Save Time and Money with Alternatives to Printing

Category: Printing

How often do you use your home printer? If it’s more than just occasionally, I've got some tips to simplify your life and save you money. Aside from wasting paper, killing trees unnecessarily, and spending more than $300 a gallon on printer ink, you're also creating a stack of pages that you'll have to do something with. Here are some ways to minimize those hard copies, as well as the associated filing, and tedious searching tasks...

Put Down that Cartridge and Back Away Slowly From the Printer

Printing is a habit, and it can be a costly one. We print documents, emails, bills, receipts, photos and other types of files. All of these things come to us in digital form, so the trick is to realize that converting them to paper just makes it harder to manage and find them later.

Many things are printed for record-keeping purposes. But the best record-keeper available may be your email server. Instead of printing a Word document or PDF, email a copy to yourself, and Gmail (or whatever email service you use) will keep it safe forever. You can also find it again with simple search, or tag it with keywords so that you can easily find all documents that relate to a given topic. If you use webmail, you have the added benefit that your important documents are stored online, and won't be lost if your hard drive fails.

Bills, receipts, monthly statements, correspondence, jokes and pictures of cute puppies will flow into your inbox. Let them stay there! Printing these things is old-school thinking, and ultimately makes it harder to find the information at a later date.
Alternatives to Printing

When you generate a document, rather than mailing it, ask the recipient if it would be okay to "print" it to a PDF file and email it, instead of sending it to a paper-guzzling printer. Most people will actually prefer this, because it eliminates the delay of mailing. Microsoft Word supports this trick; choose Save As and then look for the PDF or XPS option on the options menu. “XPS” is a Microsoft format built into Windows. It’s inferior to PDF but there in case you need it. Any application that can print can instead save to a PDF file, using one of several free or trialware PDF printer utilities. I have used CutePDF Writer and several others. Of course, Adobe Acrobat will convert almost any file format to PDF.

Instead of printing something in order to fax it, try a free Internet fax service. All of them accept either email attachments or uploads of Word, JPG, and other popular file formats and then fax them for you. Of course, you can't control whether the recipient prints that incoming fax or not, but there are also fax-to-email services that funnel your incoming faxes to your email inbox. See Free Inbound Faxing for details on that.

Don’t print photos unless you are making a special gift photo album for Grandma. Just upload your digital images to Photobucket or a similar cloud service, and send your friends the private link to that album. A growing number of newlyweds are going that route. See Free Online Photo Storage and Sharing ( for lots of options.

Software and Online Services That Can Help

What if you receive a document that you have to sign and return? For that, there are services like Vletter which will scan your handwritten signature and convert it into a Windows font that you can insert anywhere, at any size required. No more printing, signing, scanning, and emailing or faxing. You can create your own graphic image of your scanned signature and insert it into documents, too. Other online services such as Docusign handle the digital signature process with a completely web-based process.

It’s getting ever easier to save paper. The Chrome browser has print-to-PDF capability built into it; you can even select one page or a range of pages in a multi-page Web page after previewing it. (Use File+Print, then press the Change button to see this option.) Firefox can do likewise with a free add-on called “Print Pages to PDF.” The PDF printer emulators mentioned above work with any browser.

Chrome also has a “Save to Drive” feature (accessible via the Print dialog) that saves the file currently displayed on your browser in your Google Drive cloud storage space. Internet Explorer prints to OneNote in the cloud-based version of Office. Firefox has add-ons such as Cloud Printer for Mobile and others for desktop PCs. The Evernote app works on just about any platform (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android) and is a convenient way to keep (and later search for) documents without having to print, file and shuffle.

If you've got already printed pages that you'd like to store in digital format, use a scanner with OCR (optical character recognition) capability to create a searchable PDF. See Digital Scanners to the Rescue for information on scanners and OCR software that can do this.

Saving trees, time and money are three good reasons to lessen your dependence on a printer. Do you have other non-printing tips? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Save Time and Money with Alternatives to Printing"

Posted by:

24 Oct 2013

Much as I appreciate your tips regarding incoming documents, etcetera, if I'm pursuing some tricky problem or installing something on my PC from instructions, I find it most useful to have a printed copy on hand rather than clicking between various windows on screen.

