Sustainable Printing

By Eric Niewoehner

© Copyright 2016 to Eric Niewoehner. Use of this document is provided at no cost as long as the recipient does not replicate this document for profit.

Aah -- those were the days.  Lab coats, beehives and line printers.


Sustainable printing is the process by which we save energy, paper and toner. While the concepts may be easy to understand, how to make it happen is not so direct. Not only are printers different in how they are set up, people have different expectations. So before going too far down this path, the people who share a printer need to answer some questions.

  • Are you willing to try recycled paper?

  • Do you recycle toner cartridges?

  • Are you willing to try some things to save energy?

  • Are you willing to print your documents in draft-mode, which is of lesser quality?

  • Are you willing to try different ways to print documents, such as printing on both sides of the paper and even printing more than one page of your document on each side?

One fear to dispel, from the outset, is that changing how your printer is setup does not put everybody in an environmentally-friendly straight-jacket. You will discover there are plenty of ways to over-ride default printer settings so that the printing operation fits your needs, yet provides ways to print more efficiently with less impact on the environment.


Recycled Paper and Toner Cartridges


Before getting technical, we need to get physical. Recycled paper has increasingly become an option, especially as the quality improves. Some things you need to consider, outside of cost, are the following items:

  • Make sure that recycled paper does not void the printer’s warranty

  • If recycled paper is allowed, be sure to check for quality standards in the manufacturer’s manual.

  • Low-grade paper has a tendency to “shed”, depositing more paper dust into the printer

  • Low-grade paper can also interfere with paper feeding, leading to paper jams and subsequent higher maintenance costs

  • If you are hesitant about using recycled paper, consider having it in only one drawer.

Recycled toner cartridges have become more popular, especially with office supply outlets providing exchanges for empty cartridges. But the suggestions provided for recycled paper equally apply for toner cartridges as well. Aside from voiding a warranty, you may want to note the following:

  • While sticking with the manufacturer’s toner is more expensive, note that toner cartridges are more interactive with the printer’s software these days. A substitute brand may lack this capability.

  • Third party toner cartridges have a history of generally being less expensive and capable, but the worst-case scenarios have emerged with third-party cartridges that leak. May want to apply this to older printers that are often not used for finished-grade work.


No One Way


Almost any operating system will provide you layers of accessibility. In the office environment, you may notice you can’t change some settings on your printer which appears on your computer. To add to the confusion, how your printer is configured is at four levels.

  • You can program default settings in the printer itself

  • Your Windows “print driver” can present default settings for any user

  • Then you have your own customizable settings for your printer in Windows

  • And each application will provide options for printing. Microsoft Word, for example, will pause to ask if you want to change your print settings.

A bit complicated, right?

To add to the mystery, every print model has a different way to present itself. It is part of the “driver” which presents an array of displays and settings for managing your printer (in Windows parlance, a “schema”).

For the purposes of this article, the Dell 5310N printer will be used. It is a commonly encountered printer in corporate networks. Its configuration is relatively simple. We will use this printer in this discussion to explain how you can set up the printer for saving paper, toner and energy. Hopefully this will provide you with enough information so you can figure out how to configure other printers.

Figure 1

Install Options for the Dell 5310N Printer

Mentioned above was the fact that every print manufacturer will design a “driver” that is unique. Figure 1 shows the Printer Properties of the Dell 5310 printer under a tab titled “Install Options.” At some point, the figures shown below may not be exactly what you will see if your printer is different from the Dell 5310.


To illustrate this point, compare how easy it is to get print settings on the Dell versus what you see provided by the Xerox ColorQube. For the Dell, everything you need to know about the physical attributes of the printer are right in front of you. For the Xerox, you may notice that this schema has no manufacturer’s logo; and instead of “Install Options” they will have a “Configuration” tab (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Configuration Tab for the Xerox ColorQube

In other words, this is a standard Windows configuration window. Hit “Installable Options “and you get the window displayed in Figure 3 provided by the Xerox print driver.

Figure 3

Installable Options for the Xerox ColorQube.

Configuring the Printer On Your Workstation

Selecting Printer Features


Looking at Figure 1, you will note that the physical features of the printer are presented. This inventory is typically done by Windows when the printer is installed on your workstation. It’s rare that you will need to manually install or change these components.

In this example there is a “Duplex Option,” which enables you to print on both sides of a sheet of paper. This is a huge factor in conserving paper. Theoretically, it can reduce paper consumption by as much as 50%. Not all print drivers will insert features automatically. If you know your printer is capable of duplex printing and the feature is listed on the left side or is marked “Not Installed,” you may have to add that feature to the printer in Windows.

Advanced Settings


Referring to both Figures 1 and 2, you will see there is an “Advanced” tab. Clicking on that tab will present a screen as provided in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Advanced Settings for Printers

Select “Printing Defaults.”

Here you can see there is a panel for setting 2-sided printing as the default (See Figure 5).

Figure 5: Advanced Settings -- Printing Defaults

Another feature to consider is multipage printing. This enables you to place up to 32 pages onto the paper. (Anybody have a magnifying glass?)

