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The problem with printing web pages

What does your website look like when printed out? Printed out on paper, I mean. Because however archaic that sounds, it’s something that people often still have to do, especially in a business environment – and particularly when researching or specifying products. Your prospects and customers will be printing pages off your website all the time. Sadly, what they print off might not be doing you any favours.

Go to a product page on your website and print it out from your browser. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you get back.

Done it?

Good. What does it look like? Is it a nice, well formatted printout that you’d be happy to send somebody in the post? Or does it look like a photograph of what appears on your computer screen, complete with (now useless) menus and links? Is the type nice and legible, or does it clearly come from a source not designed to be printed out on paper?

The chances are that you might need a print stylesheet. This is generally accepted to be the best way to tackle the problem of converting web pages to paper. It automatically reformats the page to a more print-friendly format when someone hits “print” on their browser. The alternative solution is to have a separately formatted “print version” page (which can be plain text, HTML or PDF), but that requires a separate version of the page to be maintained, and for the reader to spot the “print version” link on the page before hitting the “print” button.

Any competent web designer will be able to add a print stylesheet for you (ask me to point you towards one if you don’t know any). It’s just an addition to your site behind the scenes, and won’t affect the normal operation of the website in any way. There’s a good background article here and some terrific hints which your designer might thank you for here.

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