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How I save 90% on laser printer toner

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

My new printer


About three years ago my Ink Jet printer broke down and could not be repaired.  It was time to get a new printer and that needed some careful planning. 


I did some careful research and decided on an entry-level colour laser printer.  Knowing that toner was expensive, I wanted one that had independent black, yellow, magenta and cyan cartridges so that I would not find myself throwing out two colours of toner when the third was used up.  I researched the cost of replacement cartridges so that when I did need to replace them it would be planned expenditure with no surprises. And the printer had to be robust and reliable too.


It was not too difficult to find a suitable model for a very reasonable price.  I found out the cost of replacement cartridges, noting both that and how far I could expect the cartridges that came with the printer to go – roughly 2000 pages.  I bought the printer, installed it and was happy with it, accepting the limitations of an entry-level model.


A year later, after a bit less that 1000 pages of printing, the black cartridge ran out.  Looking at the status monitor it was clear that the colour cartridges were not far behind so I would have to replace them all.  I was not too worried that the toner had not gone as far as promised – the benchmarks apply to about 5% of the paper area being covered in ink, and this rarely occurs out in practice.


So I looked for some replacement cartridges, only to discover that during that year they had gone up in price by 70%.  Whilst I could shop around on the Internet, I could only make modest savings.  I needed to have a working printer and therefore I would have to buy the cartridges – a cool £275 for the four, and that was £50 more than I had paid a year before for the whole printer.  As I was over the proverbial barrel, I bought them, but was not pleased.  Despite my careful planning (which had paid off – I was well satisfied with the printer) some more creative thinking needed to be done.

My solution


The first move was to set the printer defaults to “toner saving”, so that I had to ask explicitly for high quality.  This was adequate, though quality took a big hit and at times documents could be almost illegible and had to be repeated at the higher quality.


But I needed something far more radical.  I thought of an e-Book as a solution but knew little about e-Books.  Undaunted, I drew up a list of criteria for investigating this idea.  They were

  1. It must be small and slim enough to go in a pocket – otherwise it will not be taken with me
  2. The screen must be as large and clear as possible
  3. It must render common formats – particularly .pdf which is pretty universal and is the format of many downloaded documents
  4. Must cost less that £200


It was not too difficult to find such a reader, even though this is not the main thrust of the e-Book market (which is about reading books rather than documents).  I did some further research including ringing the manufacturer to find out a bit more about its .pdf capabilities and other formats.


The one I chose managed .txt, .htm, .doc, .pdf and epub formats and promised a very reasonable battery life of three months (this turned out to be accurate).  It had 4GB of storage with the option of another 32GB on an SD card. It was available through a single distributor in the UK, so I ordered it and it arrived.


I downloaded a free .pdf writer from the Internet to my computer, and made this my default printer.  That way, documents would default to being rendered to read on the computer or copied to the e-Book to be read in monochrome.  If I need to print on paper I would have to select the laser printer explicitly.


Early days


The concept worked pretty well but, in the early stages, not as well as I had hoped.  This was because .pdf’s were rendered accurately, but would often come up too small to be read comfortably.  There were several levels of magnification and using these was fine, but that often meant that the whole of one line would not fit on the screen and one had to “skate” backwards and forwards with the arrow keys to read a simple document.  The screen refresh time is about half a second and having to “skate” is very distracting.


Then I discovered the reflow function.  It took a while to realise how this worked because there are rules on how reflow handles particular types of document.  It basically extracts text and reflows it between the left and right boundaries of the screen, fitting in any images, but certain things, particularly tables it will simply reproduce in the original size (too small to read).   


Using reflow with magnification can give a document that is extremely easy to read due to the large text size.  You pay for this slightly in that one page will then take several screens, but the page up and page down functions can only align with the beginning of the page, so if you want to go back from the middle of a page to spot something you have missed it can be clumsy.


You also have to be clever enough to realise that different parts of the same document may need to be read in normal or reflow modes – typically text in reflow and tables in magnified normal, “skating” if necessary.  This is adequate, but not particularly good for concentration on reading.