Figure 6: Printer Quality Settings for the Dell 5310N Printer

Clicking on any of the quality settings changes Dots Per Inch (dpi). Draft is at 600 dpi, while Normal jumps up to 1200. “Best” can be 2400 dpi. Changing DPI may reduce your toner consumption as well as speed up printing.1


1 See the Appendix for a discussion on whether DPI settings save toner.



Figure 7: Watermarks settings for the Dell 5310N Printer

Next, checkout the “Other Options” tab. If you are in the habit of using Watermarks, then you may want to note you can save toner by stipulating how documents are watermarked. Referring to Figure 7, clicking on “Watermark” will provide options in watermark presentation.

Figure 8

As you can see in Figure 8, you can conserve on toner by simply printing a watermark on the first page. You may also note that you can print “Username” on the first page, a low-budget way to avoid Separator Pages and still indicate to others in the office to whom a document belongs.


Figure 9

Finally, we return to the “General” tab (see Figure 9). Click on “Preferences”. You will notice there are the same series of options. So what’s with that?

Well, there is a techie thing about how programmers view “the printer.” The printer you see sitting in your office is a “device”. The “printer” you see in Windows is actually a “printer object.” What that means is that instead of having just one “printer object” on your workstation, you can have several more: one for draft mode, one for final presentation mode, one for envelopes, one for each whistle and bell you want to designate. And all those virtual printers can point to the same physical printer. Instead of having to reset the “Preferences” for each print job, you can create unique “printers” for each type of printing you wish to customize.

Another thing to note is that businesses will have different levels of security in regards to printer settings. You may find that changing preferences under “Advanced” is grayed-out. You can see the settings, but cannot change them. You can, however, change the printer settings under the “General” tab. This will often be the case where workstations are shared by different users. What is under the “Advanced” tab is inherited by every user of the workstation.

Configuring the Printer from an Application

Figure 10

In the previous section, you learned how to customize your printer settings. These settings are inherited by all your applications. Applications can go one step further, customizing print settings for a specific document. We will use Microsoft Word as our example (see Figure 10). When you get ready to print a document, you will notice there is a link for “Printer Properties” (the same as in Figure 5).

Clicking on it will, once again, present the same windows for stipulating 2-sided printing, toner density and watermarks. In this case, though, it only changes the settings for the specific document you are printing.

Also note page count per sheet. This takes advantage of multi-page printing.


Configuring the Printer Itself

Most printers these days have web interfaces. Messing with the tiny control panel on the printer is rather tedious. So the web interface to the printer will be used to illustrate how you can configure the printer. Note that the control panel on the printer will present the same options.

The Dell printer configuration is relatively simple. We will use this printer in this discussion to explain how you can set up the printer for saving paper, toner and energy. Figure 11 provides a sample of how a web interface appears.

Figure 11

Web Interface to the Dell 5310N Printer

Figure 12

The first step is to click in Configuration. This will present a series of menus (see Figure 12).

Figure 13

Clicking on General Settings will present a screen (Figure 13) that provides a couple of places to improve the economy of the printer.

First, note the Power-Saver setting. This particular printer is set to slip down to power-saver mode after 2 hours. That may seem like a long time, but one the peculiarities of a powered-down printer is that it can take a long time to cycle through the restart process. Setting it to 30 minutes may save power, but it might add to the irritation factor as people wait for the printer to respond. Another “bug” is that Windows sometimes does not see the print job as “waiting”, but may determine the printer is not running, causing print jobs to freeze up in “Error” mode.

Leave unchecked the Banner Page. Otherwise, this will generate a print test sheet each time the printer is powered on. Click Submit to save your settings.

Figure 14

Returning to the Configuration page (Figure 12), clicking Print Settings will present another menu (see Figure 14).

Figure 15

Clicking the Finishing menu will present a page that has a couple of economizing features. One thing to consider (referring to Figure 15) is not using separator pages. They are useful in heavy-use environments where print jobs are stacked and confused. But, generally speaking, most office environments are not that intense. If this setting is turned on, it will print a “separator” page indicating who owns the print job. That can add up to a lot of paper.

Note that this is the place to activate the “Duplexer”. Most folks see nothing wrong with setting the Duplexer in the ON position, so that your duplexer will be used by default. But some offices have a higher-grade finished product such as official correspondence or editing standards that require single-side only. Even if this is the case, you can by-pass this setting by programming your printer configuration on your workstation or for any report you are printing.

Another item to explore is Multipage Print. This feature is rarely used, but it enables the option of combining up to 32 pages onto one. Referring to Figure 5, you can see that you can establish multipage features in your Windows printer properties as well.

Figure 16

Returning to the Print Settings Menu (See Figure 14), the Quality Menu will present another option you may want to explore. Print resolution is set on this printer to the lowest possible standard. Toner darkness can also be adjusted. These two features, put together, can arrive at a quality product that can potentially save a considerable amount of toner.

The items on this page can also be used to enhance the print quality while yet maintaining economic settings. The most important of all is print resolution. For this particular model, it can go all the way up to 2400 dots per inch. So using 600 dpi can reduce toner consumption, and utilize less energy to print the document.

