Free printables aren't really free. They do cost in terms of paper and ink. For some printer types the cost of ink can be exorbitantly high, so much so that the savings generated by using free resources are eaten up by the cost of the supplies. This is especially true with things like banners, which involve a lot of ink and paper and can often be had at a discount store for a dollar or two.
I print a lot. I'm sure you an imagine how much I print. I test almost all the printables I create for this site, plus a lot of the ones that I list and review. I love to create paper toys and crafts in my spare time, and often print out my digital scrapbook pages. I print a lot of full color, high quality, images on photo and brochure paper. The cost of doing these types of projects can get pretty high if you aren't vigilant.
To reduce printing costs I use the following tips:
1. Buy paper in bulk.
I'm kind of a paper junkie. I have tons of different weights and styles of office papers not to mention the scrapbook and craft papers that I've managed to accumulate. When it comes to standard 20lb copy/inkjet printer paper buying in bulk is the best way to save money. A ream (pack of around 500) of paper costs just under 5 bucks. A carton (5 reams) cost around 15 bucks. The last carton I purchased from Staples.com was $13 with free shipping. That's 2500 sheets of paper for the price of 1500. Don't rush when it comes to purchasing bulk paper, wait for sales and free shipping offers. Check for coupon codes online. Back to school season is a great time to buy bulk paper.
Photo paper, especially generic brands, is extremely cheap in bulk. There are times that it can be had at almost the same price as card stock. Some of my best photo paper purchases have been from eBay. Before spending the cash for name brands like Kodak, consider what the paper will be used for. Archival quality paper is only necessary for those items you plan on keeping forever, like scrapbook pages. Everything else can be printing on off-brand papers as long as the print outs are not exposed to excessive sunlight. Sunlight will yellow paper. My favorite photo paper was a store brand called Meritline. It was thick, heavy, and super high gloss. It was great for photo craft projects.
2. Refill your ink cartridges.
If your printer cartridges are refillable then refill them at home for massive ink savings. I know a lot of people don't like to refill printer cartridges. I've heard people complain that refilling cartridges is messy and does not provide substantial savings for the effort. I can say from personal experience that this is not true. Yes, refilling cartridges can be messy. To avoid having ink stained hands and tables lay down a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper and wear gloves. After you fill your first couple cartridges you will find that it's no more messy than changing out new and cartridges. They real key to preventing mess and overspill is to refill the cartridges SLOWLY. By slowly I mean excruciatingly slow. If you refill the cartridge slowly you will not flood the ink compartments. Flooding the compartments with ink not only makes a mess, it ruins a perfectly good cartridge. After filling the cartridge it's a good idea to press the cartridge on a folded paper towel (like you would a stamp) until you see each color distinctly without blending. Then use the printer's cartridge cleaning feature to clean the cartridge.
Just like paper, ink is cheaper in bulk. The trick to saving money by refilling cartridges is to purchase QUALITY ink in BULK. Research the type of ink you printer uses and try to find the closest possible substitute. My printer uses pigment based ink. One of my first refill kits used dye based ink. The results were less than impressive, the cartridge was quickly ruined and all my prints bleed and faded. Knowing what type your printer takes is important.
When I use to purchase ink cartridges I average one new color cartridge every two months and one new black cartridge every three months. At 25$ per cartridge this added up to about $250 a year. I purchased four 8 ounce bottles of ink for my printer from Alotofthings.com for about $18. A year later I'm still using the same ink. I've even refilled cartridges for others and used some of the ink for art projects. The great thing about refilling ink cartridges is that when you run out of one color (yellow seems to be the first to go for me) you don't have to pitch a perfectly good cartridge. Which is why I can use $18 worth of ink over the course of a year and save myself nearly $230. Don't be fooled by the small refill kits you find in stores. The real savings is in purchasing large bottles of ink.
3. Print in draft when it isn't important or better yet, don't print at all. Wait! No! Print something!
If I don't plan on keeping something I printed for the long term I use the draft quality setting on my printer. I don't use my printer to print confirmations, receipts, or copies of documents sent to me for keeping (like tax returns). Instead of printing them with my printer I print them to One Note or print them as a PDF and save the file incase I need it later. Virtual printing can save you lot on ink and paper costs and there are plenty of free, open source virtual printing softwares out there.
There is one more mistake that people make in terms of printing. Many people, in an attempt to save money on ink costs, don't print at all. They may purchase a new cartridge, use it once, then not print for months. When they finally do attempt to print again they find that their cartridge is dried up and won't work, then they have to buy a new one. There is nothing more irritating than having a "new" ink cartridge that won't print. If you are someone who rarely prints you have two options: you can print something weekly to make sure the ink isn't dried out or you can take the print cartridges out of the printer and store them in plastic bags till they are needed again. If you have a cartridge that is dried out you can try putting damp (not wet!) paper towel in plastic bag with the cartridge and leaving it overnight. There's no guarantee it will work, but it's worth a try. The same trick works with dried out modeling clay.
These are all common sense techniques for lowering home printing costs. There are other methods for reducing costs, like continuous ink systems and programs for reducing printing costs, but at the very least these three tips will save you a bundle on printing costs.