Save Time and Money with Printing Alternatives

Category: Printing

How often do you use your 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. Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo (or whatever email service you use) will keep it safe for future reference. 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.

alternatives to printing

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.

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 option on the options menu. I use the free LibreOffice Writer instead of Word, and it offers a File+Export PDF option. 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.

If you need a PDF viewer, I recommend the free Foxit Reader software. As an aside, I'll mention PDFill PDF Tools, another freeware tool that lets you slice and dice PDF files in a number of useful ways. PDFill can merge, split, reorder, delete, encrypt, decrypt, rotate and crop PDF pages.

Online Faxing and Photo Sharing Options

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 a private album/folder on Facebook, Google Photos, Photobucket or a similar online photo sharing service, and send your friends the link to that album. A growing number of newlyweds are going that route.

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 and RightSignature 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 PDF Mage. 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. Your all-in-one printer may have this feature available. If not, check out the Fujitsu ScanSnap line of scanners.

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 Printing Alternatives "

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

06 Feb 2017

All of these are excellent ideas for the computer user. However, I bet we all have at least one or two persons in our lives that don't even own a computer. Then printing becomes important.

I have an AIO printer. My daughter needs to use it monthly for faxing information to Social Security. As we all know, the US Government wants to have paper copies. They really don't care how many trees are used for this purpose.

I also get my print cartridges at bargain prices. I have several cartridge packs on my shelf, so when a black or colored cartridge goes empty, I have one to replace.

I guess with all of my medical/surgical backgrounds, I want to make sure I am well prepared!!! You just never know what will or could happen. LOL

Now, double printing is another method for saving paper. I don't print enough to use it and I really don't know how, either. I must sit with my manual and go step by step to learn how. }:O)

Posted by:

06 Feb 2017

Bob, for once I am ahead of you. ): I have the File Center software by Lucion which recreates the concept of filing cabinets. I can print directly to my Inbox or any Drawer in File Center. I download all my bills from online sites directly into that program. Last year I mailed approx. 10 things. The rest I either emailed or paid online. The program even has a button in Gmail where I can select an email in Gmail and automatically move it to File Center. You can scan into it also. Amazing program. I backup twice a day so I feel safe relying on it to store all my "stuff." I buy a ream of paper about 2-3 times a year. When you print directly into the program it automatically converts the doc into PDF. It supports other formats too. for anyone interested. It has taken me about 2 years to stop printing everything out. Great feeling.

Posted by:

06 Feb 2017

I use onSign for signing documents. What is really nice about it is if someone "opens" the document with the intention of changing a word, number, period, etc., it immediately voids your signature. Besides signing, it protects your document contents.

Posted by:

06 Feb 2017

I use PDFTk (PDF Tool kit).
It can execute a variety of manipulations.
I use it to combine one-sided scans of two sided docs.
Free. Or buy the Pro version for $3.99. I advise springing the $3.99 without thinking about it.

To combine two simplex scans of two-sided doc:
1. Scan odd pages. 2. Scan even pages.
This gives two PDF files. On my scanner the file of even pages is in reverse order.
3. Run pdftk with this in the Command Window:
Q:\...\pdftk.exe A=oddpages.pdf B=evenpages.pdf shuffle A Bend-1 output combined.pdf

"Q:\...\pdftk.exe" is the executable. A and B are the two input files. "shuffle" tells pdftk to interleave the two files, like shuffling a deck of cards. "Bend-1" tells pdftk to read file B backwards.

Posted by:

06 Feb 2017

I try to avoid printing as much as possible. I also try to avoid receipts as much as possible. CVS, Macys and some other stores now send me my receipts by email. I also get my car service paperwork by email. In addition to saving paper, now I can find things rather than having piles of paper. I also scan in purchase receipts for things that have warranties (major appliances, etc.) where I might need proof of purchase. Finally, I have an indexing program (I use Copernic) so I can search my computer to find things by keyword.

Posted by:

06 Feb 2017

I have created a fairly extensive library on my pc with folders for various topics and subtopics (i.e. bidness, family, pets, friends, DIY, etc.) When I receive something important in the mail, I scan it into a folder as a PDF. I also have manuals for all of my appliances so they have become a quick reference.