Maturing the idea


Having reached this level of proficiency I was able to read 90% of documents well and easily, far more comfortably than sitting at my computer.  Curling up in an armchair to read is far more appealing than leaning into a screen, and so my e-Book became a constant companion, containing vast amounts of reading for work, reference and pleasure.


I had to accept that there were certain documents or parts of documents that could only be read on the computer or on paper, but in practice this was not a big deal, because having read the bulk of the document I could ask myself how much I really needed to read of the bits that I could not manage on the e-Book.  Sometimes this meant going back to the computer; other times it could be passed over as not important enough.


Use of the printer plummeted satisfyingly, with it only being needed for photographs, official letters and for people who needed to read my material but did not have my e-Book.  This meant that the majority of printing happened to need toner saving turned off, but no matter.


Calculating the breakeven point, £150/£275 represented about seven months of use before the e-Book had paid for itself.  It is now seventeen months so it has paid for itself about twice over.  My printer status monitor now shows 

Printer Status Monitor View

so I have some years left before I need to buy more cartridges.  I have not checked how long the manufacturer gives me before they pass their sell-by date, but that is likely to be before this set runs out of toner.


Small Problems

I updated the firmware of my e-Book at the manufacturer’s suggestion when I rang customer support with a query, and discovered that this model is no longer supported.  The update was a success, improving handling of .pdf’s and giving me .xls format as well.  But .xls and .doc are not particularly well handled.  epub, however is excellent and I have discovered that if I particularly want it there are free epub converters that will convert .doc, .docx and .pdf formats to epub “in the cloud” on the Internet.


The search facility is not particularly good only allowing me to find if a file is on the e-Book but not to open it once found.  That is very irritating and occasionally I have to go back on to the computer to work out where to find it.  My filing system for all my work documents has to be quite intricate due to the nature of the work I do, and the large storage volume means it is easy to forget where I put stuff I did some time ago.


The display is clear, but there is some persistence of image after moving on a page.  This is enough to be noticeable, but not irritating enough to impede – just something it would be better if it was not there.


One particular irritation is that many .pdf’s downloaded or printed from the internet, and indeed many HTML pages use half-tone colours for their text, and these get reproduced accurately within the 8 shades of grey that the display delivers.  This makes text hard to read as it is a faint grey.  Usually it is possible to reflow and set a larger magnification, which makes reading reasonably comfortable, but sometimes I have to admit defeat and go back to the computer.


Reflow has its problems as well.  The .pdf browser usually but not always gets it right so occasionally, particularly in documents in which there are many sections on a page (for example for visual impact in annual reports) some words crop up in the incorrect place or the illustrations break what should be continuous text and that can be confusing.  It is always possible however to revert to normal view to see what is going on and then come back to reflow.


You also need to be aware of subtleties with the .pdf browser.  I use Google Chrome as my Internet browser, and the print preview and dialog in Chrome is good, but it renders text effectively as an image.  That means that that text is not available to extract so reflow does not work.    Chrome has an option “Use system print dialog – Shift-Ctrl-P” and this works normally so that resulting documents can be reflowed – I just have to remember to use it.


Unexpected Benefits


Using the e-Book has brought a number of unexpected benefits.  Portability is one which in conjunction with the storage means that it is possible to carry around a library of professional tomes I would otherwise never take with me.  Similarly the filing cabinet of work documents, all nicely organised, means that it is possible to check on things I did a while ago whilst away from the office.


The e-Book came with some more features.  It can display .jpeg images provided that they are not too large, record high-quality memos and play mp3 files.  These functions do get used; the rest I have no use for.


The .jpeg feature was very useful when I was going to meet somebody for a job interview.  We agreed to meet in front of the Bank of England as he had his offices across the street.  Before the meeting I downloaded his picture from LinkedIn and had it visible on my e-Book whilst I was waiting for him.  He jumped when he saw his picture and realised it was me – it certainly broke the ice.



All in all it has been a great success, if not an unqualified one.  My chief worry now is that they will have stopped making this kind of e-Book by the time I have to replace it rather than the price of toner.




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