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Handy tips to help get the most out of your printer

If you own a printer, you want to get the most mileage out of it, naturally – and this collection of tips will help you do just that. We’ll look at everything from printer ink shelf life through to a range of tips on how to ensure your printed photos last longer.

Improve ink yield: Ink cartridges (but not toner) have a shelf life; that's why Epson, HP, and others put a "use by" date on the box. You'll get the highest yield if you use up the ink within about six months after that date.

Use ink sooner rather than later: It's in the nature of inkjets to clog if you don't print regularly. Print a page every few days to minimise the odds of the printer getting so badly clogged that you need to replace the cartridge or, worse, the printer (if print heads are permanently installed).

Buy only what you need: Match the cartridges you buy to the way you print. Bigger ink tanks or bundled packs will give you a lower cost per page, but not if you let them sit around past the end of their shelf life.

Buy small near the end: Before investing in a "cost-effective," high-capacity toner cartridge, consider, based on your printer usage, whether or not the printer will outlive the toner. If you print only 100 pages per month and a replacement for your aging printer is on your shortlist, it doesn't make sense to buy a 10,000-page cartridge.

Compare paper: Because paper characteristics affect how colours transfer, photos printed on different stock could end up noticeably different. To see how much difference there is, compare several photos printed on both the recommended paper and the third-party paper you're considering.

Choose photo paper carefully: If a photo's longevity is more important to you than its cost, stick with the printer manufacturer's own paper. Wilhelm Imaging Research, an independent lab of experts in the field, has repeatedly found much longer lifetimes for printer manufacturers' own paper than many third-party papers.

Be wary of third-party inks: Approach third-party inks with care; some are better than others, but many don't deliver on promised savings, with lower yields, more frequent failures, or both. Keep track of output, and compare the third-party version with the original on a cost-per-page basis – not per-cartridge.

Increase photo longevity: Be particularly careful about entrusting your photos to third-party inks. Printer manufacturers have developed combinations of inks and papers with photo lifetimes measured in decades or longer. Photo lifetimes for some third-party inks are measured in months.

Skip the draft photos: Don't print drafts of photos on plain paper unless you're doing it to judge composition or layout. With virtually all printers, colours will vary depending on the paper you print on, often dramatically between plain paper and photo paper. In short, you can't judge the quality of the photo from a draft.

Look for an ink saver mode: Consider using your printer driver's ink saver or toner saver mode (if your printer has one). It can increase the cartridge yield and decrease the cost per page, in many cases without affecting quality noticeably – particularly for text.

Run a water-resistance test: Run your own tests so you'll know how carefully you need to handle your photos. Immediately after printing four copies of a photo, handle one with moist fingers to see if it smudges, and drip some water on another, leaving the drops to dry to see if they have any effect. Wait a day and repeat with the other two photos to see if they're more resistant when dry.

Run a scratch-resistance test: Run your own scratch-resistance test, too. Print 10 or 12 photos and shuffle through the pack a few times, the way someone would if you handed them a stack of photos to look at. Then look carefully for surface scratches that may only show up from some angles.