Using CutePDF (my favorite PDF program for many years), I make PDF copies of emails and online articles I want to keep and they go into the appropriate library folder. From there, it's easy to attach a PDF to an email.

Needless to say, I also have a great backup system to protect all that data. ;)

Posted by:

06 Feb 2017

Good ideas. I see how I might save quite a bit in paper now. And ink too.

Posted by:

06 Feb 2017

Is there a free PDF program that allows typing to fill in forms?

Posted by:

06 Feb 2017

Thanks Bob. All great things to do, most if not all I do fairly regularly. I use Gmail and have created a lot of labels and folders to save various things in and that makes for very fast lookup for the various folders and labels I use. and if somethins overlaps into another I just give that several labels I can search instead of say the entire sent folder or whatever. HelloSign is another great program/add on for signing things without having to print them.

Posted by:

07 Feb 2017

I just started "printing" confirmation pages from websites, e-statements from my banks, etc. to PDFs using the Chrome browser.

All I do is PRINT from Chrome (Ctrl-P or using the Chrome menu) and click "Change" under Destination, then "Save as PDF".

I can then save the PDF in any folder on my hard drive that makes sense to me.

It's a nice way to keep receipts, etc. where I can easily find them, and it saves on all that eventual paper shredding!

Posted by:

Sarah L
07 Feb 2017

You clearly do not do genealogy. It is important to have information on acid free paper, and to print as well as save information found on line. In the years I have done this hunting on line, I have been amazed how rapidly the sources appear and disappear. I am glad I printed everything I found in the archives of my local newspaper, for example, as I cannot get at those archives now. For many valuable things, it is better to save on paper and on the computer or in the cloud. Software changes rapidly, so what one could read on a computer a few years ago, may no longer be readable. But the piece of paper in its protective sleeve, still is readable.
The religion of paper being useless, well, it has gotten a bit extreme. It is truly useful.
My other comment is that I would print more now, but every time Windows updates, or there is sunspot activity, my new printer will not be in communication with any of my devices. With my old printer, it took a year for Windows 7 to settle down, but then I could print from lap top or desk top. Now, it is iffy and tech help from anyone is more destructive than helpful, though I have warranties. Instead I pay my local specialist to try to get the 8 zillion tick marks as they should be so I can print with the print command.

Posted by:

07 Feb 2017

I don't understand how printing to PDF is an alternative to printing. PDF is just a document format. If you "print" a Word or Excel document to PDF, well... you just have to read it on-screen, exactly like a Word non-printed document. Moreover, PDFs are often pretty when professionally designed, but difficult to read on-screen.

The real alternative to printing is making sure you have a sound backup policy. If your important documents are never to be printed, you'd better make sure you have a zillion digital copies of them all over the place.

Also, in some cases, officialdom or other entities might insist to see some paper with ink on it. Then you might have to go back to whatever paperless office produced the document in the first place ten years ago, and they might charge you through the roof to have that looked up and printed.

Mailing documents to Google in order to store them is OK, as long as you assume that they may go up in digital smoke tomorrow morning. It's very easy to be locked out forever out of a free Google account. So duplicate, duplicate, duplicate.

Posted by:

07 Feb 2017

I agree with the concept with reducing the amount of hard copies and keeping multiple digital copies of all important items. I have come to "cautiously" trust the concept of cloud storage. I do use redundancy there, against the day Google vaporizes. Security is always a concern, but I have decided I'm just not that important in the world of the NSA, etc. They have more important people to spy on.

While I dislike the concept of retailers having my email address for receipts, I do scan all important receipts for permanent storage. Most are now printed on heat-sensitive paper, which fades very rapidly, even when stored carefully. I learned this the hard way when I needed to invoke a guarantee and the associated receipt had faded to a blank piece of paper.

For those who mistrust the cloud storage options, I would suggest the option of a USB or external hard drive that is stored in a safe-deposit box. More work, especially the self-discipline to replace the data with newer back-ups, but workable for the cloud-averse. Just don't choose a bank in the World Trade Center!

Posted by:

07 Feb 2017

I tried emailing important documents to myself years ago. Twice since 2001 I had ho... lose the documents and when needed to go to court, they were not available. They were counseling files that I didn't want hard copies for someone to find. But when the suspect got violent I needed my notes.
So I am leary about letting the email servers keep my files. According the them the files were unrecoverable.

