Six Savvy Ways to Get More Prints for Less Money

Printers are cheap to buy, but expensive to use. Printer vendors may think that their ink cartridges and special paper are worth their weight in gold, but that doesn't mean you can't print on the cheap. You just have to know a few simple tricks.

Preview to print less: When printing pages from a Web site, use your browser's Print Preview function to ensure that you're getting just the information you need. Even if the site has a printer-friendly option, Print Preview lets you make sure the right margin won't be cut off (some Web pages are too wide for many printers): If necessary, adjust your layout orientation from Portrait to Landscape to cover the lost territory.

In Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Opera, open the Web page you want to print and click File, Print Preview. A new screen will pop up with the content shown in printer format; it will likely fill more than a single printed page. Note the page or pages you want to print, and click the Print button at the top of the Preview screen (or press <Ctrl>-P). In the resulting Print dialog box, enter the start and end pages in the Print Range boxes (the Pages button will be selected automatically when you enter the page numbers; see FIGURE 1

Figure 1: Print only the pages you want by setting the page range in your Print Properties dialog box.
).

Some printer makers, such as Canon, bundle free utilities with their printers -- or make programs available for download -- that let you print Web pages faster. Check your vendor's Web site for such a program, or visit Canon's Easy-WebPrint utility site.

To reduce your ink usage further, select the Properties button and choose Draft mode under Print Quality (the wording and location of these options vary from printer to printer; you may have to click around a bit in your Printer Properties dialog box to find them). If color is not important to you, also check the Grayscale Printing button. Finally, click OK.

Print just the text: My favorite way to print a small section of text from a Web site is to highlight the text, click File, Print, and choose Selection under Page Range. Alternatively, you could copy the relevant text (press <Ctrl>-C), open WordPad (click Start, All Programs, Accessories, Word-Pad, though any word processor or text editor will do), and paste the content there (select Edit, Paste Special, Unformatted Text). I usually have to do a quick format touch-up before I print, but I save quite a bit of ink and paper this way.

Skip the power strip: Do you switch your printer on and off from a power strip? Bad idea. When you shut a printer off, it parks its heads in a preconfigured place. But powering down via a power strip can bypass the normal shut-down process, preventing the heads from parking properly. This can dry the printhead out or cause it to clog. Always use your printer's own power switch to turn it off.

Prevent cartridge drying: Print cartridges have a nasty habit of drying out from disuse. Print a page (using your black and color cartridges) at least once a week to keep the cartridges fresh. There's no resuscitating a dried-up cartridge.

Know when to go off-brand: No-name printer cartridges are a few dollars cheaper than your printer manufacturer's refills, but the savings may come at the price of lower or inconsistent print quality. If you're printing drafts of text documents, off-brands can be a good choice. For printing photos, however, they generally produce fewer prints than brand-name cartridges do, and they fail to match the manufacturers' inks in print quality and fade resistance.

Refill kits may seem like a good way to cut printer costs; but they're messy, their print quality is inconsistent, and the refilled cartridge will hold less ink than a new cartridge from the original manufacturer will, which means fewer prints in the long run.

Note: For a visual tutorial on some of these tips, watch our video.

Spend a Little to Save a Lot on Your Printing Costs

If you're like me, you are always on the prowl for ways to reduce your ink and paper costs. The best helper I've found lately is FinePrint, a shareware utility that lets you print two, four, or eight pages on a single sheet. The package also has options to let you print colored text in black and skip printing graphics, among other buck-saving tools. The trial version places a watermark on each page; pay $50 (well worth it), and the watermark vanishes.

Michael S. Lasky is a freelance writer and computer consultant in San Francisco.

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