Don’t forget the power of printer drivers

My HP 5500DTN printer is something of a monster, boasting five paper trays and full-duplex printing onto A3 paper (which means I could print my own tabloid newspaper, hmmm).

Don't forget the power of printer drivers

I wrote recently in my PC Pro blog about how the performance of this beast collapsed to the speed of a cheap LaserJet whenever I asked it to print onto A5 – it turns out that if the paper doesn’t fill the full width of the heater rollers that fuse toner onto the paper, then the uncovered parts of the rollers quickly overheat. Its design relies on the paper carrying away a great deal of heat from the rollers in normal operation.

Don’t go nuts trying to fix things inside an application when you can fix it outside

Anyway, my local parish priest recently asked me to print some A5 flyers for him. He’d put together a nicely designed page in Microsoft Publisher, which is an excellent layout tool for such occasional users (provided they don’t try to output any web pages from the package, a process that always reminds me of trying to get blood out of a stone).

The problem was his page was A4 and I needed to print it onto A5 paper. My first thought was to take the A4 page and just tell the program that it was using A5 paper, but no way would this work. The page border itself resized beautifully, but all the items on the page stayed at their A4 sizes. Trying to pick up everything and squeeze it down didn’t work because all the fonts were now the wrong size, forcing all the textboxes to just reflow the text.

At this point I was ready to scream. I was probably going about this in the wrong way, and it’s likely that Publisher has a function called “take this and make it that size please”, but not being a Publisher fiend I couldn’t spot where it was hidden – I was lost in a maze of twisting menus and dialog boxes.

Then I had a brainwave. If I could get a high-resolution bitmap image out of the program, I could then mung that in a bitmap editor (that is, “mung” the ISO-defined technical term “to change or alter the size when in a hurry”, as opposed to “mung” the old hacker’s term short for Mash Until No Good).

So I tried to output the page as a PNG graphics file. That would be easy, so I thought – load said full-resolution PNG file into some bitmap editor and then target the printer at A5. And it would have worked fine, except for the minor detail that PNG output from Publisher puts a single-pixel-deep black line across the top of each page, and you spot this only once you’ve printed the image file. Grrr.

Time was tight, and my friends were waiting for me. What was I to do? Loud moans to the effect that “I could do with a beer right now” and “dinner will be getting cold” started to float up the stairs. Then I remembered that I could use the power of the printer driver to resize the image for me – the application didn’t need to know that anything other than A4 paper was being used, and the printer driver had the power to re-render the entire page to any size I needed. So I opened up the relevant printer driver dialog boxes, made the changes and did a test print, which worked like a charm.

As I was going to be away for a few days and the printing would be done in my absence, I also decided to turn the whole thing into a stored print job that could sit, pre-formatted and ready to go, on the hard disk of the printer itself. That way, the copies that Father Eoin needed could simply be run off by dialling up the print job on the printer and starting it, with Publisher safely closed and the myriad of driver settings forgotten about entirely.

The moral of this tale is that when it comes to printing, you should always remember that there’s a great deal of power in the printer driver itself, and that there are also many features on offer inside the printer, especially if it has local storage. Don’t go nuts trying to fix things inside an application when you can fix it outside.

The combination of HP print driver, job management and the printer’s own storage let me take a complicated page, resize it, store it in the printer and set it up so that anyone who could press a few buttons to recall that print job could do more printing unsupervised. Job done, and the beer was still cold.

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