HOWTO: Save Money on Printing Costs

Category: Printing

Tired of shelling out big bucks to replace yet another empty ink cartridge? Nobody is happy about the high cost of home and small office printing. Paper prices are rising, and the cost of brand-name printer ink cartridges has always been outrageous. Here are some tips for slimming down your printing budget...

Printing On a Budget

The most important money saving tip I can offer is this: Don’t buy OEM ink cartridges. What's OEM? That's just shorthand for the "Original Equipment Manufacturer". In other words, if you have a Canon, Epson or HP printer, don't buy Canon, Epson or HP branded cartridges. The same goes for other printer manufacturers -- I'm not singling out those brands.

The dirty little secret of the printer industry is that they make far more profit from the consumable inks than they do on the printer itself. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for capitalism... but I'm also big on saving money where I can.

There are many third-party remanufacturers of used inkjet cartridges that produce results perfectly acceptable for home, school, and business uses. In many cases, refilled ink cartridges will give you more ink than they did fresh from the factory. The quality and fade-resistance of some refilled cartridges may be a bit less than OEM inks, but for most purposes that is not a problem.

Save on Printing Costs

See my related article The Truth About Discount Ink Cartridges for more info on discount inkjet refills and store brand inkjet cartridges. (Check out the reader comments there, as well, for some interesting tidbits that may be relevant to your specific printer or type of usage.)

More Tips to Save on Printing

Even if you decide to stick with the more expensive OEM cartridges, here are several other ideas to help you save on overall printing costs. I'll list them in the order of maximum impact.

If you have a color inkjet, think about NOT printing your photos at home. The convenience is nice, but there's no quicker way to drain those red, yellow and blue ink cartridges than by printing full sheets of color photos. Check out online photo printing services such as Shutterfly and others that I've written about in my Online Photo Printing article. Their prices may well be cheaper than printing photos at home, using ink and paper of comparable qualities.

And while we're talking about color, think about other documents as well. Most things such as emails, web pages, and even charts and graphs can be printed in greyscale, to avoid using the more expensive color inks. You'll find the option to print in greyscale or black & white under "Settings", "Properties" or "Preferences" when you hit the Print button. This is especially important if your printer uses a cartridge that combines the black ink with the colors. You might run out of a single color (red, blue or yellow) and have to discard the cartridge, even though some of the other colors are still partly full.

If you print a lot of black-and-white stuff in your home office or small business, consider a cheap laser printer instead of an inkjet. Laser technology generally yields lower cost-per-page than inkjet.

Print on both sides of a page when printing documents of many pages. It may take a bit of thought to lay out a document for double-sided printing, and on some printers you may have to reload a stack of pages to print the second side. But your paper costs are immediately halved.

Another trick I often use when printing large documents is to print multiple pages per sheet of paper. Most printers will let you choose 2-up, 4-up or even more pages per sheet. My HP OfficeJet Pro can print up to 16 pages per sheet, but I find that 4-up is about as small as you want to go in most cases, and still get a readable document. Let's say you have a 100-page document that you want to print. Combining double-sided printing with the 2-up or 4-up option can cut your printing costs by as much eight times.

Use your printer's "draft" or "economy" printing mode, or reduce the number of dots-per-inch that are printed. Not only will your ink last longer, pages will print faster too. Draft copies will be noticeably fainter, but still quite legible. When you need the best quality final copy, it's easy to switch settings for one last printing.

On a related note, software such as Preton Saver can automatically examine your printed pages and do various optimzations to reduce the amount of ink needed. The software promises to "save you up to 70%" in inkjet printing costs, and claims to produce better quality than your printer's draft or economy mode. I've tested PretonSaver and found that it works surprisingly well. There's a free 30-day trial of Preton Saver, after which you can pay $29 for a lifetime license.

Shrink your font size to save ink and paper. The difference between 14 and 11 point type is about 27 per cent, but most people can easily read the small font. Tweaking the spacing between lines of text can also fit more on a page, saving paper costs.

The font face that you use also makes a difference in printing costs. Arial is the most popular font, but tests by showed that Century Gothic used 31 per cent less ink! Times Roman is a good balance between classic style and cost savings. Avoid bold styling to save even more ink.

And finally, don't print on paper at all, if you can get away with it. Printing to a PDF file provides a high-quality document that can be saved on a hard drive indefinitely, without using any expensive paper or ink.

