Upgrade Your Life: Cutting down on printing costs

Alex Romanelli

Printing at home is expensive, especially when it feels like you're swapping out ink cartridges every other week. The cheapest way to cut down on printing costs is to avoid printing altogether (have your boarding pass emailed to your smartphone for your next flight!), but unfortunately that's not always a possibility. From expense reports to concert tickets, most of us still need to print on a regular basis, but it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Here are some smart tips to help you cut down on printing costs:

Fast draft printing mode

The fastest and easiest way to cut down on ink use (and cost!) is by printing in draft mode. Draft mode lays down less ink, and while your text will look a bit grayer than black, it's useful for less important documents. The draft option should come up in the print dialog box each time you print, so you can decide on a case by case basis when the print quality isn't important. Alternately, you can set the printer default to draft mode so it automatically saves you ink and money. While settings vary from program to program, in Windows you can find the option by choosing File > Print then look around for a setting called "draft" or "fast draft." If you don't see a drop-down option or checkbox named this, look for the Print Quality tab to adjust your settings.

Choose your font wisely

When you print, you probably pick your favorite font or go with a default — perhaps the tried-and-true Times New Roman or maybe something with a little more flair? But font choice can dramatically affect how much ink you use — and a new font was actually designed to save you a chunk of change. Thicker, bolder, or more ornate fonts naturally require your printer to lay more ink down on the page. Choosing a simple, sparse font can add up to real savings, especially if you often find yourself printing page after page of text.

Dutch company Printer.com put 10 popular fonts to the test and found that a home user who prints 25 pages a week could save $20 a year by switching fonts. For a business with a printing rate of around 250 pages a week, savings tallied up to $80. Of course, if you're printing more than this, you'll save even more cash by changing to a low-ink font. So what are the best, leanest fonts?

1. Ecofont Century Gothic*

2. Century Gothic

3. Ecofont Vera Sans

4. Times Roman

5. Calibri

*Ecofont is a neat font designed with savings in mind. The typeface is actually perforated by tiny holes, so it remains readable while gobbling down less ink. There are a number of different Ecofont typefaces, but the Ecofont Century Gothic is the real super green superfont.

So, what are some fonts to avoid? Impact, Cooper Black, and Comic Sans are all ink-hogs, but the easiest way is to just steer clear of any font that looks thick or bold.

How to install a new font

Your computer will come pre-loaded with a wide array of fonts, but for special ink-saving fonts, you'll need to manually install them. First, check through your word processing program to see what fonts you've got at your disposal. If you're missing the one you're after, Dafont.com has a huge catalog of free fonts that you can browse. But for Ecofont typefaces, you'll need to buy a license to use the font through Ecofont's own site.

In Windows Vista or Windows 7:

1. Download the font file

2. Locate the font file on your computer (where you chose to save it or your default download folder)

3. Right-click the font file and select "Install"

On a Mac:

1. Download the font file

2. Locate the file on your computer

3. Double click the file (if you're prompted to unzip it, just locate the new unzipped file afterward)

4. Double-click the font file and click the button that says "Install font" at the bottom of the preview

Tips for refilling ink

If your printer starts blinking an ominous red light or you get an on-screen notification about low ink, it's time for a refill. Many manufacturers make their own brand of ink, but the secret is that you don't need to buy a brand new manufacturer cartridge — you've got options:

* Buying a generic brand or remanufactured cartridge could get you 50% savings versus the manufacturer brand. Stores like Office Depot and OfficeMax offer their own brand of ink at a steep discount.

* Refill your existing cartridge. Many stores will do this for you, just save your empty cartridge and bring it in. While Walgreens and other pharmacies offer the service, the quality of Costco's refill cartridges topped PC World's tests.

* Pick up an ink refill kit and replenish your own ink. Most office supply stores carry these, just be sure to have the exact make and model of the printer (or one of the cartridges) with you. Our advice here is that do-it-yourself kits are good for one or two refills especially for the black cartridges, but that you should replace the cartridge every few refills so the printer head stays fresh.

More tricks for ink savings

* Power down your printer properly, don't just unplug it. This allows the printer head to move into a position that protects your ink from drying out. If you turn your printer off from a power strip it leaves the heads exposed. You actually lose money on ink while you are trying to save on so-called vampire power drain.

* Sites like printwhatyoulike.com are helpful for printing webpages. They let you print only the content you need while skipping ads and sidebars that eat up your precious ink supply.

* Look into buying a good, affordable laser printer. Laser printers are great if you're only printing in black and white, and you'll get more bang for your buck out of toner cartridges rather than having to swap ink in frequently. A laser printer might cost more up front, but the long term savings will add up.

More about printing on a budget:

Should I buy an inkjet or a laser printer?

How to set up a cheap home office

Is an all-in-one printer right for you?