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Tips for Printing Web Documents

Clicking on a section heading will return you to the index at the top of this page.
We refer to Netscape browsers as NS and Microsoft browsers as IE.

These tips are based on our experience with Netscape Communicator 4.7 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 5, both on a PC with Microsoft Windows NT. If you are using a different browser and/or operating system, these tips may work, may work with minor modifications, or may not work. If they do not work at all on your system, they might still serve as helpful clues to what to look for.

As these tips show, for printing there are several useful things Netscape can do that Internet Explorer cannot, and several useful things Internet Explorer can do that Netscape cannot. So, given that they are both free, you might consider having both browsers installed on your computer. (Click here to download Netscape or here to download Internet Explorer.)


Printing part of a document

Solution 1: Print only a marked selection

IE5 and NS4 (and hopefully earlier versions too) have an option to print only a marked selection from a web page: (a) Mark the section you want to print by clicking at the top (or bottom) of it, holding the mouse button down, and moving the mouse pointer to the bottom (or top) of it, and then releasing the mouse button. (b) Choose the Print option on the File menu. (c) In the printing dialog box that appears, click on the 'Selection' option in the 'Print range' section. (When we tried this in NS4.7, the 'Selection' option was greyed out and not choosable. If you encounter this problem too, see Solution 2...)

Solution 2: Print only the required pages.

NS4 browsers (and hopefully earlier versions too) have a "Print Preview" option on the "File" menu. This allows you to see how the web page will print, and decide which pages you want to print. If, for example, the print preview indicates that the parts of the pages you want to print will be only on pages 3-5, then after you choose the "Print" command, you can enter 3 in the "from:" box and 5 in the "to:" box, to only print those pages.

Printing a document made up of many HTML files

When a large document consists of many separate HTML files, for example one for each section or chapter, then it may be tedious to manually print out each file separately. If the document includes an index page with links to all the sections, then using IE (version 5 anyway), you can automatically print out the index page and all the sections. (However, if the index page also links to some web pages you do not want to print, you will unforunately have to print those too.) Click on the "File" menu, then on "Print", then check the "Print all linked documents" option.

Header and footer contents

You can control what is printed in the header and footer regions of the page, for example, the URL, title, time and date, page number, etc. It is usually a good idea to include this information, so that you or others will later know where the document came from and how up to date it is, etc.

In both NS4 and IE5 browsers (and probably earlier versions too), click on the "File" menu and then on "Page Setup". What you do next depends on which browser you are using:

  • NS offers you several options you can select or deselect for the header and footer areas.
  • IE allows you to modify a string of codes that determine what is printed in the header and footer areas. To print nothing, just delete the strings of codes that are already there. To find out what codes to use to print what you want in the header and footer areas, click on the question mark (?) at the top right of the Page Setup box, and then click on the area where you can enter codes. A list of codes and descriptions of what they do should then pop up. (If you want to print it, click on it with the right mouse button.)

Margin size

On both NS and IE browsers, you can control the margin sizes for printing by clicking on the "File" menu and then on "Page Setup".

Page orientation (tall vs. wide, or portrait vs. landscape)

On IE5, you can choose between portrait (tall) and landscape (wide) page orientations by clicking on the "File" menu and then on "Page Setup".

In NS4.7, you must control page orientation via your printer's setup options. Click on the "File" menu, then on "Print", then on the "Properties" button, then try to find a setting for page orientation in your printer's options.

Size of printed text

In NS4.7, there are two ways of changing the text size on screen, one of which affects printing, and one of which does not:

  • The way that does affect printing is to click on the "Edit" menu, then on "Preferences", then on "Appearance" (until "Fonts" appears as a branch underneath "Appearance"), then on "Fonts", and then to set the sizes for the "Variable Width Font" (for text like this) and the "Fixed Width Font" (for text like this).
  • The way that does not affect printing is to click on the "View" menu and then on "Increase font" or "Decrease font".

