Mac OS X’s Page Setup and Print dialogs: too much confusion

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
February 28th, 2003 • 12:37 am

I recently mentioned an interesting web page containing a report by Raffi Krikorian on his experiments with sharing very large video files through peer-to-peer file sharing.

Today I wanted to print this report to PDF from within Safari using Mac OS X’s built-in “Save as PDF” feature.

I did just that using my default print settings, and opened the PDF file in Acrobat Reader. Problem: the text at the bottom of each page was cut off by the bottom margin, resulting in half a line of text becoming invisible and the other half very hard to read.

It’s not the first time this has happened to me, but today I decided to try and find a fix.

First of all, I wondered what the cause might be. A flaw in my printer driver? A flaw in Safari? A flaw in OS X itself? A problem with this particular web page and its use of fonts?

Since saving as PDF is done through the Print dialog, it obviously uses the characteristics of the currently selected printer. I tried with both my HP LaserJet 5MP and my HP cp1700, with identical results. The bottom of each page was still cut off.

I then tried to use the “Letter US (small)” page format rather than the default “Letter US” format in the Page Setup dialog. No difference.

I then tried to set the page setup “Scale” option to 95% rather than the default 100%. The text was indeed a bit smaller, but it was still cut off, albeit in different places (obviously). Not a solution.

I then decided to try and fool Mac OS X INTO thinking that it was printing to a slightly different paper size format. For this, I wanted to use the “Custom Paper Size” option that’s available in the top “Settings” menu in the Page Setup dialog. I create a paper format with the same size as Letter US, but with different margin settings. I saved the paper size with the name “Défaut”. (In such things, I’m optimistic by nature.)

The first problem I had then was, “How do I apply this paper size to this particular document window?” Should I just highlight the newly defined “Défaut” paper size in my list of custom paper sizes and close the Page Setup window by clicking on its “OK” button?

That’s what I did first, and it didn’t seem to work. The margins in the resulting PDF weren’t any different. So obviously selecting the “Défaut” paper size in the Custom Paper Sizes section doesn’t actually apply it to the current document.

I thought I might found my newly created paper size in the “Paper Sizes” menu in the Page Setup dialog, but that menu only featured the paper sizes supported by my HP LaserJet 5MP and didn’t include my newly created paper size called “Défaut”. How come?

I tried to look things up in Mac OS X’s built-in Help feature, which is, as has been widely reported, a major pain in the ass, because it keeps connecting to Apple’s servers and is just so sloooow (when it doesn’t just freeze).

The default page for Page Setup in Help doesn’t say much. I clicked on “Tell me more” and found an item on “Printing on custom paper sizes”. Here’s what it says:

Open the document, choose Page Setup from the File menu, and select a paper size:

Choose Any Printer from the “Format for” pop-up menu and look for the paper size you need in the Paper Size pop-up menu.

If you didn’t find the size you want, choose your printer model from the “Format for” menu and look again in the Paper Size pop-up menu.

If you still don’t find the size you want, choose Custom Paper Size from the Settings pop-up menu and create your own.

Mmm. Not exactly clear. What this page doesn’t tell you — and what I found out after more fiddling — is that user-created custom paper sizes only appear in the “Paper Sizes” menu in Page Setup if the “Format for:” menu is set to “Any Printer”!

Indeed, as soon as I switched to “Any Printer” rather than “HP LaserJet 5 MP”, the “Défaut” menu item appeared at the bottom of the “Paper Sizes” menu and I was able to select it.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is neither straightforward nor intuitive. I understand that printer description files contain a list of paper sizes “officially” supported by the printer, but my LaserJet 5MP has a manual loading tray with an adjustable plastic tab that effectively lets me feed it all kinds of difference sizes of paper — any size between very narrow media such as envelopes to the full width of regular US letter or US legal paper (and varying lengths as well).

So how come Page Setup doesn’t let me define custom paper sizes that apply to my HP LaserJet and show up in the “Paper Sizes” menu when I choose the LaserJet in the “Format for:” menu? Here’s the answer, again on the Help page:

Don’t format a document for a custom paper size and then print to a different paper size as a way of controlling margins. Use the formatting features of your application instead.

Mmmm. This is all well and good, but Safari has absolutely no formatting features for page margins — so what am I supposed to do?

Even though it is utterly unintuitive, I have to set “Format for:” to “Any Printer” rather than my LaserJet and then select my custom paper size (which is effectively Letter US, but with different margins). Which is what I did. But I still got the bottom of each page cut off by the margin… :-(

As a last resort, I tried to use both my custom paper size and set the scale to 95%. Miracle! It worked. This time, the PDF file created by Mac OS X was OK, with no lines cut off at the bottom of each page.

Conclusion? Printing under OS X is still a pain in the neck, and the fault is not entirely with third-party drivers. Apple still has a lot of work to do…

[This item was submitted to Apple through the Mac OS X Feedback page.]

2 Responses to “Mac OS X’s Page Setup and Print dialogs: too much confusion”

  1. Burt says:

    I agree there is much confusion in OSX’s print dialogs.

    Have you solved this problem?:
    1. Page Setup does not retain its settings. Even if I “Capture” the settings, save the doc, and reopen it, I see “Letter” when I want “B” paper size, for example.

    Do you have this result? Do you have a fix?

    2. In Page Setup, I choose “Any Printer”. Then when I try to choose the paper size “B”, , the window still shows the word “Letter” but shows 6.92 in. x 9.84 in. below!! (US Letter size is 8.5 x 11 in).

    This is fixable if I make a custome 11 x 17, pick it, then pick “B”.
    Other inconsistancies between what I pick and what I see occur randomly – for example, sometimes i cannot pick “B” at all – even though it shows in the list, selecting it does not change the window to read paper Size – “B”!!@!!

    Do you ever get this result? Do you have a cure?

    I am using OSX 10.2.8 on a DP 1.25 G4 with a gigabyte of RAM.
    Printing to an Epson 1280, a non-PS printer.

    3. When printing in QuarkXpress, there is a THIRD complex dialog box in addition to OSX’s Page Setup and Print dialog boxes.

    a. I press Cmd P to Print and get Quark’s dialog
    b. I set Page Setup to be paper size “B”. 100%, Portrait orientation. print “Spreads”
    c. I set Quark’s Print dialog to “fit in print area”, “Generic color printer”
    sometimes it picks 49%, sometimes 75%!@@!!

    In any case, the best I get is a printout that has 2 in. margins on all sides!. The Page Setup Summary says there should be .12 in. margins except on the bottom, where the margin should be .56 in. !!!#@!

    I tried reversing the order, doing first step b. and then c.
    This occurred to me because I see settings made in Page Setup change the settings made in Quark’s Print dialog.

    Do you get these results? Do you have a fix?

    In progress –

    1. I will tell Quark I am using a PS printer, the HP 8150. That seems to drastically change the percentages shown in the Quark Print dialog when “Fit in print area” is checked.

    2. I will give up on the Quark checkbox “Fit in print area” and make a different Quark Print Style for each reduction we need. Unless Quark can show me that the setting can work.

    In conclusion, I agree with you that it is not only 3rd party drivers causing the OSX print confusion, but certainly, Quark’s Print dialog is a monstrous added layer of confusion, even if OSX was fine.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Sounds like a nightmare situation you have here :-(. I am afraid I have no experience with Quark XPress. And of course, the behavior of the print dialog can vary depending on the printer you are using.

    I am afraid I haven’t played with custom paper sizes lately… The problem with lines being cut off at the bottom of the page when printing from Safari was fixed by Apple a long time ago (Safari 1.1, I believe). Sorry I can’t help.

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