Printer running costs can soon add up – whether you regularly print documents such as online returns forms, have to print more now you’re working from home or need to help your kids with their homework. To ease the pressure on your bank balance, we’ve rounded up some easy ways you can cut costs when relying regularly on your printer.
Simply playing around with your device’s settings could help you make your ink cartridges last a little longer. As can updating your printer drivers, downloading the manufacturer’s app and thinking carefully about which ink you buy.
Considering replacing your printer entirely? If so, make sure you consult our expert reviews. A sub-£40 printer can be a tempting purchase, but the long-term costs can soon add up if you frequently have to stock up on ink – our lab tests have sniffed out the printers that offer detailed prints while remaining cheap to run.
Keep scrolling for our money-saving printer tips.
Only affordable printers with low running costs make it through to our expert round-up of the best cheap printers to buy and run.
1. Download the partner app for your printer
If your home printer supports wireless printing, it’s worth consulting the product manual and downloading the official partner app for your device.
Assuming you’ve misplaced the manual, head to the Google Play Store on Android or the App Store on iOS and search for the brand name – ‘HP’ or ‘Canon’, for example.
Partner apps can prove very handy, as they allow you to control your printer and line up printing jobs from a smartphone or tablet on the same wi-fi network. Most will allow you to customise your prints, too, so you can adjust orientation, paper size or colour.
Popular printing apps include:
- Canon Print Inkjet/Selphy (Android, iOS) – the official printing and scanning app for Canon Pixma, Maxify and Selphy printers. You can print PDF files and Microsoft Office documents and adjust your copy settings, which is handy if your printer doesn’t have its own built-in display.
- HP Smart (Android, iOS) – print and scan photos and documents directly from a mobile. HP Smart also lets you check your ink levels and you can order replacement cartridges right from the app.
- Samsung Mobile Print (Android) – allows you to print, scan or fax wirelessly from your Android smartphone or tablet. You can share your scans directly with Google Drive if you’re planning on keeping them in the cloud.
- Epson iPrint (Android, iOS) – print, scan and share documents without having to touch your printer. You can also take a picture on your smartphone and send that image to your printer remotely.
If you decide to use a partner app on your mobile, make sure it’s kept up to date. Ensuring you’re running the latest version of the app will protect you against bugs.
2. Use third-party ink
Your printer manufacturer’s branded ink can cost up to five times as much as third-party ink, so you can make huge savings by switching.
Some third-party inks are rated more highly by their customers than other brands. So make sure you check out our best cheap ink cartridges research before you buy.
3. Print on both sides of the page
This is a simple tweak that you can make in settings, but it could potentially make a big difference to your running costs and save you from powering through paper faster than you’d like.
You may have to enable this function manually, but some printers have automatic double-sided printing. If you regularly print long documents, it’s worth paying a little more for a printer with this feature.
4. Printer out of ink? Get round it by printing text in colour
If you try to print out an email and get hit with a frustrating ‘this printer is out of ink’ message, there could potentially be a way around the issue.
Copy the text that you’re trying to print into a document – such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Once that’s sorted, highlight the text in your document and change it from black to a colour before printing. If your printer is out of black ink but still has some left in the colour cartridge, you might be able to print the text in red, for example.
But note that not all printers allow this – some won’t print at all if the black ink has run out.
5. Fix poor-quality prints
If your prints are ruined by white lines or splodges, there’s a good chance the print head is clogged. To get back to pristine prints, you’ll need to run the printer’s cleaning program.
The exact steps you’ll need to work through will vary depending on the type of printer you’re using. But most of the time, you’ll need to head to ‘Device settings’ on your computer and follow the on-screen instructions.
For example, if you’re using an Epson printer, you can use the Head Cleaning utility in Windows by following these steps:
- Open the Devices and Printers menu
- Right-click on the icon for your printer and select Printing Preferences
- In the Printing Preferences window, click the Maintenance tab
- Select Head cleaning, then click Start
If only certain colours are causing strange results, try swapping out the associated ink cartridge. You should also check for leakages inside the cartridge door – clean up spillages with a cloth or cotton bud.
6. Update your drivers
Printer drivers essentially allow your printer to talk to your PC, which is why keeping them updated is so important. In fact, older printer drivers may include bugs that could be banished for good simply by updating.
If you’re unsure whether your printer is running on the latest drivers, you can check by running through these steps:
- Open Device Manager on your PC
- Locate your printer under the Printers subheading
- Right-click your printer and select Update driver
- Click on Search automatically for updated driver software
For more advice on drivers, consult our how-to page on updating your printer drivers.
7. Try using refillable ink tanks
Manually refilling your empty ink cartridges is cheaper than buying a brand new cartridge from your printer manufacturer.
If you’d like to give it a go, you’ll need to order an ink refill kit. Most of these come with printer ink, plastic gloves, a syringe, a rubber stopper and some small drill bits to make holes in the cartridge. Once you’ve got everything you need, you can finish the job in four steps.
- Prepare your work area Lay some paper towels down on a flat surface in case you spill some ink. You should also put gloves on, so the ink doesn’t stain your hands.
- Make a hole in your empty ink cartridge Identify the top of the ink cartridge – it usually has a sticky label on it. Peel that back and use your drill bit to make a hole. Some ink cartridges will already have a hole that you can use.
- Inject ink into the cartridge Take your syringe and draw some ink out of the container. Pop the syringe into the cartridge slowly and release the ink. If you notice any bubbles, the cartridge is probably full.
- Clean the printer head This is usually on the underside of the ink cartridge. Give it a gentle wipe down, as that part of the printer will make contact with the paper.
If you’re more of a visual learner, follow our step-by-step video by visiting our guide on how to refill your printer ink cartridges.
8. Choose the right printer paper
Make sure you’re using the right printer paper before you line up your photo-printing jobs. Printing on the wrong paper can cause ink to run across the page, which is no good if you were planning on displaying that picture at home.
There are various types of photo paper, usually referred to as basic, everyday and premium. The weight of each option is slightly different – premium paper is far denser and therefore less likely to curl.
You should also consider the paper finish. Most of the time, you’ll be choosing between gloss or matt.
If you fancy printing lots of treasured photos in one go, you could potentially save money by using an online service. See how we rate your options with our expert guide on the best online photo printing services.
Which? expert reviews uncover printers that are cheap to run
From going hands-on with hundreds of printers in the Which? test lab, we’ve found that some inkjet models waste a lot of ink during cleaning cycles. Unfortunately, that means you could end up having to order expensive new cartridges far more often than you expected.
Which? Best Buy printers won’t cost you a fortune to run. To sweeten the deal, they’re also easy to use and, in some cases, offer support for mobile printing. On the other hand, our dreaded Don’t Buy printers are let down by underwhelming print quality.
Pick a printer that has aced our rigorous lab tests. To save you some money, we’ve highlighted the best cheap printers to buy and run.