Figure 17

The final attribute we can fine-tune is power-saving. Returning to the Configuration Menu (see Figure 14), you will see there is a Setup Menu. Clicking on that item will present a page where you can establish how your printer saves power (Figure 17). It is recommended you set this value rather high. In this example, it is set to two hours. You can set this for a much shorter period of time, but note how long it takes for the printer to restart. Some printers are so long in re-starting that the print job times out. That can create a lot of frustration and confusion. So it is important to check with the people in your area.


After reading this much material, you must think configuring a printer is running in four different directions at once. But configuration settings are established through a term used in networking called inheritance.

So let’s pretend you bring a new printer into the office. Your first step is to configure the default settings on the printer itself. You have determined that you want to take advantage of duplexing and everyone agrees to not use separators and to print in Draft mode.

Next, everyone in the office adds the printer to their workstations. When the “print driver” is installed, it will inherit some or all settings from the printer. So all those settings you established on the printer will determine what every user in the office may see for their printers when they are installed.

Let’s say there is an administrative assistant in the office, and he almost always prints documents in high-quality mode. This person can go into the Windows printer properties, select the General tab and establish print properties that fit his type of work. But the legal assistants across the room almost always print documents in draft mode, plus they have excellent eye sight. So they set up their printer properties to print multi-page documents.

What happens next is that these users open up Microsoft Word and create a document. When they are prepared to print it, they will see print settings inherited from their customized printer property settings in Windows. The legal assistant, for example, wants to print a document in high-quality mode. She will have to change the print settings from Draft mode to a “normal” or “high-quality” mode for the particular document she is printing. She will also need to turn off multi-page printing. She may also switch to higher grade paper quality.

The beauty of inheritance is that the business can establish green standards on their printers, yet the employees will have the option to customize print settings to fit their needs, and still have the option of customizing print settings for a specific document.

Looking Forward

This document focused on existing printers. But improving sustainable printing may be most significantly affected by smart long-term planning. For this local audience, the Region 10 office of the US Forest Service, printers were almost halved in number. This was in part due to the consolidation of the office from two floors to one. But in the process, strategic placement of the printers reduced the need for printers. And that, my friend, saves a lot of electricity.


In review, go through this checklist:

  • Use recycled paper if possible

  • Recycle toner cartridges if possible

  • Use Duplexing if available

  • Consider using Draft mode as your default

  • Consider multi-page printing

  • Be sure your printer is using 600 dpi

  • Disable Banner Pages

  • Disable Separators

  • Use watermarks only on the first page

  • Utilize power-save options.


This document emerged from one of the sustainability projects of the US Forest Regional Office in Juneau, Alaska. One of the fun things about working for the US Forest Service is that you are surrounded by people who appreciate the importance of sound management of natural resources and finding ways to affordably change our personal habits so that our “footprint” is minimal. Since printers were one of the major energy consumers in the office, a review of techniques to reduce paper and toner consumption and conserve on energy was conducted. This article stems from that project and has been re-edited so that everyone can benefit.

Revision History



Summary of Changes




First Draft

Eric Niewoehner



First Review

Eric Niewoehner



2nd Review

Eric Niewoehner


Does setting a Printer to 600 dpi save toner?

Not exactly. Printing in Draft mode reduces density, which directly saves toner consumption. But 600 dpi merely establishes that the size of the dot is larger in size. So 2400 dpi can use the same amount of toner as 600 dpi, but it replaces one dot with four.

That being said, however, one only needs to look at your video display to realize that what causes your workstation’s cooling fans to start up is the resolution of the display. Each dot carries with it a demand for processing capacity. It takes considerably more energy to handle a 2400 dpi document than a 600 dpi. High-DPI documents take more memory capacity and request higher processing for both your workstation and the printer. So, in that respect, 600 dpi can save energy.

Reducing resolution to 600 dpi will also increase the speed of printing, which will make for happier users.

Controlling Darkness

Some printer models have a Darkness control. This can enable you to fine-tune the density, thus saving toner. You will also encounter “Gray Control” and Contrast features, enabling you to lighten contrasts, which saves toner.

Reduced Noise Settings

Some printers have the capability to run quieter. This may reduce fan operations, especially if you notice the printer is frequently utilizing fans even when print jobs are not being submitted. But you may sacrifice performance using this setting, so you will need to experiment with this setting to be sure it meets the needs of the people in your office.

Economy Mode

Some printers will have generic modes of operation such as economy mode, with no detailed description as to what that means. It may change the settings of several things on your printer. The suggestion here is to experiment so you can be sure this setting meets the need of the office staff.

Scheduled Power-Down

More and more printers are coming out with scheduled power reduction. This is an excellent tool for saving energy. For example, you can schedule power-down from 7 PM to 5 AM. This reduces the printer to just the minimal power usage. If anyone comes into the office during those hours, the printer can wake up when a print job is submitted.


There are no entries yet.
Please enter the code
* Required fields

   Contact Me Today!

If you find something that piques your interest, feel free to select the Contact Me menu item to send a non-spammable message.

   Follow Me