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(Pocket-lint) - Printers aren't the sexiest of gadgets. We know this. But the fact remains that more and more people are choosing to print out their digital photos as well as using the things for letters, contracts and other documents.

So, if you want to know how to avoid the pricey ink trap and make sure you're getting the most beautiful snaps for your frames then read on.

Rule 1: Work out how much you'll use it

This is both the hardest thing to figure out and also the most important at the same time. In fact, if you get this bit sussed, you're pretty much home already. The trouble is that it's a hard thing to estimate because it's not worth paying attention to while you do it.

In fact, you're most likely only going find out the answer after it's too late and you've already made your purchase. So, as dull as it might sound, if you can have a good estimate at this now, it'll save you a fair bit of money and trouble in the long run.

Rule 2: Cheaper printers have more expensive ink

You might have paid a good price for the hardware in some sale or other but chances are that a cheap printer will cost you more in ink cartridges over time whereas replacements on a more expensive piece of kit will work out better as time goes on.

So, based on the calculation of how many pages you think you'll be printing each month, you'll have some idea of how often you'll get through cartridges. Lots of brands these days say on the packaging just how many sheets they'd expect you to get out of them.

Combine that with your printing frequency and you'll have some idea of how much you'd expect to pay in refills over each year. Factor in the initial cost of the machine and you'll see at what point it might be worth going for a higher spec printer.

Rule 3: Lasers are not necessarily the best

Most home user probably would opt for an inkjet anyway but even if you really want to spend some cash or you're a small business trying to make the right choice, don't just presume that you'll get more for your money with a laser printer. The major advantage of them is that they're fast.

Many inkjets will beat laser models for startup time if you're just printing a page or two. On the other hand, if you're going to be calling for 20 sheets at a time, then a laser's probably the right call.

Another issue is that lasers won't necessarily offer more accurate colours over all parts of the spectrum as a high-end inkjet might. So, if printing photos is the reason for your purchase then make sure to read the reviews carefully if you really are sold on the idea of these bigger, faster machines.

On the cartridge side, you won't have to shell out for a new one quite so often but you will be looking at a fair old wedge when you do. Quite a good compromise if you're unsure of which type to go for are often the prosumer type inkjet printers. They're generally quicker and more economic with the ink provided you use them on a regular basis. But they cost more initially. 

Rule 4: Use the right refills

One option to make your ongoing printer use cheaper is to go for non-brand printer cartridge replacements or even have your empties filled back up again. By all means, give this a crack but get them from a reputable supplier rather than somebody selling a supply from an unknown source. Some non-brand replacements are reliable but many aren't. 

Another thing to keep your eyes out for are extra large cartridges and printer packs. It's just a question of a buying-in-bulk mentality. These deals will offer you a lower cost per page but obviously need you to spend more up front. 

Rule 5: Use the right paper

There's a holy trinity of printing between the machine, the ink and the paper and if any one of them is out, there's a chance that you won't get good results. Fortunately, you don't have to be quite as specific with paper as you do with the ink.

Photo quality paper is the one to pay most attention to. If you are going to print your snaps, it's not really a place to scrimp. That said, they often come in grades equivalent to “good”, “better” and “best” so try a few and see which reaches the right price/quality point for you.

One piece of advice for all printing is to make sure that your paper is 80gsm thick or over – if you require your documents to have an aesthetic value, that is.

Rule 6: A printer is a subscription

Most dissatisfaction over printers is caused by the bill shock of the cartridges. The problem is that people just aren't in the right mindset when they buy them. You've got to see the purchase of a printer much like a mobile phone where there's an initial outlay to consider as well as an equal, if not more significant, running cost.

Pick the subscription model that suits you the best. Are you happy paying little and often or would you prefer to shell out in bursts? You might consider a cheaper printer more like a 12 month contract whereas a better model you'll need to keep for a longer period of time to really reap the economic benefits.

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Writing by Dan Sung.