The Importance of the Print Stylesheet

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Most website developers are aware of the concept of stylesheets and how they can help separate semantic HTML from presentation (colours, layout etc). Some sites such as Zen Garden have taken things to the absolute by using exactly the same HTML markup but with different CSS stylesheets to present some outstanding pages.

But few developers seem aware of the concept of a print stylesheet which has influence over the presentation of your pages when your users decide to print them. Even fewer actually know how to create and use one.

Problems caused by lack of print stylesheet

Now in the digital age it is not always necessary to print information off, but some users will still want to do it. If your site doesn’t have a well-crafted print stylesheet your users might get really frustrated with what comes out of their printer.

One of the commonest problems is that content disappears off the right hand side of the paper – I’m sure we’ve all seen that. Other issues concern sites which have dark backgrounds – your users may use a lot of their expensive print cartridges on these pages.

So what’s the solution?

What do your users need to see?

Think about which elements your user wants to see when they print a page. Obviously they’ll want to see the main content of your page – whether it’s text or their bank statement, along with all the headings. If you have images in your content then they’ll probably be best left in. But what else?

Navigation and links

On a web page on a monitor your user can click on all the links to navigate around your site and use the functionality you have provided. But on the printed page that just isn’t possible. So think about whether it’s necessary to show your navigation tabs or column. The same goes for all those links at the top and bottom of your pages.

Links within the page text obviously cannot be followed, but it may be useful to indicate that they are links and the sense of the text may be lost if they are excluded.

Logos and other branding

It’s probably important to keep your logos and company name in – these are often images anyway, but what about your page colour scheme? For most users the content of the page is the key information they want to keep. So how about presenting it in black on white like most books and other printed documents would be? Also, by default browsers will often ignore background colours and images when printing.

Coloured inks and cartridges for printers are always more expensive that the black ones so why not do your users a favour and use as little of their coloured inks as possible. Some users may choose to print in black and white anyway.

Fixed-width layouts

Some sites are based on fixed-width layouts and these can sometimes lead to problems when pages are printed. If the fixed width is too wide for the printed page the right hand end of each line is likely to get truncated which can seriously affect the legibility of the content. It’s best to go with a fluid layout in the print stylesheet so it takes up the full width of the page but no more.

Including a Print Stylesheet

A print stylesheet is included in the same way as a screen stylesheet – you just need to indicate which destination it’s for – print in this case.

Need More Info?

Contact us today if you need help with a print stylesheet for your website.

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