Do you have your own tips for saving money on printing? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "HOWTO: Save Money on Printing Costs"

(See all 29 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

bob price
19 Aug 2013

Refilling carts is great, but Epson and HP are not only difficult but often don't work after refilling. Brother printers are the best for refilling carts, simple and they work. Refilling costs about 15-20% of buying new carts.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2013

If I want to make up prints of a photo, I won't spend the money on ink. It is to expensive. I upload the pictures to a place like Walgreens, Walmart or CVS. They tell me when they will be ready, so I just drive over & pick them up. In the long run, I find it alot cheaper. Quite often they have sales and the quality of the picture is better. If someone wants specific pictures, I can upload them to a location close to where they live. It works out very well.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2013

Bob, I endorse heartily your suggestion to print to file (in a commonly used format for the file type) rather than to paper. I use a file program to keep my print-to-file stuff organized. It was hard to break my habit of printing out most everything, but now I have it on file and saved to an appropriate location for future reference. When I was in business, we also converted most of our forms to on-line fillable PDF forms. We could email them to the customer and receive them back filled in thus making them much easier to read. I also found that my need for a color printer was almost nil, so now I have a black ink only inexpensive (great quality) laser printer.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2013

I found this week's article that you wrote up for us, to be particularly helpful. :)

For example, I never would have thought that changing the size of the font when typing, would help save on using ink and printing costs, too. That is a really great idea that is so easy to do.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2013

Consumer Reports recently had an article about how many inkjet printers waste a goodly amount of ink even when the printer is just sitting. The "cleaning" they do either before a job or during various idle times can be hazardous to one's budget. Some printers reputedly will burn through a good $100 worth of ink a year this way. They listed one Brother printer that wasted $0, so it can be done. I've gone to using a couple of Brother laser printers (with auto duplex) that CR claims run about 1.5 cents per copy, and that's with OEM cartridges. Yes I'm a cheapo.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2013

I have an inkjet printer for printing when I need colour and a laser printer for black and white. Yes the initial cost is more but the savings are there for printing.
My HP colour printer was new when Windows XP was the latest and greatest so getting a driver for Windows 7 took a little effort. My laser printer is about 3 years old but it gets a lot more use. I use refilled ink cartridges to save more cash and the place I get my ink cartridges refilled no longer refills toner cartridges but has after-market ones which are the cheapest I've found.

Posted by:

Ross Knechtel
19 Aug 2013

Hello -- Just a comment on saving ink while printing. I use a program from I have been using it for several years and thoroughly endorse it.

Great product!

Posted by:

19 Aug 2013

So Bob, do you currently use Preton Saver yourself?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I used it for several months, to see if it worked as advertised. But I print so little, I decided not to keep it installed. I still think it's a very good product for those who print on a daily basis.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2013

Try using the "Green Cloud Printer".

Posted by:

20 Aug 2013

Thanks for the article very informative

Posted by:

20 Aug 2013

I like your ideas for how ink – and money – can be saved at the typing stage. I didn't know that about Ariel. Some fonts have a 'light' option, too. I would add that choice of font colour can also make a difference. Try using a dark grey instead of black, especially for thick lines (in a table, for example) and bold headings. I also use a grey for headers and footers: it saves ink and looks nice, too.

Posted by:

20 Aug 2013

I use a continuous inking system for all document printing. Available here in Australia,.
If you do not know this system an external reservoir is connected via soft tubing to printing catridges that are reprogrammed.
Cost for my Canon printer 5 cartridges and 100 mls of ink and all tubing Aus$119 and you can buy a bottle of 1000mls of ink for Aus$19.
I print over 5000 pages a month so to buy OEM cartridges would be expensive.
Available for many printers, canon, Epsom,HP,Brother etc.
A separate printer is used for photographs.
I am still hundreds of dollars ahead using two printers one for documents and one for photos.

Posted by:

Alex Johnson
20 Aug 2013

"Ultra Gamut" has great ink for refilling your own cartridges. I have a Canon Pixma 620 and have been refilling the cartridges for for the last 3 years. Thirty or forty dollars for the kit and voila three years later I still have ink left. You cant beat it for everyday printing, especially if you have children who always seem to have something to print!

Posted by:

20 Aug 2013

I have read a post by an Amazon reviewer who stated that the printer manufacturers have now implanted a chip that will not let you use anything but their brand name ink.

I belong to a Computer/Technology club and the president has been trying to replace the ink on a cheap HP printer. He goes to a place that will refill cartridges for a much lower cost than the brand name. Each time, there is an error message that the black is empty and it refuses to print no matter what.

We have a Canon Pixma at home. Same error messages even when we have just replaced the cartridges with store brand ones. I did get it to work for a while by holding down the "Start" button for 5 seconds but after just a little while it stopped printing for good.

We needed to print a letter in a hurry and finally rushed out and bought the Canon brand. They installed and printed flawlessly. Cost for the color/black bundle came to $53 with tax. Considering all the driving we were doing and wasted time and effort, it was a pleasure to just start printing without problems.

I agree, this is how the printer companies make money. In a lot of cases, the ink is more than a new printer. This is absurd, but they have us by the you know what, don't they?

We are looking into laser printers since the prices have dropped quite a bit. It's a real shame that consumers have to put up with this cute little trick by the big name companies.

