The Web is undeniably an amazing resource for information, but it's not the most comfortable nor portable of reading environments. For this reason, many people print web pages to read away from their desks or to file for later use. The ability to print the contents of the window has been built into browsers from the beginning. Over the years, we've seen some advancement for controlling printouts, both from the browser application itself as well as in authoring languages such as Cascading Style Sheets. In addition, the Web has proven to be an effective delivery device for printed documents in the form of PDF (Portable Document Format) files.
All graphical browsers have basic print and page setup controls that interface with the printer the same as any other application. In the Page Setup dialog box, users can generally select whether the page should print in portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) format and specify how many copies to print.
Internet Explorer goes beyond the simple print button by giving user more fine-tuned controls for printouts. Its Print Preview feature (introduced in Version 4.5 on the Mac and in 5.5 for Windows) shows how the web page will look when it's printed out. Within the Print Preview dialog box, users can select whether they want to add headers and footers with the URL and other page information, whether images print, and whether background and text colors should be preserved. The page shrinks to fit the print area by default, but users can opt to have it crop at the edge or print in tiles.
Internet Explorer Versions 4 and 5.0 (for Windows) use the Page Setup dialog box for setting page size, orientation, headers/footers, and margins, but there is no preview function. Background and text colors can be preserved by clicking the appropriate box under "Printing" in the advanced Internet Options dialog box.
Netscape Navigator offers similar printer controls for Windows users. Starting with Version 4.7, the Page Setup dialog box offers control over headers, footers, margins, and orientation. There is also a Print Preview option available. Unfortunately, these advanced options are not available for Navigator on the Macintosh.
Although browsers offer built-in print features, you can't depend on users to use them or even to know that they are available. Fortunately, in most cases, browsers released since 1998 do a reasonably good job of printing web pages by default. They generally try to shrink the contents to fit the print area, and they may also be sophisticated enough to preserve background and text colors (for printing light text on a dark background). But if you want to be absolutely sure your pages print in a predictable way, there are a few extra measures you may choose to take.
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