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 £25, 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.
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.
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.
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.
5. To create a second instance, first open the printer category in Control Panel. Hit ‘Add a printer’ and then ‘Add a local printer’. For the port, choose USB001 (or LPT1 if your printer is a parallel-port model). Next, select your printer from the list. When asked, elect to use the driver already installed. Finally, choose a name.
6. Want to save more ink? Several helpful ink-management utilities are available, such as 4X UltraSaver. This costs $39 (about £20), but there’s a free trial. Grab it from tinyurl.com/627tx4. It overrides your usual printer driver and, if you print a lot, could save you a fortune.
7. When you print, choose 4X UltraSaver as your printer. Either use the icons to select a preset quality level or move the needle manually – the higher the percentage, the more ink you’ll save. Even at 75 percent, however, the pages will still be perfectly readable. Under Target Printer, select your usual printer.
8. One task that commonly causes ink wastage is printing web pages with all their adverts. In future, press Ctrl, A to highlight all of the text (to highlight a section, left-click and drag). Right-click and select Copy. Then, in a word document, click Edit, Paste Special, Unformatted text. Print from here instead.
9. Cutting down on paper usage could save you a bundle. Try squeezing multiple pages of a web page or document on to a single sheet. You’ll find the relevant settings in your printer driver’s page-layout options. Two pages per sheet works well, and you’ll be surprised by the readability of even four pages per sheet.
10. Economise on photo paper by placing multiple photos on a single sheet. Your printer or camera might have come with layout software, allowing you to move and resize photos. If you don’t have such software, use Print Pilot (tinyurl.com/55coke) or Photo Manager (tinyurl.com/683nw8).
11. For top photo prints, your printer needs to be configured for the correct colour space. Most printers default to standard RGB, but pricier cameras might use Adobe RGB, which has a wider colour gamut. Unless you adjust your settings, such pictures will come out muted and dark.
12. Some printer drivers don’t allow the colour space to be changed. In such cases, convert Adobe RGB images to standard RGB before printing. In Photoshop Elements, click Image, Convert Color Profile, Apply sRGB Profile. Save the photo as a new file. Other image-editing packages will work in a similar way.
13. Most printers offer numerous ‘quick fixes’ for improving your photos. Our MX310 can smooth jagged edges, reduce noise, correct underexposure or overexposure and enhance greens and blues. Don’t overlook such settings – they can make all the difference. Experiment with your own printer’s settings.
14. On many printers, highest-quality output is restricted to only one or two paper types. But you can usually select any paper type you like, regardless of what you’re actually using. For the best photos, always ‘pretend’ you’ve got the best paper. The results, even on copier paper, might surprise you.