How to Get by Without a Home Printer or Scanner

CC BY 2.0. My dead dusty printer/ Lloyd Alter

There's almost nothing that can't be done with an app and a phone anymore.

TreeHugger Katherine doesn't own a printer or a scanner; when she needs to use one she goes to the public library. I don't own a printer right now either; I have a dusty box beside my desk that used to be a Samsung combo printer, scanner and fax until Apple killed 32 bit drivers and my printer with the Catalina update. Meanwhile, Samsung quit making printers and dumped software updates over to HP, which is ignoring the issue. Their suggested workaround is to set it up to print wirelessly, which I haven't bothered to do because, actually, I have not needed to print anything since it stopped working.

I bought the Samsung mainly for the flatbed scanner, but also because it was an affordable laser printer, after a frustrating experience with an Epson inkjet printer. I wasn't using it enough, and the inks were drying out. They are incredibly expensive, too; according to Consumer Reports, "printer ink might be the most expensive liquid you buy. Even the cheapest ink in replacement cartridges—at about $13 an ounce—costs more than twice as much as Dom Pérignon Champagne, while the priciest—closer to $95 an ounce—makes gasoline seem like a bargain."

On some printers, CR found that more ink was used cleaning the printer heads than was actually used printing."Consumer Reports' tests confirm that some printers use much more ink than others in those tasks— and the added cost of using a less-efficient model can set you back more than $100 a year."

HP has been trying to turn ink into a service, and has a subscription where you pay by the month; the printer talks to HP, which sends you ink cartridges in the mail. If you go over your page limit for the tier you are subscribing to, they start charging by the page, and as Josh at How to Geek notes, "A page with a single word on it and a full-color photo page are both the same as far as the plan is concerned." Not only that, the ink cartridges are DRM'd (Digital Rights Management) so that if you don't pay your bill, the cartridges that you already have stop working. No thanks.

What are the alternatives to owning a printer?

  • As Katherine noted in her post, most libraries have printers that are available for use. I am lucky that there is a computer store nearby that lets me print for 10 cents a page.
  • Many schools have printers that students can use.
  • If you have a friend with a printer, you can e-mail them a PDF, make cookies and have a nice visit.
signing a document

Signing a document on a mac/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This post was inspired by Katherine's recent need to print a PDF document, sign it, scan it and send it back. It took her two days to send it off with her husband to print at work and get it back. In fact, you can sign a pdf on your computer (on a Mac with Preview and on a PC with Adobe Reader); just keep a scan of your signature and drop it in, save and send back.

The main things that I used my printer for were tickets and boarding passes, but these can almost all be done now by showing the ticket on your phone.

What about scanning?

Scanbot shots

Scanbot in use, storing files/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0 For scanning, I have been using the Scanbot app for years. It does a wonderful job, saves it to your cloud or files or sends it wherever you want. It even lets you open documents, sign them and resend them.

It originally cost me 99 cents and has been continuously upgraded. Alas, they have just switched to a subscription model and a lot of users are unhappy with the cost. There are lots of other scanning apps but I have not checked them out and cannot vouch for them.

What about faxing?

What's that?

Are we finally going paperless?

A dozen years ago we showed an illustration from the New York Times with a supposedly paperless home; it looks so primitive now, with its two scanners and cameras and stacks of external hard drives. Now we can do that all with our phones. There seems to be not much need for a printer anymore and less than there used to be for a scanner, now that most bills come by email.

If I can't get this dumb box in the corner working, I am not going to bother replacing it.