Posted by:

20 Aug 2013

Bob this is a good article. I have been using laser printing technology since 1998, back when the latest and greatest was an HP 4L (back in 1994). I used one at work for one law firm, it printed well for government and court filings, and then my boss at another firm several years later had one at home she replaced, and she gave me her (lightly used) 4L. I used it for producing my church newsletter for several years (producing camera-ready copy for the print shop) and then for production printing when I started working from home for the same law firm. It finally gave up the ghost in 2006!!

Now the point of this post is -- BUY A HP B&W laser. Don't get the color inkjet that comes cheap or free with a computer package. Use it for your basic printing. It's faster and cheaper. Second choice would be Brother. Both manufacturers' laser cartridges can be refilled by vendors such as Cartridge world, and they LAST AND LAST. Even when you forget to change the setting on the print command (in Word and pdf documents, under "properties," "finishing" and select "econo mode."

Bob, I think your idea to use Century Gothic rather than Arial is a GOOD one that I will immediately implement for my business correspondence.

I will post another comment with some tips for all to save ink and paper.

Posted by:

20 Aug 2013

Here's some other ways to save on paper and ink or toner:

1) Don't print everything! Get a bigger viewing screen if you're having problems reading the text! It will pay for itself quickly. You'll wonder why you didn't do this a long time ago. I use a 24" diameter lcd 16:9 screen, myself.

2) Use "print preview." Especially if you're printing webpages. Many times the print preview will show that there's orphaned pages (those with only the url and page number and maybe the footer of the web page) and then you can select the page range and print only what you need.

3) If you only want the info on the webpage and not all the graphics, copy and paste the text you need into a Word document with narrow margins. You can then reformat to your liking. I do this all the time with recipes. You can also save or copy some images on the web if they will be of help in using the info you're wanting to save.

4) Get a pdf converter program. NOT Adobe Acrobat. ($$$!!) There are PDF converters by several companies, I use one from Nuance, the "professional" version was around $90, the lower-end ones less than that. Then you can save your printouts to pdf and email or view on your tablet or smart phone, rather than printing and using paper and ink/toner.

5) Use both sides of the paper especially for printing you don't need for distribution, such as for shipping airbills, drafts etc. Just make sure there's no confidential info on the back. I have a stack of "reprint" paper that's about a foot high saved just for this!

Posted by:

Unbiased Engineer
20 Aug 2013

Got to agree with PhotoSci

Sure, everyone has heard of refilling actually working, but as a Professional Engineer, I can tell you :
1) Using 3rd-party ink voids your printer warranty
2) Manufacturers invest a huge amount in ink formulations that work with their own printers and cartridges. Go to your refiller and ask to see his ink bottles. It's like asking to see the logo on the oil when you change the oil in your car; any reputable shop will display it proudly. Your refiller will likely refuse, because he has only one bottle for each colour, not hp black or Epson cyan, etc. What you'll get is no-name print quality.
You'll also get ink jams or ink smears, because they're using generic ink with generic viscosity for all different print heads. You will almost certainly shorten the life of your printer.
3) With most manufacturers these days, the print head is built into the cartridge, and they are engineered for a single usage, with their own ink. It will likely work for one refill, and possibly two, but unlikely for any more.
4) Don't compare the number of pages you get from a refill to what you get from the cartridges included with the printer. The cartridges that come "for free" with the printer are only half-filled, compared to their own brand name replacements. They'll be labeled exactly the same as the replacement cartridges, but they're not identical.

I'm sure many will live with all the downside risk for home use, but some people fill their tank with unknown gasoline and wonder why their car keeps breaking down. Ask yourself what your time and frustration is worth, and compare that against how much you save. How many times do you want to throw out your prints, get ink all over you hands and clothes, go get a new printer, or not, because its the middle of the night and your local retailer doesn't care if you need your prints NOW.

You wouldn't want your boss inflicting this grief on you at work to save a few crummy bucks, so why inflict it on yourself at home?

Posted by:

21 Aug 2013

Good article, Bob. I have used generic ink cartridges for years. I simply, can NOT afford to pay the prices for OEM cartridges. I am retired, on a fixed income, so, my budget can only handle so much.

Since, my printing is for personal business or reasons, I really don't need to have the "high quality" cartridges that many companies, must have for their documents. However, I bet that most of those companies use generic ink cartridges, to save on their budgets, as well.

Again, thank you for the great article. It certainly has generated lots of comments ... That's a good thing. :)

Posted by:

milto 3
24 Aug 2013

Hi Bob I have been refilling my own cartridges for about 3 years now. Refilling the cartridges from HP worked but not well.
Then I bought Refillable Cartridges from Inkproducts Inc. and now refilling works without a hitch. If they sell the Refillable cartridges for your printer try them.
My experience with their Ink has been very good the quality seems good to me.

Posted by:

30 Mar 2015

I use a CISS from saves $100's in my printing costs, Brother printers seem to work best

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