How to save money on printing costs
Despite everything going digital these days, it seems there's still no escaping the need for constant printing at uni. Here's how you can at least keep costs down!
The days of handwriting essays are long gone, but despite almost everything at uni shifting online, all too many students are still required to do a ridiculous amount of printing for their courses.
Printing out essays and lecture materials will (hopefully) soon be a thing of the past, but until then it's worth swotting up on the world of printers so you can at least get your printing done on the cheap.
Here, we review some of the best value printers on the market, and share a few secrets to help cut the cost of printing – both at home and at uni.
What's in this guide?
Our top three budget printers
If you have enough of your loan left over after freshers’ week, it might be worth considering investing in a good quality printer, as you could end up saving loads in the long run.
When choosing which printer to buy (and there are a lot out there to choose from!), you need to 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 £20, but that's often a loss-leader to lure you into paying double that each time you have to stock up on ink!
If you have a good number of years of study ahead of you, the decision about which printer to buy could be the best or worst investment you make. We did some research and here are 3 of the best value options:
The Canon PIXMA MG4250 Wireless Printer will set you back about £50 (though it's often on offer for much less), and if you buy your cartridges from the right place, will print 10 pages of black and white text for as little as 23p.
For those of you on a serious budget but still want the full shebang, the Epson Expression Home XP-342 model is a good (and cheap!) all-in-one option.
As long as you avoid buying the official cartridges, printing costs around 11p for ten black and white pages, and the printer can be bought for around £40.
All in, this makes the Epson your cheapest option.
HP (previously Hewlett-Packard)
The HP Envy 4527 All-In-One is another printer that's cheap to run, with 10 pages of black and white printing costing just 29p.
The printer itself retails for about £50-60, but judging by the Amazon reviews, it's definitely worth paying a little more – this is a seriously coveted device.
Where's the best place to buy a 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 – and free delivery to boot. Have a browse of their printing section here.
How to cut the cost of owning a printer
So we've established that splashing out on a home printer is a good investment for students, but often the biggest expense is actually keeping it running!
Here are a few top tips from us on the different ways you can save cash on printer costs.
Once the machine is yours to have and to hold, 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.
Sell your old cartridges
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.
Some sites make a living out of selling refilled cartridges so are 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!
Staples also offer a scheme where they give you money off your next ink order when you bring in a cartridge, but make sure to check their prices (and T's & C's) first.
Save cash on paper
Once your printer ink is sorted, consider your paper supply!
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 course mates and split the cost of a ream – you'll probably never get through the whole thing, anyway.
You can also buy supplies of paper online.
Share the cost
If buying a printer 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. You'll also save on the ink and paper costs.
The only problem, of course, comes at the end of the year and the fight over who gets to take it home begins!
That is, if the printer makes it to the end after coughing up numerous dissertations.
Get to grips with office software
Many students forget that there are also savings to be had before anything is even sent to the printer.
Setting up your printer software and word processor with economy budget options is well worth doing, so play around with your printer settings:
• Try printing notes in ‘draft’ or ‘rough’ quality, which uses less ink than regular printing mode. Just check it's still readable!
• If you have an irritating three lines taking up a second page, check out the ‘shrink to fit’ option in your word processor.
• Only print the pages you need. Specifying pages 2-5 when that's all you need will save you throwing pages away.
• Get savvy with spreadsheets. It's easy to find yourself with twenty-odd 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.
• 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.
• 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!
Printing at university
With so much to think about when buying your own printer and keeping up with running costs, the option of printing at uni may seem like a great money-saving technique – particularly if you have a lot of lecture notes to print off.
But before you top up that student ID card with printing credit, it's important to think about exactly where your money is going.
Here are some great ways to bring the cost down even more:
9 money-saving tips for uni printing
- Print in grey scale. Do you really need that graph in colour? The cost of colour printing can cost you up to 10 times more!
- 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
- 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
- Share your notes and the cost of printing! Buddy up with a course mate and take turns printing off slides or notes
- Try printing notes or slides double-sided. 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 8 font. Just remember your reading glasses!
- Keep track of what you print and top up your printer credit in bulk when your loan comes in – if money goes straight onto your card, you won't miss it later
- Try local printing companies. You might find the cost of printing is even less than at uni, and still not have to buy your own equipment
- 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 course mates or friends to compare strategies, and don’t feel pressured into loading your student printer credit up without exploring other options first. Remember investing in a printer may be better for you in the long run!
- 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's of credit thinking that it's better to overcompensate!
Sneaky tricks to save on printing
If all of the more honest routes of cheap printing have been exhausted, it's time to get blaggin'!
- 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!
- Studying at your mate’s flat? Ask to use their ink and paper facilities and offer to pay them (a bit less than uni rates to make it worth your while). Although, 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!
- Keep an eye on sites like Freecycle and other swap shop sites – you might be able to get your hands on a freebie!
- 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!
- 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 tablet or laptop to keep lecture notes on. It is the 21st century, after all!
Anything we've missed? Share your own tips and experiences when it comes to scrimping on printing in the comments below…