How to print a web page

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I sometimes get asked this question: “How can I print a web page? Every time I print, the text goes off the side of the page, or the pictures don’t line up correctly, or I waste a bunch of ink because it prints this big background image.”

To answer this, you have to realize one important fact: when a website is designed, it is created with the idea of seeing it on the screen, not on a sheet of paper. So no web designer really cares about how it looks if you decide to click File – Print. That doesn’t mean all sites look bad when printed; some look fine. But that is just by chance, not by design.

Also, if you ever see a page you want to print and you notice a button or link that says “Printer-friendly version”, click that first and then print. That one should look find on paper.

So what about the sites that are loaded with graphics and ads and other junk, and all you want to print is the text in the middle of the page?

Now there is a service that allows you to do just that: PrintWhatYouLike.com

Here’s how it works. You go to the website, and you type in the web address of the site you want to print where it says “Enter a URL”:

When you click Start, you will be taken to a page that looks mostly like that website, but you will see over on the left there is a block of controls. The easiest thing to do really is just click the buttons at the bottom left that say “Remove Background” and/or “Remove Images”. When you do that you will see what happens. The page becomes much more printer-friendly!

In addition, you can click a section of text to highlight it. If you then click the “Isolate” button, all you will see is that section of text, ready to print. If instead you click the “Remove” button, that section of text will disappear. So you can really get rid of all the stuff on the page that you don’t want to print, leave what you do want to print, then print it. Easy!

There are some other things that you can do but I’ll let you play with the controls and discover what else is possible. Don’t worry, you can’t hurt anything. And you will be saving your paper and ink too.

This week’s video is about some poor old ladies who just wanted to cross the street:

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Alien Son
June 1st, 2009

G’day, Scott.

Sorry, but I have to disagree with your statement “So no web designer really cares about how it looks if you decide to click File – Print. That doesn’t mean all sites look bad when printed; some look fine. But that is just by chance, not by design.”

Cascading style sheets, now used by most web designers, make it easy to set different styles for screen and print, and many sites do so. This is transparent for the user because it happens in the background – when a visitor to such a site clicks print the appropriate stylesheet is automatically invoked. There’s actually no need these days for a “print-friendly” link.

I used this technique to make it easy for visitors to my site (www.alienson.com) to print my story if they didn’t want (or weren’t able) to read it on-screen.

Regards, John

Scott Johnson
June 1st, 2009

Thanks for the input, John. I agree that CSS is improving the situation. However, there are still lots of sites that don’t look right on the printed page. For those sites, a different solution is needed, hence today’s suggestion.