How to beat printing costs

Save ink and still create great prints

Around the end of the 19th century, King C. Gillette began making disposable razor blades. He sold the handles for these at less than cost price, making a loss but drawing in the punters. Then he sold the blades themselves at far, far above cost price, ensuring a steady revenue stream from numerous customers for years to come. Naturally, the design of the blades was patented, preventing competitors from making cheap alternatives.

The Gillette business model still thrives today, emulated for numerous other products. Chief among these is the printer. A colour inkjet can be bagged for just $50, and there's no way manufacturers can turn a profit at that price. Instead, companies make their money on the ink. In some cases, printer ink is five times as expensive per millilitre as vintage champagne.

Thankfully, a combination of consumer pressure and a healthy market for third-party inks and cartridge refills is leading manufacturers to gradually lower prices for consumables. Today's printers offer lower running costs than you'd have seen three or four years ago. But that doesn't mean any of us can afford to casually waste ink and paper.

There's the environmental factor to consider, too. How many emails do you receive these days that urge you to consider whether printing the contents is really necessary?

In the following workshop, we'll explore several simple but effective ways for you to minimise your ink usage. You might be surprised at some of the options that lurk beneath the Properties or Preferences panel of your printer driver. We'll also show you how to cut down on paper wastage and avoid costly mistakes when printing photos.

Throughout the workshop, we use a Canon Pixma MX310 multifunction printer. Many of the screenshots refer to this unit's driver. If you're not using a Canon printer, your driver will be different, but don't let that put you off. All drivers are broadly similar and you'll be able to adapt the tips to your setup. At last, you'll be beating the printer manufacturers at their own game.

1. Most printers use Standard quality mode by default. You can save ink by selecting a lower-quality mode for printouts that are for 'internal' use only. Enter the printer driver's Properties and select Fast - this uses less ink than Standard mode. To save colour cartridges, tick Grayscale Printing.


Step 1

2. It's in printer manufacturers' interests for you to use lots of ink, and you'll probably find even Fast mode isn't particularly economical. Hitting the Custom button will often reveal 'hidden' modes. Our MX310 normally offers three quality levels, but under Custom there are five. Fast mode is level 4 - level 5 uses less ink still.


Step 2

3. It's a pain having to adjust the driver settings every time you print. To configure your own defaults, open Windows' Control Panel and click the printer category. Right-click your printer, select Properties, click the Advanced tab, then hit Printing Defaults. The driver settings you choose here will become the default.


Step 3

4. Once you've set up your defaults with economy in mind, it's a hassle resetting everything for print jobs that require high-quality settings - photo printing, for example. A little-known trick is to install your printer twice. You can then select two sets of defaults. When you print, simply choose the setup you require.


Step 4

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Jason D'Allison

PC Advisor (UK)
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