NX130 in its original box on the street.  Upon hooking it up at home, it absolutely refused to print—even in black and white!—because one of the ink colors had run out.  I tried refilling the cartridges, but no luck: the cartridges contain a microchip that automatically disables them after a certain amount of printing.  I hunted around for software reset solutions and even spent $2 on a cheap piece of junk that purported to reset the chip (it didn't work), but nothing was successful.  The owner had thrown this printer out when the ink ran dry, and for good reason.

Don't assume that a cheap printer means cheap printing: genuine Epson black ink alone is 6.5 cents per page!

2.  Don't need color? Buy a laser printer!

Even using a best-in-class Brother inkjet printer with an economical high-capacity black ink cartridge, you'll end up paying at least 3.5 cents per page; with lesser brands and smaller cartridges, the cost is easily tripled.  Inkjet printers also suffer from clogged jets that can require frequent cleaning of the print heads, wasting ink.  "Standard capacity" inkjet cartridges only print 150-200 pages, while "high capacity" are still only 400-600 pages.  If you're printing in color, double the cost and quadruple the frequency you'll need to mess with cartridge refilling or replacement.  Color cartridges are typically sold in three-packs, so be prepared to accumulate unwanted cartridges of whatever colors you print less frequently.

Contrast this with high-capacity laser printer toner cartridges: 2,600 pages at 1.5 cents per page or less, with no jets to clog nor print heads to clean.  There is a good reason why businesses that print a lot overwhelming choose laser printers!

What about color laser printers?  More colors, more problems.  Color laser printers cost twice as much and color toner is expensive.

3.  Need color? Buy an inkjet with refillable cartridges!

Printer manufacturers are screwing you on ink.

They do things like engineering ink cartridges to be mostly empty and putting proprietary microchips in their cartridges to stop printing when there's still ink left and prevent refilling.  Printer ink is one of the most expensive liquids in the world!

Keep your printing costs reasonable by selecting a printer that will allow you to refill the cartridges.  Ideally, this means no microchips and no printing 'hard cutoff'—the printer should allow you to attempt to print, even if it thinks that one or more of your inks are low!  Brother and older-model HP printers tend to meet these requirements, but your best bet is to double-check the specific model that you're interested in to make sure.

If you print very often in color, consider a continuous ink system with refillable tanks, like this one for the Epson Artisan inkjet printer.

Always Choose The Frugal Setting

Inkjet printers often call it 'Fast Draft' while laser printers might list it under 'Toner Saver'. Whatever it's called, turn this setting on! You will probably do this in the printer's software; in Ubuntu 14.04, it's listed under Print Quality in Printer Options:

Inkjet printers love to soak the page with precious, precious ink, and choosing Fast Draft will help cut down on this.  The grays will be lighter and the colors won't be as brilliant, but on all printers I've tried the pages are still very readable.  The number of pages you can print between ink or toner refills may be greatly increased, and your pages will print even faster!

Common Sense Printing

1.  Only print the parts of a document that you need

Install an adblocking extension to avoid wasting ink or toner on big colorful blocks of advertisements.

Only need the text from a recipe with photos? Copy and paste it into a text document and print that.

Only need a chunk of a document?  Use a screenshot tool—most operating systems come with one—to take a screenshot of the area you need; copy that into a document and print from there.

Always use 'print preview' to see if you can leave off that last page!  It might just be the site footer.

2.  Print multiple pages per side

Diagrams, slide decks, and even text may still be perfectly readable when printed two or more to one side of a sheet of regular 8"x11" paper.  Some programs may give you the option to do this when you print from them, or you may need to dig into your printer software's settings to find the option.

3.  Use cheap paper, duplex your print jobs, and reduce the margins

The ink isn't your only running cost to print: you're paying for the paper to print on, too.  If the stuff you're printing is usually used once and then thrown out recycled, might as well buy the cheapest paper you can find—in bulk online, you can get paper for $0.01/sheet, shipped.

If your printer has a built-in duplexer, you can print to both sides of the sheet and cut your paper use in half.  You can turn duplexing 'on' by default in the printer software.  Fast Draft / Toner Saver mode improves duplexing by reducing page bleed-through.

Last but not least: reduce your margins!  Google Docs, LibreOffice, and Microsoft Office all default to margins that are excessively large.  Push the margins out and print more per page.

Cost-Effective Printers and Supplies

None of these links are affiliate links, so I'm not incentivized for recommending them.
As always, buy used whenever possible.
For a good duplexing laser printer, try the Brother HL-2270DW.

Paper?  Try GP Spectrum Multiuse—$15 for 1500 sheets.
Ink refills? Try Cartridge Ink Refill Kit—refill a 15mL cartridge 40x for $16.
Toner refills? Try Brother High-Yield Toner Refill—$5 instead of $45 for a new cartridge!

If you must buy a color inkjet printer, make sure it supports DIY cartridge refills!  Cartridge World, a manufacturer of refilled cartridges and refill kits, highly recommends Brother inkjet printers for their lack of refill-preventing technology.  Older-model HP, Epson, and Canon printers are less likely to have cartridge microchips and other nonsense, so buying used can pay off.

Myself?  I do 90% of my printing for free at work, and I have an older HP Photosmart C4780 that accepts ink refills and will print indefinitely, even if it thinks a cartridge is empty.  Here's to not wasting money on trivial things!