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How to Save Money on Printing Costs

Please consider your bottom line before printing this article.

By now you've heard the claim that at close to $4731 per gallon, printer ink is more expensive than vintage Champagne, rare whiskey, and Russian caviar. PCWorld reported on that almost ten years ago, and not much has changed since.

These days, printer ink will still run you about $20 to $35 per minuscule cartridge, each yielding 400 to 1000 printed pages. In fact, unlike everything else in the world of consumer electronics, ink prices are going up--as much as 30 percent since 2009.

In a business where hundreds of pages are being printed each day, those costs are significant. It's easy to dismiss a single page coming out of the machine as inconsequential, but with a price per printed sheet (per color used) now hitting anywhere between 3 and 10 cents, a business that goes through 500 sheets a week could be spending $2600 annually on printing--and many times that if staffers regularly print in color.

Printing is a substantial business expense, but ultimately you have more control over it than you might think. Sure, some printing--packing slips, mailing labels, legal paperwork, and so on--may be unavoidable, but there's a lot you can do to cut printing costs. Here are some ideas, from the relatively painless to the rather aggressive.

Conscientiousness

Do those little email-signature 'Please consider the environment before printing this email' notices, followed by a tiny green tree, do any good? (In my experience, when you do print such an email, that message invariably ends up on a page of its own.)

Hey, at least it's a start. The recycling bins of the world's offices are crammed full of pages that never should have been printed.

Ending that wasteful practice starts at the top. If you're a small-business owner, lead by example: Don't print memos, maps, baseball scores, and "interesting articles" to leave on employees' desks. This is why email was invented. Instead of dropping a 30-page report on your assistant, forward it as a PDF. Word can save documents directly in PDF, and sites such as Pdfcrowd can save Web pages as PDFs (if for some reason forwarding a link doesn't work). You can even use the print-screen function and the Windows Snipping Tool to create quick screen grabs instead of printing them on paper.

The bottom line: There's virtually nothing you might be accustomed to printing that you can't reproduce in digital form instead. What's more, you can archive, index, and search digital files much more quickly than paper files.

Paper Tricks

One of the oldest tricks in the playbook to reduce printing is to cram more information onto each page. This task is easy with a duplexing printer (one that can print on both sides), although the options might be buried in your printer preferences. By the same token, when you're printing PowerPoint slides, use the option to print multiple slides per page instead of just one. In PowerPoint's Handouts mode, you can print up to nine slides on a single side of paper (albeit very small).

Another paper-saving possibility is the 'shrink to fit' option in Excel and most Web browsers. This setting keeps orphaned text and columns from being cut off when you print a page that's ordinarily a bit too large for your printer. Using 'shrink to fit' can save you from printing lots of sheets with just one or two words (not to mention likely having to reprint the whole job).

Next Page: More Money-Saving Print Strategies

Fun With Fonts

Another simple way to save ink is to use a font that requires less of it. A popular study from Printer.com found that Century Gothic uses so much less ink than industry-standard Arial that a company printing 250 pages a week would save about $80 a year by doing nothing more than switching fonts. The more professional-looking Times New Roman was nearly as cost-effective. You can update the default font in Word through the Change Styles drop-down, and in Outlook through Tools > Options > Mail Format > Stationery and Fonts.

Free Refills

PCWorld has conducted significant research into the question of third-party ink cartridges, and the bottom line is that, in most cases, prints made with off-brand ink were as good or nearly as good as their brand-name counterparts. In the case of text and other black-and-white prints, we detected virtually no quality differences. If you need the very best quality from glossy photo prints, investing in OEM ink may be worthwhile. But most people, particularly those who print text, can get by with third-party ink, which can offer a cost savings of up to 70 percent.

Two Printers Can Be Cheaper Than One

It's a paradox, for sure, but having two printers in the office can be an easy way to save money on printing. How? Dedicate one printer to black-and-white printing, and the other to color. The former should be a high-speed, workhorse laser printer, and the latter should be a printer that you use only for photos.

Laser printers, while far from perfect, are considerably cheaper to use than inkjets. Laser printers' per-page printing costs are highly variable (as are inkjets' costs), but a price of 2 to 4 cents per page is about average--and less than you'll pay with even a conscientious inkjet. Lasers are also much faster--which means you and your staff waste less time waiting for jobs to finish--and produce better text quality.

The trick, of course, is making sure that employees don't accidentally use the wrong printer for each job. Help them to avoid that error by giving your printers custom names like 'COLOR ONLY $$$' and 'BLACK & WHITE', and ensuring that the laser is everyone's default printer.

Extreme Measures

What if all of the above fails? What if your staffers simply can't curb their printing habits?

One drastic solution, not to be embarked upon lightly, is to take the printers away. You can start by banning individual printers on users' desks. Workers are less likely to print something if they have to get up and walk to the printer to fetch it. You can also place networked printers near the location of the office manager, or whoever is in charge of maintaining and restocking them. People who get dirty looks because they're printing too much are likely to self-regulate their usage over time.

Pushing the envelope further, you can start banning printing altogether, at least one day a week. No, seriously: Every Friday, for instance, unplug the printer and lock it in a closet. The complaints will be fierce and furious, and you will hear considerable begging that I have to print this boarding pass right now, but it won't take more than a few weeks for employees to figure out how to survive without the printer one day a week. (Remember, businesses have taken far more serious measures, turning off the phones or email system periodically, and they've managed to get by.)

From there you can go even further. Turn the printer off two days a week, or even three days. You'll know when you reach the breaking point, but if your business can get to the point where the printer is off more than it's on, you might be able to ditch the thing altogether.

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