Posted by:

07 Feb 2017

For RichF

I use Adobe Reader DC (FREE)

from their FAQ:
Can I fill out and save forms with Acrobat Reader DC?

Yes. The new, built-in Fill & Sign tool automatically recognizes whether your PDF has fillable form fields or not and takes you to an intuitive filling experience to get the job done quickly and easily. With a fillable form, it’s easy to type your answers or select from drop-down lists, then save your completed form. When working with simple PDFs that haven’t been optimized with form fields, you can click anywhere and type answers right onto the form – or you can accept suggestions from your personal autofill collection. When you’re done, you can save your changes and send the completed form to others.

Using the Adobe Fill & Sign mobile app, you can do the same tasks on your iOS or Android devices too.

Posted by:

08 Feb 2017

Many valuable comments on digital files, especially by Clairvaux and Humbug 7.

As Clairvaux notes, the "zillion copies" rule is the best backup policy possible for digital files. For that reason, I keep at least two USB external HDs in rotation at all times, with a third, archival HD for longer-term storage. This is not over-kill-- with a backup, we get only one chance, and the "old, reliable" suddenly can become unreliable in the most disastrous way.

Equally important, Clairvaux adds that a paper archival copy can be worth hundreds of times its production cost if it is needed, years later.

Humbug points out thermal paper is widely used for store receipts, and these fragile images must be saved to stable paper and/or digital image before they simply fade beyond recognition. All of us should check our receipt files, and copy the more important, because even "normal" receipt paper could be thermal.

Posted by:

08 Feb 2017

Bob, Not "Everyone" has a cell phone, a smart watch, a computer, and so on. There's not a "one size fits all" when it comes to printing. A very wonderful cousin & her husband, "up in years," see no reason to buy a computer that they most likely will have a hard time understanding and, thus, using. If they had a computer, what you suggest above, while actually very useful, would be "Greek to them." If they had a computer, they probably would be printing everything as they wouldn't understand "the cloud," etc.

I can't afford a cell phone. I make very few calls and receive even fewer. Waste of time & $$. Using all the above resources is unnecessary for _my_ purposes, but I'm glad to know about them.

Thanks again for all your efforts on our behalf.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
08 Feb 2017

Thanks for another great article. I've been using the ad-sponsored version of PDFedit995 for years, and it has been adequate, albeit limited in capabilities. Per your advice I just downloaded PDFill PDF, and I've used it several times already. It has many more functions, it's free, and there are no ads or watermarks. What's not to like?

Posted by:

Geoff Greig
02 Mar 2017

My printer stopped working a few years ago and I have not use one since. I have for many years scanned paper that gets snailmailed to me. But I have reduced that dramatically, by getting bills sent to be via Bpay View (A function of Australian Banks). Where ever possible when people wish to send me paperwork I ask them the scan or PDF it and email it to me.

When I do get somthing hard copy I now find it easer to take a photo of it with my phone and copy the image to my computer, than to scan it. It also has the advantage of being able to be done anywhere.

The comments that have been made about paper having a longer life and able to be read in the future compared with the digital records. I have yet to see anyone that makes a backup copy to other paper,by photocopying, so I suggest that paper records are a lot more fragile than the digital equivalent.

As to archives not being accessible now that where in the past. I suggest that is more to do with other considerations like charging for ther use than the paper digital discussion.

Regardless of software or technological changes digital information can always be made available. The reason it is sometimes not, is again more to do with those other considerations.

Posted by:

18 Jul 2017

Bob, been following you since Tour Bus days. Always excellent reportage and advice. I continue to be completely amazed at how willing people are to trust their every document to online services and the ubiquitous Cloud. How about a deep dive piece on the pitfalls thereof. I mean, c'mon, even your bills, legal documents, and on and on ad nauseum?. Does no one know or care how many interests there are that can access such data? Just consider even recent revelations of the tools used by, for example, the NSA. Many of these tools are now in the wild. It's big business and folks are just offering their information to the world for free. Never ceases to amaze me. Cheers and stay vigilant!

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