10 surprising things to do with your printer

Dust down that maudlin-looking printer sat hunched in the corner of your study and wake its dormant creativity with our top 10 printer tips.

Niall Magennis Reviewer
Niall has been writing about technology for over 10 years, working for the UK's most prestigious newspapers, magazines and websites in the process. What he doesn't know about TVs and laptops isn't worth worrying about. It's a little known fact that if you stacked all the TVs and laptops he has ever reviewed on top of each other, the pile would reach all the way to the moon and back four times.
Niall Magennis
5 min read

You've likely got a printer at home that you frequently put to work on exciting stuff like printing airline boarding passes, letters to the council about dog mess on the pavements or photos of your reluctant kids looking bored on holiday. Is that the best you can do?

Rescue this unloved piece of tech from the dusty corner of your study because there's quite a lot of creative fun to be had with a printer. I've put together some inspirational ideas to get you started. So gee up your slumbering plastic box, give it an encouraging hug to let it know you care, and away we go!

1. Print your own pinhole camera

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Most of us have used our printers to run off hard copies of our favourite snaps. But have you taken pictures with a camera that you've actually printed out from your printer? No, I haven't gone completely looney tunes, you can create your own pinhole camera using your printer. Just point your browser at this site and grab the template file. Then simply print it out and follow the instructions to create your very own camera.

2. Poster-sized prints

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If you've got a house party planned and want to print some large banners, or you just want to produce some poster-sized art, then why not try multi-page poster printing? It couldn't be easier -- all you've got to do is take an image and upload it into one of the online poster creation tools such as the Block Posters app or Kodak's Big App.

The software splits the image into individual sheets and lets you save the results as a PDF. You then print out this PDF and assemble the individual pages into the full poster.

3. Kids' games and masks

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If the younger oiks are playing up during the school holidays, you may want to turn to your printer to produce some games and activities to keep them from rioting around the house. Many of the latest Wi-Fi-connected printers have apps that allow you to directly access services from the likes of Disney and Universal to print out colouring-in pages, character masks and board games for the little ones.

Even if you don't have one of these new flashy models, you can just download a lot of this content from the print area of the Disney site, the activities section of the Dreamworks Interact site or the Make and Colour area of the CBeebies site.

4. Print a camera lens hood

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Although camera lens flare can sometimes produce good creative effects, it can also be a pain in the rear end. The way to combat it is to use a lens hood, but for some cameras and lenses, these can be ridiculously expensive for what is essentially just a piece of moulded plastic. One solution is to print out and make your own lens hood from paper or cardboard. You can find lots of different templates for specific makes of camera at www.lenshoods.co.uk.

5. Greetings cards

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It's not just the thought that counts, it's often the effort that you put in with cards for birthdays or other special occasions. So why not create your own unique cards rather than buying cheesy and sentimental ones from a shop? You'll find tonnes of templates online at sites such as HP Creative Studio or Greetings Island. You can even buy dedicated greetings card paper to print on that has gloss on one side and matte on the other.

6. Stickers

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Kids love stickers as they give them a chance to personalise their books, pencil cases and, if you're particularly unlucky, the walls and furniture in your home. There are lots and lots of sites with freely downloadable designs for stickers that you print either to A4 sticker paper or label sheets. The Microsoft Office site and Disney's FamilyFun are good places to start.

7. Create stationery

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If you run a small business, charity or club, then you can add a professional touch to all the communications and marketing material you send out by creating your own stationery. All you need to do is develop a template that you print to normal A4 sheets of paper. You can then use these sheets as your official letter headed paper. If you don't fancy creating your own template, you can find lots of existing ones available for download on the web that you can customise to your needs. If you use Microsoft Word, a good place to start is the stationery section of the Microsoft Office website.

8. Enlarge old photos

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Have you got some old printed photos that you really wish you had larger copies of? If the answer is yes, and you've got a printer with a scanner built in, it's usually child's play to print off enlargements. In fact, most multi-function printers have an enlargement feature built into their menu system.

If you've got a good digital camera, especially a dSLR, you can get better results by actually taking a picture of your old photo and using this as the source material for your enlargement. That's because a good digital camera will often have better resolution and colour accuracy than the scanners built into many multi-function printers.

9. T-shirt designs

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There's a whole host of reasons you might want to create your own t-shirt designs -- from stag and hen dos to charity fun runs. Customising t-shirts with iron-on transfers you've produced using your printer is very straightforward. You can buy iron-on transfer paper, or heat transfer paper as it's sometimes known, for less than £1 a sheet. You simply print to this paper as you would any standard A4 page.

Place it face-down on your t-shirt and run a hot iron over the top, making sure you iron across the whole image evenly. Peel the paper off and you're left with the transferred image. The final step is to place the silicone paper, which is usually supplied with the transfer paper, over the top of your design and then iron over it again. This helps to fix the image to the t-shirt so it lasts longer and stays colour fast.

10. Printing art

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Lots of people try printing out art on their inkjet models using photo paper and find that the results just aren't satisfying because they tend to look too shiny and perfect. If you want to produce much better reproductions of art, the trick is to use dedicated canvas paper instead. It has a more textured finish that looks far superior and the paper doesn't even cost that much more than standard glossy photo paper.