Sunday, March 18, 2007

Life without a printer: How I escaped the rising cost of printer ink

One of the things I got for college was a printer. When you make the checklist of things, it's around the top; what good is your computer alone when your term paper needs to be printed? I used it a few times, but never all that often. After storing it over the summer, the ink dried out. I stored it two more summers, but I wasn't about to spend $45 at the campus book store for ink. I finally sold it on ebay; I got about $40 for a three year old printer (without ink) that originally sold for $100. As a college student, $40 is a big deal.

That was my last printer.

It wasn't my last because I had no more printing to do, it was my last because I used cheaper printers. The college I went to has many large laser printers (even a few color laser printers) throughout campus, and even one in my dorm. I learned where they were, how to print to them, and their reliability. At times, I found myself in a lecture finishing papers 20 minutes before they were due. Before I left, I printed the essay and picked it up on the way to class.

Several changes in technology have made the printer less of a necessity.
  • Network ubiquity
  • Network speed
  • PDF ubiquity
Networks used to be too slow and rare to not need a printer; most people didn't have the ability to send a document anywhere, and even if they could, it might not be in a format the recipient can read.

Following these advances, it has become possible to outsource printer needs. Companies that do a large amount of printing can afford printers that are faster, higher quality, and use cheaper ink.

Here are some tips to survive in a somewhat more paperless world:
  • Try to cut back on printing. If you need to store a copy of something, digital copies take less space, can be secured, and can be stored on a server that keeps redundant copies. Send emails when you can. That said, I think most people reading this already do those things.
  • Print documents at work. This one is a little ethically questionable, but it will save you money.
  • For documents, a Kinkos (and possibly other companies) offer services that allow you to print to one of their printers from home.
  • Need to send a letter to someone? USPS offers a service called NetPost that will mail a document you supply.
  • For pictures, there are many companies out there that will print your photos. If you print any pictures, this tip will probably save you the most money. Between the amount of ink it takes and the cost of photo paper, a company that specializes in printing photos can commoditize the process and save you money.
  • Think about how often you print, and if you can even justify owning a printer. If you think the prices at Kinkos are high, consider how many pages you'd have to print to pay for that $60 HP inkjet. They charge around $0.10 per page, but that also includes the paper. If the life of a printer is 3 years, you'd have to print 200 pages per year to break even, and that assumes the half filled cartridge the printer came with lasts.
  • If you find you really need a printer, opt for a black and white laser printer. Since you really need it, you undoubtedly print enough to justify a $200 (at least) printer. While it isn't completely true that the per page cost of laser printers is lower than inkjets, it generally is.
Basically, printer manufacturers make money one way: take a loss on the printer, make money on the ink. You lose money two ways, you have to buy the ink, but you also have to buy the printer.

1 comment:

jorden said...

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