Many people, myself included, don't print things often enough to justify owning a printer for their personal use. Before opening my first Etsy shop, I got away with handling my few-and-far-between printing needs either at my day job or at a local library, but I ended up purchasing a printer for my business, and never looked back!
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat—yes, of course it is possible to run an online store without a printer, and some sellers do make it work, but a printer will make your life so much easier. Here's why:
1. Printers save time
If you don't own a printer, your shipping options are limited to either hand writing your shipping addresses, or driving all of your packages to the post office and waiting in line to pay at the counter.
This is all time that you have to either give up for free or charge your customer for. And if you've never tried timing yourself while you pack and ship your orders, now's the time to find out how much time you spend working for free!
You may be thinking, "hey, I have to drive to the post office anyway to mail my packages, so it's really no big deal." Not so! Did you know that you can have your packages picked up at your door for free? You'll just need to schedule a pickup with USPS at least a day in advance, and they'll collect any packages that have pre-paid shipping labels.
2. Printers save money
Post offices are probably also catching on to the huge slowdown caused by handwritten addresses, because it's always cheaper to pre-purchase your shipping label online. Plus, if you're selling on sites like Etsy, Ebay, or Shopify, you'll get an additional business rate discount that they've negotiated with the postal service.
When I was using the library's printer, I was paying 20 cents per page, plus the cost of gas to drive to and from the library. It takes a bit of an investment upfront, but now I'm printing in the comfort of my own home and spending less than 5 cents per page!
3. Printers reduce the chance for human error
Let's compare the workflow between having a printer and not having one. Without a printer, you'll need to either hand write the shipping address on your package, or read off the address to the postal clerk as they type it. Potential human errors include:
- Illegible handwriting. Remember that most postal sorting is done by machine these days, so even if your penmanship is on point, it's not in the language of their robots.
- Typos. Or is it handwriting-o's? Maybe you get pulled away from your labeling mid-address, or maybe the post office is particularly noisy that day and the clerk mishears you. Either way, you can expect a disappointed customer.
- Tracking numbers. If you've made it through the first two hurdles, the postal clerk will hand you a receipt that has your tracking number on it. You're now in charge of not losing that tiny slip of paper until you get home. Then you'll need to enter that series of 22 random digits without mistake.
What's this same process like if you have a printer? You pre-pay for your label at your discounted business rate, print out a sheet of paper, and affix it to your package. The shipping address prints exactly as your customer entered it, your label has a barcode for easy machine reading, and the tracking number is automatically emailed to your customer.
Then you schedule the aforementioned USPS pickup request, and kick back to enjoy a much-earned break. You deserve it for working smarter!
4. Printers do not have to be expensive to maintain
If you shop around, you can find a discounted printer on Amazon's Warehouse Deals, Ebay, or even search for a store model at a brick and mortar store. I chose the HP Envy 4500, and ended up paying about $20 off the retail price by getting an open-box model.
But forget about the printer—it's the ink that's notoriously expensive. Per ounce, it costs more than human blood (really!), and if you're printing multiple shipping labels per day for your successful online business, the costs rack up quickly.
Remember how I said I was printing at less than 5 cents per page? What makes that possible is HP's Instant Ink service. They deliver ink to your doorstep for as low as $2.99 per month. You can easily upgrade your plan as your business grows, or even roll over unused pages during those slower summer months. All you have to do is choose an eligible printer, like my Envy 4500.
Back when I was buying ink refill cartridges, I put all my printing on black and white only, and printed my labels and invoices on draft mode to save ink. While this did save a few cents, it made my documents look less than professional to my customers. The best part about Instant Ink is that you pay per page, and not by the quantity of ink—that means you're free to choose that ink-guzzling setting that makes your logo and product photos look amazing! Bonus: if you enroll in HP Instant Ink now, your first month will be free!
I hope I've helped some of you stuck with the printer dilemma. Share any money-saving printer hacks you have in the comments!
Disclosure: I may receive compensation through affiliate links on this page. I have personally used and evaluated all services, and only give my honest opinions regardless of compensation.