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How to print while saving the planet

Printers are convenient, but they inevitably induce a guilt trip in anyone who considers Captain Planet to be a role model. A typical print job features large margins, half-printed pages and possibly unintentional, useless pages, like unwanted images or evens ads (if you’re printing a Web page). However, there are ways you can subtract a few hundred pages from that number.

Changing the margins

The margin is the empty white space that’s around printed text. Its existence is largely ornamental, though it does occasionally insure that your thumb doesn’t cover any text on the page. Most printers can handle tighter margins than the default, and reducing the margins will let you add more words to the page, which in turn decreases the size of the print job.


Margins are usually adjusted in the Page Setup or Print Preferences section of a document editor, such as Word. Reducing the margins to three-quarters or half an inch in all directions gives a nice boost to the printable area, but still provides some framing for the page, and can be handled by most printers.

Decrease font size and spacing

Making text smaller in a document reduces the number of pages that you’ll need to get your stuff printed out. Modern document editors usually default to an 11-point or 12-point font, but those with keen eyes can likely handle a font as small as 8 points, though 9 or 10 is more likely to be comfortable for your peepers.


You can also try reducing paragraph spacing, if any is used. By default, most documents will be arranged with a single line between paragraphs, but you can use paragraph formatting to get rid of that, and instead use indent at the beginning of each paragraph.

Again, though, some readers may find this unsightly, so pick a setting that’s comfortable for you. Having to re-print because you found your settings to make stuff unreadable doesn’t save paper!

Switch fonts

So far, we’ve been talking about paper, but ink is another part of the conservation equation. Replacing an ink cartridge (or laser cartridge) is expensive, and portions of the packaging cannot be recycled. Reducing the ink you use is nothing but a good thing for your wallet, and the environment.


One easy way to save ink is to change your font. Some are smaller than others; a student at the University of Wisconsin found that switching from Arial to Century Gothic can reduce ink use by up to 30 percent.

You can also try and use “ecofont” – a font designed specifically to reduce ink. Ryman Ecofont, for example, creates characters with a pair of fine strokes rather than one solid line. The result is readable text that uses less ink.

Duplex printing

Using duplex, if your printer is capable of it, is a superb way to save paper. Duplex printing uses both sides of the sheet, which means your project will require half as many pages as it otherwise would. Combine this with margin and font size changes, and you can tremendously reduce the amount of paper required for a given document.


Duplex, if it is available, is usually turned on in the Printer Preferences section. You also can turn on duplex for all documents by changing a printer’s settings in the Printers and Devices menu (in Windows).

You may find that your printer does not support duplex, or only supports manual duplex, which means you have to turn each sheet of paper over by hand and then place it back in the printer. If you have either of these issues, consider printing large documents at a print shop instead. You’ll save a lot of paper and end up with a smaller, lighter document.

Only print what’s needed

A huge amount of paper is wasted every year printing things that are immediately discarded. Unwanted footers, useless images and segments of unneeded text are all great examples. Often, these are printed just because they’re there, even when the person printing the documents doesn’t need them.

Putting a little effort into policing your print jobs can go a long way towards helping you save money and be more eco-friendly. That’s what the Print Preview is for. Now available in both document editors and browsers, you can use it to see what your print project will look like and identify what you don’t need. You may be surprised to find that you can cut a huge chunk off a document by spending a few seconds surveying your print job.

Edit print jobs in your browser

The “only print what’s needed” tip works well with documents, but it’s difficult to implement that strategy when browsing because there’s no way to edit the text. Unless, that is, you use a browser extension which does just that.

CleanPrint, for example, converts a Web page into a document that can be edited like any other. You can remove unwanted page elements, including headers, footers, and ads, change the font size, and alter spacing. The benefits can be outstanding. In some cases, we’ve reduced a print job by three quarters just with this extension alone.

Another service that accomplishes the same goal is PrintFriendly, and you can use it without installing an extension. Both of these services also let you download Web pages as PDFs, which means you may not have to print at all if you have an eReader or tablet.


Not printing at all is, of course, the best way to save the trees, but almost everyone has to print a few documents each year. These tips will drastically reduce the amount of paper – and ink – required when that time comes. You may not like having to print, but you can at least cut the impact to a quarter of what it was before.

Image credit: Jonathan Joseph Bondhus

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