Stable Layout on Different Printers

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 20, 2013)

Patricia asked if there is a way to keep the layout of pages in a large document the same regardless of which printer she uses to print the document.

Believe it or not, this is not that simple of a question. To make it simpler, let's consider a scenario where a single document is printed on two different printers, A and B. If printers A and B are identical and use the exact same printer driver, then the printout on each of them should be the same if you are printing from a single machine. If you are printing from different machines (and the printers and printer drivers are identical) the printouts could still be different if the systems use different versions of Word, different fonts, or even different implementations of the same fonts from different vendors.

It is also possible that you could get different printouts—even if printers A and B are identical—if printer A is operating at a different print resolution from printer B. If printers A and B are identical but the printer drivers are different (such as different versions of the same driver), then the printouts can be different. Finally, if printers A and B are different makes and models, then it is virtually guaranteed that the printouts will be different. This occurs even if the printers use the same printer driver, such as a generic PostScript driver.

As you can tell, there are a lot of factors that come into play when printing your document. Printer make and model, printer resolution, printer driver version, and fonts all play a role in determining what ends up on the printed page. For this reason, many people who need to make sure that they get the same thing on different printers will often convert their documents to PDF format for distribution. The PDF format was designed to eliminate (or at least minimize) differences in printed output on different platforms. The traditional way to create a PDF file is to use Adobe Acrobat, although there are a number of less expensive alternatives to Acrobat.

If converting to PDF format is not possible, you should at least force Word to use its internal printer metrics instead of relying on the printer's metrics. Choose Tools | Options and display the Compatibility Options tab. Make sure that the Use Printer Metrics to Lay Out Document option is not checked. This option is turned off in a standard Word installation, but someone may have turned it on.

While turning off the setting (which means that Word does layout according to internal metrics rather than printer driver metrics) can minimize changes from one printer to another, it won't get rid of them entirely, particularly in large, complex documents that use a lot of text boxes or frames.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (213) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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