In IE5, changing the text size on screen changes the text size when you print. Click on the "View" menu, then on "Text Size", then on a size from "Largest" to "Smallest". (You can also change the fonts used for normal web page text like this and plain text like this, but not their sizes, via clicking on the "Tools" menu, then the "Internet Options..." option, then the "General" tab, then the "Fonts" button.)

Printing wide tables, etc.

If you want to print a wide table in fixed width preformatted text or something else that cannot wrap to the next line to fit itself to the width of the printed page, then there are several approaches that may help:

If the above two approaches do not do the trick, you could try the following, though they are likely to be more time consuming:

  • Try marking the section you want by clicking and dragging with the mouse, then copy it ("Edit" menu, then "Copy"), then paste it into a text editor or word processor in which you can edit it and rearrange it to get it into a printable form.
  • Save the page on your computer (click on the "File" menu, then on "Save As") and then open it in a word processor program that can read HTML files, and edit it into a printable form.

Does the size of the browser window affect printing?

Since the size of the browser window affects how a web page displays on screen, one might guess that it would affect how it prints. For example, if the browser window is maximized to take up the whole screen, lines of text will often be longer (on screen) than if the browser window is set to only take up a quarter of the width of the screen. However, the window size does not affect printing. Printing is affected by the page size, margins, font size, etc, but not by the size of the browser window on screen. (Consider the printed page as another window that the browser displays the web page in, albeit a paper "window". Just as it adjusts the display to fit the size and shape of an on-screen window, it adjusts the way it prints the page to fit the size and shape of the paper "window" provided by the page.)

Printing pages with two or more frames

("What are frames?" A web page with frames has two or more areas that behave in many ways as if they were separate browser windows. For example, scrolling up and down through the contents of one frame does not usually affect what you see in the other frames, and typically different frames display different content.)

In IE, click in the frame you want to print (unless you want to print all of the frames), then on the File menu, then on "Print", then on one of the options in the "Print frames" box, which are "As laid out on screen", "Only the selected frame", or "All frames individually".

In NS, click in the frame you want to print, then on the File menu, then on "Print Frame" or "Print Preview". (NS seems to be unable to print the frames as they are laid out on the screen.)

Controlling page break locations (e.g., to stop a table from being split across two pages)

Sometimes you may be able to achieve this by changing the size of printed text (click here for details). However, this is unlikely to allow you to control the location of more than one page break, and may have undesirable side effects such as making the text itself too big or too small, creating other unwanted page break locations, etc.

If you really want to obtain full control of page break locations, you will need to save a copy of the page on your computer (click on the "File" menu, then choose "Save As"), and then edit that local copy of the page yourself. You can either edit it in a text editor, if you know HTML, or in a web page editor, of which many are available. (One called Netscape Composer is included with NS. To use it, click "File", then "Open Page", then "Open location or file in: Composer", then "Choose File".) The main type of edit you are likely to want to make is inserting blank lines to move the part of the page below the blank lines onto the next printed page. You will need to repeatedly test the effects of your edits on how the page is printed. This is best done using the "Print Preview" function of NS (on the "File" menu). IE seems to lack a print preview function, making it much less suitable for this particular task.

Printing of color and shading in page backgrounds and table cells.

NS seems to always print colored or shaded table cells. However, you can control whether it prints the background of the page as it appears on screen or prints a blank background regardless of the on-screen background. Click on the "File" menu, then choose "Page Setup", then check or uncheck "Print backgrounds" in the "Page Options" section.

In IE, a similar option called "Print background colors and images" affects not only page backgrounds, but table cell shading. If this option is turned off, shaded table cells will print as if they had no shading. This may be useful if the shading makes the text in the table cell illegible on when printed. To turn this option on or off, click on the "Tools" menu, then on "Internet options", then on the "Advanced" tab, then scroll down to find the "Printing" heading (it has a small printer icon on the left), and check or uncheck the "Print background colors and images" box.

(Note that in NS but not IE can print shaded table cells without printing a colored or graphical background, and IE but not NS can print table cells without their shading.)

Last revision 07/12/02


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