If you print a lot of documents on your inkjet printer at home, you've probably noticed that the costs of ink and paper over time are simply ridiculous—in some cases, they can exceed the price of your entire computer. After spending a weekend printing receipts for the accountant and completely depleting my $14.99 black ink cartridge, I've compiled the best ways to save money on printing costs (and compute greener at the same time).
Of course the most obvious way to save money on printing is simply this: don't print it. In the electronic age printer abstinence is more possible than ever, but when you absolutely must print something for one reason or the other, keep these tips in mind.
Print More than One Page Per Sheet
What simpler way is there to save paper than to print more than one page on each sheet? This works out especially well for PowerPoint presentations, where the bullet points can usually be easily read even with the smaller view.
In the print dialog, just choose Handouts from the "Print what" drop-down, and then choose the number of slides per page you want. You can also save some ink by printing only in Grayscale.
You'll find a similar setting in Microsoft Word's print dialog as well, where you can choose the number of pages per sheet. I find that printing 2 pages per sheet keeps the document fairly readable.
Many laser printers also provide a simple duplex option that will print on both sides of the paper.
Use Print Preview and Shrink to Fit
How many times have you printed off what you thought was a single page document and ended up with an almost empty page at the end? If you always blindly click the print button without previewing first, you're going to end up wasting a ton of ink and paper when your document ends on a single line, or ends up being unreadable. By using Print Preview you can avoid this from happening and print exactly what you want, at the expense of a couple of seconds of your time.
Firefox and Internet Explorer have an option called "Shrink to Fit" in their Print Preview dialogs which will often shrink the content down enough to fit on less pages, or you can choose a custom zoom level to fit even more on a single page.
Microsoft Word also has an option called "Shrink One Page" which will attempt to shrink the document by one page by reducing the size and spacing of the text.
Only Print the Selection You Need
Instead of printing information by the page, almost every application has a feature you might not have even noticed: the ability to print just a selection of text. This is especially helpful for printing a paragraph from a web page, or just a small section of a very long document or spreadsheet instead of throwing away the pages you don't need.
This technique works in most major applications like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Microsoft Excel & Word... simply select the portion of the document you want to print, and then choose the "Selection" option in the print dialog.
I've found this works especially well when printing off a blog article, since unfortunately very few blogs hide the comments from the print view, so you end up with half a dozen pages of comments. Note that you can also choose to print just certain pages, very useful when you can't easily make a selection but know you just need a particular page.
If your selection ends up being most of the page, you can alternatively use previously mentioned Firefox extension Aardvark to simply hide anything on the page that you don't want to print, like colorful advertisements and unnecessary graphics that are a waste of ink.
Print Multiple Selections on a Single Page
Instead of printing a single selection at a time, you can select multiple areas on the page and "clip" them for later printing on a single page with the HP Smart Web Printing application for Internet Explorer and Firefox 2.0. (Note that even though it's made by HP, it will still work on any printer). This application can save a serious amount of paper if you often need to print addresses or contact information from a number of places at once.
Sadly, the add-on didn't work for me in Firefox 3 even after using Nightly Tester Tools to override the compatibility. Hopefully they'll update the product soon, because it's really a great way to save paper.
Use Draft Mode as the Default Setting
If you are using an inkjet printer, there's really no need to print in high or even medium quality for simple things like driving directions or articles you want to read offline. You'll save a ton of ink (and time) by setting Fast Draft as the default option in the printer properties, so you won't ever forget and send a long document to the printer in regular mode.
Simply open up the Printers folder (in Windows, at least), and right-click on your printer, choosing Printing Preferences. While I can't give you instructions for every printer type, almost all of them have an option for "Fast Draft" under the print quality section. You can save your color ink by also choosing to only print in grayscale by default.
Many printers like my HP will let you save different sets of settings as defaults you can quickly choose when printing, as you can see I named mine Cheap/Fast and set that as the default print mode. If your printer doesn't have that option, you can create multiple printer configurations to save time.
Print to PDF Instead of Paper
Instead of printing documents to paper, you can print them to environmentally friendly PDF files that can easily be emailed around. There's quite a number of options you can choose from: doPDF, PDFCreator, or CutePDF for Windows users, CUPS-PDF for Linux, and even though Mac OS X users have "Save as PDF" baked right in, you can set up CUPS-PDF as a printer that doubles as a PDF converter.
You can take it a step further if you want, and set up your own PDF printer on your Windows home network, or replace faxing by creating a scanned signature and then sending scanned PDF's rather than faxes.
Refill Your Own Printer Cartridges
Unless you are printing photographs or something that requires high quality (like a resume), you can purchase refilled printer cartridges for a lot less than the cost of a new print cartridge. Used print cartridges can't be refilled forever, and the chance of failure is greater than using new cartridges, but at a substantial cost savings, it's probably worth the risk.
If you don't mind rolling up your sleeves, you can even refill your own cartridges and save yourself even more on your printing costs.
Track Your Savings with GreenPrint
If you're a fan of more automatic solutions, you can use previously mentioned GreenPrint, a free utility that works as a virtual printer and catches the document before being sent to the printer, giving you options to remove blank pages or anything that you don't want to print, or even an option to print to PDF instead of paper. As a bonus you get to see a report of how much paper and money you have saved.
Find Better Prices for Digital Photo Prints Online
Instead of very quickly wasting all of your color ink printing photos on your home printer, you can get cheap rates on print-and-mail photo prints from any number of online establishments. You can use previously mentioned digital print comparison site PrintRates.com to easily see who has the best prices, and possibly save yourself a lot of money the next time you need to send out holiday photos.