Having your own printer is so last century: online printing services

July 15th, 2011 | by Sean |

We needed to send a couple of small documents by post and realised – while we are in the ‘No Fixed Abode’ phase of our Keep-It-Simple-Stupid plan to move back to the UK – that another thing we don’t have in our luggage is a printer. We’re currently using a friend’s house in a beautiful village in the Peak District which is not over-equipped with Internet cafes. I helped a friend pack up their belongings after their job in Cheltenham had come to an end last week, and I picked up an old inkjet printer from among her belongings, but the ink was dry and a new printer seems cheaper than replacement cartridges for the old one. We have an inkjet printer in Malaysia, and there’s an old one in my parents’ attic, but perhaps in parents’ attics is the right place for a printer now? After all, that’s where the VHS video recorder is, that’s where the LP collection and ‘hi-fi cabinet’ is, and the fax and the dialup modem. And the Walkman!

It seems silly to buy yet another inkjet printer and sillier to buy ink that is more expensive than a new inkjet printer. We don’t print very often. We tried thinking of what we do print. Recently letters of complaint / campaign and AirAsia booking confirmations have been the most common prints. A few datasheets a year? Not a lot really. Since my last phone upgrade I’ve been in the habit of snapping timetables and maps with the built-in camera and viewing the stored image on my phone’s screen when I need to.

I searched for “print documents online” to see what it would cost and got a few pleasant surprises. With a few offerings of A4 prints coming in under 30p per page (for small prints, for large multiple-page prints prices fall to below 10p per page), we would spend far less over the course of a year than we would spend on printers and ink. I’m excited by this idea and looking forward to receiving my first online print: a 2-page letter complaining about lost mail.

There’s no great need for urgency for this job, so I’ve chosen options that cost me a grand total of 64p – but had to pay £1 as a minimum balance on my account. I found another site that suggested the same job would cost 36p a couple of days ago, but didn’t bookmark it. I used pc2paper.co.uk for this job, and found it quite straightforward. One small wrinkle is that PC2Paper doesn’t seem to allow sending 2 files in one envelope, and my second page was a PDF document from a 3rd party. I struggled to add the PDF to an OpenOffice.org (or is it LibreOffice now?) document, so in the end used this handy PDF concatenation incantation:

gs -dNOPAUSE -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOUTPUTFILE=combinedpdf.pdf -dBATCH 1.pdf 2.pdf 3.pdf

to combine the two PDFs into one.

I’m interested to see how quickly my (2nd class postage!) cheaply printed document will arrive. I could have sent it directly to the recipient, but we want to send the letter registered and that option wasn’t offered by PC2Paper.

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