7 New Tricks for Your Boring Old Printer

Check out our favorite alternative uses for home printers!

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Sure, office printers will be around as long as businesses and governmental agencies require hard copies, but the age of the home printer is gradually coming to a close. Smartphones, tablets, and connected home appliances mean that rarely do you need to print anything out for home use. Even home photo-printing is on the decline, as the one-hour photo industry slouches into the digital age. So you’ve probably got a printer at home that doesn’t see much use—what in the world can you do with it?

Many of us at Reviewed.com are nerdy young dudes—not really crafty, DIY types. But some of us have equally nerdy girlfriends, and let’s just say that you don’t have to dig too far into their internet histories to find Etsy and Pinterest. Perhaps it’s no surprise that we’ve picked up a trick or two from our better halves, many of which involve getting more life out of the old inkjet. Who says you can’t fiddle while Rome burns?

Shrinky Dink

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Yeah, Shrinky Dink. That’s right, the kids’ craft. What is it useful for? Well, all kinds of things. All you need is a pack of the shrinkable plastic sheets—available at most major craft stores as well as online merchants like Amazon.com—and an image you want to print. Simply fire up Photoshop and print it like you would on normal paper, then take the printed sheet and bake it in your oven, following the directions on the package. In the end, you’ll have little plastic novelty discs that can be used for all kinds of things. My girlfriend likes to use them to make tags for our cats. Another use? Cheap, funky jewelry. Let your imagination be your guide! (Image: Silly Bee’s Chickadees)

The Rasterbator

A long-time favorite of college students around the globe, this useful web app takes any photo and turns it into a wall-sized poster. As long as you’ve got a decent supply of ink and cheap plain paper (and don’t mind spending a few hours trimming and taping), you can wallpaper your entire dorm/apartment/house with pop-art images on a massive scale. You can use all kinds of images, in color or black and white. Just go to Google Image Search and input “Rasterbator” for some examples.

Print on Fabric

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This one’s really cool, if a bit limited in usefulness: You can use your inkjet printer to print directly onto fabric. How do you keep it from bunching up in the rollers, you ask? By ironing it onto plastic-coated freezer paper. Genius! Inkjet prints made on fabric will fade over time, but you can help seal them in by ironing the printed area on high heat. Some printer companies like Epson also make special inks that are intended for this purpose. (Image: Flickr user knitheel, Creative Commons license)

Camera Lens Hoods

Ever notice how expensive lens hoods are, given that they’re just hunks of extremely inexpensive plastic? Yeah, us too. Good news: you can print and assemble DIY hoods almost for free, using easy.PDF templates and some light card stock. (Or invest in a 3D printer and make your own plastic hoods, but that’s material for another article.) Lenshoods.net has templates for all kinds of specific hoods from the major manufacturers, and they really do work just as well as the OEM piece.

Papercraft

An oldie but a goodie, papercraft has been around for more than a century, reaching its apex of popularity during World War II. Today it’s largely the domain of anime nerds, but you’re by no means limited to building Gundam Mecha and Pokemon characters—the {Papercraft Museum}(http://www.papercraftmuseum.com/) has models covering a huge range of categories, from vehicles to animals to architecture. Each model is available in pre-painted.PDF format, ready for you to print, cut out, fold, and assemble.

Inkjet Transfers

Who says the ink your printer spits out has to end up on paper? Certainly not us, since we discovered inkjet transfers. This ridiculously simple technique lets you essentially stamp an image on anything you like using overhead transparency sheets as the go-between. Images can be "stamped" onto canvas, wood, metal, and all kinds of other surfaces. You can even use this same method to create temporary tattoos--a fun little party trick for youngsters.

Parabolic WiFi Antennae

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This one is a bit closer to my wheelhouse than my girlfriend's. A fractionally better WiFi signal, pretty much for free? Yeah, I'm there. Thanks to a little thing we like to call science, you too can improve your wireless reception simply by printing out this template, gluing some aluminum foil to it, and attaching it to your router's antenna. Better than spending $100+ on a new hunk of plastic, right? (Image: FreeAntennas.com)

If that's not enough science for you, we've got good news. If you wait for your printer to finally break down, there are plenty of crazy things you can do with the leftover components. For instance: If you're intrigued by this crazy new thing called 3D printing, it turns out you can extract the printer head frame, precision rod, and motor from your all-in-one inkjet unit to serve as the basis for the X-Y axis of a DIY 3D printer. Another trick? How about turning the print head from your old printer into a laser cutter?

Yeah, projects like these are beyond the grasp of most mere mortals, but the hackers among us are no doubt delighted by the cheap tech your average printer contains.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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