Printer Optimizers

Here are some tips and tricks you can use on your printer to save you ink, paper and cash.

Stretch your ink budget

Most printers let you extend your ink cartridges or toner by setting a draft mode that produces grey text, which is still perfectly readable. You'll also save by turning off colour printing; black ink and toner are usually cheaper than their colour counterparts. Save paper by printing two pages side-by-side on a single sheet. If your printer has a duplexer, set your draft profile to print on both sides. (The location of these settings varies from printer to printer, but look in the device's properties dialog boxes.) Set this profile as the default printer, so you won't forget to use it. Save your original profile for times when high quality is important.

Create virtual printers

Not all printouts are created equal: Sometimes you want quality, other times you want speed; sometimes you want colour, other times you don't. For each type of output, you must change the settings in Windows' Print Properties dialog box. While some printers let you set up profiles for each of your common printing tasks, you usually have to hunt through Print Properties to find the settings you need to tweak. To get the same result more easily, create separate printer profiles for each set of properties you require. Open Control Panel's Printers and Faxes applet, select Add a printer, and step through the Add Printer Wizard. Next, select the printer and click Set printer properties in the right pane (or right-click its entry and choose Properties). Assign the "printer" a meaningful name, such as Inkjet Draft or Laser Letterhead Paper, and click Printing Preferences, Advanced. Set the printing preferences to match (the options available vary from printer to printer, but most let you adjust the print resolution for higher or lower quality, for example). The next time you print, select the icon for your printing task from the list at the top of the Print dialog box.

Choose the right paper

If your printer has multiple paper trays, load one with inexpensive, multipurpose paper, set your draft-print profile to use it, and put your high-quality paper in the other tray. When you need quality, select the latter tray in your Print Properties. For sharp text from inkjets, use paper stock designed specifically for them--paper intended for laser printers and photocopiers soaks up ink like a sponge, making inkjet text look fuzzy.

Bonus tip: For best color accuracy and prints that last a lifetime, go with your printer manufacturer's recommended paper--usually its own brand. Some printers, such as recent models from Canon, won't even let you select the highest quality mode if it detects you're not using the vendor's own specialty paper.

Buy ink and paper in volume

When we tested the ink yields of photo printers, we found that the cost of printing a 4-by-6-inch photo ranged from 23 cents to 97 cents. Many printer vendors now offer multipacks of ink and paper. For example, HP's value pack for its Photosmart 375 and Photosmart 385 combines one tricolor ink cartridge with 50 sheets of snapshot paper for US$20--less than the US$25 cost of the cartridge alone. Although HP also sells packs containing more ink and paper, this smaller size is actually a better bargain, based on the 49-sheet yield recorded in our original tests.

Stock up on toner, too

Buying laser toner in bulk also saves you big bucks. Brother is typical of laser-printer manufacturers that offer their toner cartridges in several capacities. Cartridges rated to output 3500 pages for the Brother HL-5250DN (currently our Best Buy monochrome laser) cost US$74 on the company's site. You can buy cartridges with double that capacity for US$100, which saves you US$48 over the life of the higher-yield cartridge. Going big on toner capacities can reduce your cost per page by more than half a penny. Regrettably, few laser-printer vendors offer large-capacity cartridges for their budget models.

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