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How to save money on printing costs

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Printing can be expensive, but there are lots of ways to cut the costs. We review the best value printers and share tips on saving money on ink and paper.

printer on top of coins

Investing in a good quality printer could end up saving you loads of money in the long run.

When considering which printer to buy, think about the features you want it to have, the cost of the printer itself and most importantly, how much it will cost to run.

The general rule of thumb is: the more a printer costs initially, the cheaper its ink tends to be (weird one, we know). There are printers out there for less than £30 – £40, but that's often a ploy to lure you into paying that price again whenever you have to stock up on ink.

We've reviewed some of the best value printers on the market, and share a few secrets to help cut the cost of student printing – both at home and at uni.

7 ways to save money on printing at home

Here are the best ways to cut the cost of printing:

  1. Go to printer ink refill shops

    Once the printer is yours, one money-saving print solution is to locate your nearest ink-refill centre. Yup, printer ink has become such a lucrative business that they even have shops specialising solely in refilling your cartridges.

    Alternatively, use discount ink websites such as Cartridge People, which have ink for all major brands and are cheap and easy to use.

    These refill shops can often slash your ink costs, meaning you might be able to print off all those homemade Christmas cards after all.

    The printer manufacturer might try and tell you only to buy official ink cartridges or toners (obviously they would!), or even that their cartridges can't be refilled. This isn't usually the case, so take along a few empties to a refill shop to get their theories tested.

    In fact, some printer companies may even tell you that your warranty will be voided if you don't use their official cartridges. This is a lie.

    According to the law, electrical manufacturers can't be anti-competitive in their warranties. We won't go into the legal specifics, but in this case, it basically means that they can't stop you from buying compatible cartridges/toner from other companies.

    As long as your printer is still within the warranty period, the manufacturer will have to prove that using unofficial cartridges/toners caused the fault – otherwise, they have to help.

  2. Sell old printer cartridges online

    If you're not quite brave enough to refill your old cartridges, or you end up with a surplus, you can always trade in your empties for cash. It's a great way to make money from recycling.

    Some sites make a living out of selling refilled cartridges, so they're more than happy to take them off your hands. If you email them and tell them what you have, they'll send you a quote and a Freepost envelope to send them in. Once they've received your cartridges, you'll get a cheque in the post.

  3. Buy cheap printer paper in bulk

    stack of paper

    Once your printer ink is sorted, consider your paper supply!

    Admittedly, there's something undeniably satisfying about splashing out on thicker, higher-quality paper to make your dissertation look longer – but please resist.

    Lecturers won't be interested in seeing how much of your Student Loan has contributed towards deforestation.

    If you really want to buy more expensive paper, club together with your coursemates and split the cost of a ream – you'll probably never get through the whole thing, anyway. As you'd expect, you can buy supplies of paper online.

  4. Buy a printer with your housemates to share the costs

    If buying a printer for yourself simply isn't an option, talk to other people in your flat or halls. If they're savvy savers like you, they might be willing to split the cost and buy a printer for the whole flat to use. Going forward, you'll also save on ink and paper costs.

    The only problem comes at the end of the year when you're all fighting about who gets to take the printer home – if the printer makes it to the end after coughing up numerous dissertations, of course.

  5. Make your document smaller

    Many students forget that there are also savings to be had before anything is even sent to the printer.

    If you have an irritating three lines taking up a second page, check out the 'shrink to fit' option in your word processor. You can fit more text on a page by decreasing margin width, reducing text size by just one or two points, and minimising line spacing. Just make sure it's still readable!

    Get savvy with spreadsheets. It's easy to find yourself with 20 pages spilling out of the printer when you thought you were printing off a small Excel document. Be sure to highlight the cells you need to print and right-click to print only those selected.

    Better still, hit 'print screen' on your keyboard and paste the resulting image into a document. Then crop or change the image as you like.

  6. Print in draft mode

    Setting up your printer software and word processor with economy budget options is well worth doing, so play around with your printer settings. Your printer will have different modes to change the printing speed and how much ink it uses.

    If you're just printing notes for uni, you don't need to use the premium setting for the highest-quality print. The draft mode uses the least amount of ink and will save you money, but it may not be suitable for printing out coursework or your CV. Just check that it's still readable.

    Only print the pages you need. Specifying pages two to five when that's all you need will save you from throwing pages away.

    And finally, keep an eye on the printer queue! Don't get too impatient and click-happy if the first print doesn't run. Chances are, once the printer's sorted itself out it'll start printing off everything in the backlog, and it can be difficult to cancel.

  7. Consider whether you need to print at all

    Of course, the best way to save money on printing is to not print at all. Before buying a printer or heading to the nearest print shop, consider whether you really need to print these documents. Not only will you cut the cost, but it's also a way to reduce your carbon footprint.

    You can always take notes on your laptop or tablet (if you have one) instead. And you may also be able to hand in your essays electronically – which saves you the hassle of having to print them in the first place!

