Printing is one of computing's biggest on-going costs - the price of the printer is just the first in the list on continuing expenses.

Over time, buying the ink or toner and acquiring media (paper, envelopes, transparencies) will very likely make a far bigger impact on your wallet. These costs will vary depending on what you print, how much you print, and what kind of media you use.

Some expenses are unavoidable: Printing an 8x10in photo on premium, glossy paper will never be dirt cheap. Shaving pennies off of other kinds of printing, however, involves just a little thought, effort, and advance planning. Read on for tips on how to choose and use your printer wisely - or perhaps not at all in some cases.

Know before you buy

Saving money on printing starts (ideally) before you buy the printer. Before you begin researching new models, make sure that you'll be getting the best printer for the types of documents you plan to produce. Once you start looking at specific models, make a point of checking the recommended print volume; if you typically print 100 pages a day, for example, don't buy a printer that's rated for 500 pages a month.

How much is that cartridge in the window? Replacement ink or toner cartridge costs represent a major part of your long-term printing expenses. In some cases, replacing the cartridges can cost as much as buying the printer. In general, expect to pay £7 to £20, and £40 or more for a toner cartridge.

But don't judge a cartridge by price alone; its efficiency, or page yield - the number of pages it can print - matters just as much. Of course, that figure will vary depending on how much ink you use on a page, but the industry-standard assumption is five percent coverage per page for each colour. Some companies make yield information available on the web along with other printer specifications; others will provide it if you ask, either by email or phone.

You can use yield information to calculate per-page costs, which can be useful in determining what your printing costs for different printers would look like over time. Laser printer toner cartridges may cost a lot more than ink jet cartridges, but their higher yields make per-page costs lower.

Some printer manufacturers offer multipacks of inks, which can knock a few pounds off the price per cartridge, while some ink jet printers produce superior photo quality by using additional colours beyond the usual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. But all the colour cartridges may not come with the printer, so you may be better off investing in these cartridges too.

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