Very often I find it more convenient to copy and paste from the web to Word and then I've got access to a Word document in whatever format suits me best; ie, on screen or the printed doc.

Posted by:

old gobbo
24 Oct 2013

Thanks again, Bob,for another useful guide - you seem to be getting more rather than less productive: the last two months have been v. useful, sometimes astonishingly so.

Re faxes: do you, or does anyone, know of any free fax-sending sites in the R.O.W. like, er, Europe ?

Posted by:

24 Oct 2013

I have used CutePDF for years and love it. New versions keep coming out, but the only difference I can see is the different sponsors' tool bars. I opt out of their recommended offer of's toolbar (or whoever might be included with this release.)

I have never had any issues with CutePDF and have used it with Windows XP, Vista, and Win 7.

Posted by:

Mogan in Denver
24 Oct 2013

I've been using PDF Escape for quite awhile and it works well as an online editor for PDF. I can edit a PDF file and then save it back to my computer or to cloud storage under a new name.

Posted by:

24 Oct 2013

Thank you for this post.
I have already converted this article to a PDF. I will be emailing it to a few of my cohorts who use me as their neighborhood Kinkos for my printers (one BW Laser, one Color Laser and one Photo Inkjet).

Posted by:

24 Oct 2013

Great if you can remember the keywords you used & where you stored it.

The photos idea is going to cause a great void for future genealogists..

Then there is all of problems with passing the stuff down so the next generation can open it, access or find it.

Posted by:

24 Oct 2013

If you "Absolutely, Positively" must print something, this can help save resources. From the website:

CleanPrint® is an economically and ecologically friendly print tool that saves you paper and ink while making your output look great. CleanPrint is activated by clicking the CleanPrint Browser Tool instead of the print button next to an article on a website. Before printing or saving content you can add a note, eliminate images, increase or decrease font size, and eliminate text to save ink and paper.

-Easy to add to your browser
-Environmentally responsible content output
-Economical – saves ink and paper
-Improves readability
-Several output options available including Print, PDF, Email, Text, Box, DropBox, Google Drive, and Google Cloud Print

Posted by:

24 Oct 2013

Hi All!

Three Words: Nitro PDF Reader

Posted by:

25 Oct 2013

This may work for some but I started this years ago and had Hotmail loose years of emails TWICE and I am a paid subscriber. I lost all my important emails. I no longer trust the system.

Posted by:

25 Oct 2013

To old gobbo: I, too, would love to find a free fax provider in Europe. In the meantime, I've used PamFax (based in Germany, I think) (quite possibly from a mention in a previous one of Bob's excellent ABRs): you get a couple of faxes free, but then must buy credit.
Bob, you might have pointed out that Mac users have a system-wide ability to print to pdf simply from an app's File>Print menu.
Also, of course, an appropriate app on a smartphone or tablet, allows quick pdf creation from a photo.

Posted by:

25 Oct 2013

I'm a "hands on" type. I gotta have a hard copy. As for walking around all day staring at fancy cell phone like a lobotomized zombie - count me out! I've yet to ever have the battery die on a printed page as I'm reading it.

Posted by:

25 Oct 2013

Good thoughts, Bob:
However, saving receipts to an e mail account may not be the best idea. Many receipts have account numbers and if the e mail account is hacked, these pay become available to third parties.

Posted by:

27 Oct 2013

I use PDF995 - free version -( for PDF conversion and my Windows 7 can send and receive faxes.

Posted by:

30 Oct 2013

I have discs with PDF files that were scanned without OCR. Is there an app that will enable me to perform searches ?

Posted by:

31 Oct 2013

Sorry Bob but, for me an expat, a copy of my online statements is essential - relying on The Cloud or Yahoo etc., must be crazy - they have no responsibility to save your data - I love Yahoo Mail by the way. Also, there are often convoluted solutions for a computer problem found after a Google search, that unless you are lucky enough to have two pcs side by side, a printed copy is most advisable.

Posted by:

10 Jan 2014

I have for years printed out almost everything on reams and reams of Walmart paper. After filling my house with paper in every corner, I decided to do something about it. Now, I bookmark everything I want to save. Later, when I need the information and look over the particular subject, I read most of the information I need and print out what I need at my side. This system plus backups works fine for me

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