Saving money on printing at uni at university

Instead of owning your own printer, your university may also have some cheap printing options:

  1. Print in grayscale. Do you really need that graph in colour? Grayscale printing can reduce the cost drastically compared to printing everything in colour.
  2. Make sure the printer is stocked with ink and paper before you hit the 'print' button. Even if nothing comes out, your printing account may still be charged.
  3. Do printing costs vary across your campus? Call your IT department to find the cheapest place to print, or do a bit of investigating yourself.
  4. Share your notes and the cost of printing. Buddy up with a coursemate and take turns printing off slides or notes.
  5. Use both sides of the paper. In some universities the printers only count this as one page, doubling the amount of work you can get for your 5p. You could even try cramming the words into size eight font. Have a play around with different fonts that let you cram more onto the page. Just remember your reading glasses.
  6. Keep track of what you print and top up your printer credit in bulk when your loan comes in – if the money goes straight onto your card, you won't miss it later.
  7. Try local printing companies. You might find the printing cost per page is even less than at uni, and you still don't have to buy your own equipment.
  8. Work out your plan for printing before you start – are you going to need to print off your lecture notes every day, or will those essay deadlines be the only time you need a hard copy of your work? Speak to your coursemates or friends to compare strategies, and don't feel pressured into loading your student printer credit up without exploring other options first. Remember that buying a cheap home printer may be better for you in the long run.
  9. On a similar note, only buy what you think you'll need. Some universities won't refund print credits – even if you're graduating – so don't go buying £50 of credit thinking that it's better to overcompensate.
Did you know some unis have even started offering entirely free modules online (and some for a discount on fees!)? Zero printing required.

How to print for free

printer ink

If you don't want to pay at all, check out these ways to print for free:

  1. If you're home for the weekend, use your parents' printer as much as you can get away with. Insist it's for your studies and they should be only too happy to oblige.
  2. Studying at your mate's flat? Ask to use their printer and offer to pay them (a bit less than uni rates to make it worth your while). Just don't make too much of a habit of this or you'll stop being invited over, or might find the printer is 'broken' for the foreseeable future...
  3. Keep an eye on sites like Freecycle and other swap shop sites – you might be able to get your hands on a freebie.
  4. Got a printer at your part-time job? Get your sob story ready about how you can't even afford to print off your papers at uni and your boss might be nice enough to let you print a few pages for free (or offer you a pay rise since you're clearly in such need of the money... no promises on that one).
  5. And again, you can also take a stand and refuse to print anything in the name of protecting the environment. See if your lecturer will accept electronic copies of your essays, and invest in a laptop or tablet to keep lecture notes on.

Best cheap printers

Here are the best printers for students:

  1. Canon PIXMA

    canon pixma printer

    When looking for cheap, effective printers, one of the best deals we found is the Canon PIXMA MG2550S. The printer costs around £40 to buy, and it can then cost as little as 6.3p per page to print, using black ink.

    If you're looking for something that prints, scans and copies for you – this one's an ideal (and cheap) choice. But, granted, if you spend a little more, you can get a printer with more features to make your printing tasks even easier.

    For example, for a fiver more, you could buy the Canon PIXMA MG3650S. It's still pretty cheap to buy and run – plus, it also offers some great features like wireless printing via Google Cloud Print, Apple AirPrint, email or straight from your phone.

    It costs around £45 to buy, and it can cost from 4.9p per page to print from it.

    Get this printer »


  2. HP DeskJet

    HP Deskjet printer

    Although costing a little bit more to buy and run than the Canon PIXMA ones above, the HP DeskJet 2710e is another great printer for students. It works wirelessly and lets you print, scan and copy, so it should meet most (if not all!) of your printing needs at uni.

    You can get the printer itself for around £40, and the cost of black ink should then work out to around 10p per page.

    One particular perk of buying this printer is that it includes six months of HP Instant Ink.

    Get this printer »


  3. Epson Expression Home

    Epson Expression Home printer

    For those of you on a serious budget who still want the full shebang, the Epson Expression Home XP-2205 model is a good all-in-one option that can still be bought for a pretty good price.

    As long as you avoid buying the official Epson cartridges, printing costs around 4.5p per page for black and white printing. As the printer can be bought for around £50, it's not a bad deal all things considered.

    Get this printer »


Where's the best place to buy a printer?

So, where can you buy a cheap printer?

As with almost anything you purchase, you're best starting online to compare printers.

Amazon is your first stop when it comes to checking out customer reviews, and they also often have the best prices – plus, if you have Prime, you can often get free delivery to boot. Have a browse of their printing products, and find out how to get Amazon Prime free.

Other retailers worth checking out include Argos and Currys. Look out for the bundle deals which include discount printer ink and/or paper.

Printing's not the only avoidable money-drainer – find out what other unnecessary expenses you could curb to save cash.

Owen Burek


Owen is the founder of Save the Student, the leading student money website he started in 2007. He's passionate about educating young people about personal finance and ways to make extra money. Owen has appeared on BBC News and writes for major publications including The Guardian, Entrepreneur and HuffPost.
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