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The printing primer

Last week I showed you how to configure your printer. This week, we'll explore the ins and outs of Mountain Lion's print sheet.

As you've learned by now, one of the Mac OS's strengths is its consistency. You needn't worry that you'll find the Copy command under the Edit menu in one application and under the File menu in another application. Commands are consistent in this way, and the Print command is no exception. You can always find it near the bottom of the File menu. Let's run through it.

Easy-peasy printing

Launch TextEdit and open a saved document (if you have one); or create a new document, enter some text, and save the file. Choose File > Print and you'll see a very simple sheet that includes a pop-up menu for choosing a printer (the default printer will appear here by default), a field for choosing the number of copies to print, a pop-up menu for selecting the page range (by default, all pages will be printed; but you can elect to print a single page or a range of pages--pages 2 through 4, for example--if you wish), a preview area that displays a thumbnail of the document's first page, and navigation controls for viewing other pages in the preview area. To print your document, simply click the Print button.

The Show Details button at the bottom of this sheet hints that other options await. Click it, and the sheet will expand.

It's all in the details

When you click Show Details, you'll gain far greater control over your printed pages. The options at the top of the sheet--Printer, Copies, and Pages--are the same as on the simple pop-up menu, so let's focus instead on the new items that this sheet contains.

Paper size

Although most of us use one paper size only--US Letter in the United States, for example--you can choose a different size from this pop-up menu. For instance, you might insert legal-size paper into your printer to print a wide spreadsheet, or you might shove in a stack of envelopes to print a slew of addresses for your next bacchanal.

Orientation

You needn't always print in portrait orientation. If, returning to our previous example, you want to print a spreadsheet, you'll find that--unless the spreadsheet has many rows and only a few, fairly narrow columns--you can cram more data onto a single sheet of paper by printing in landscape orientation (the second icon in the Orientation area).

The application menu

Below the orientation entry in most print sheets is a pop-up menu. In the case of TextEdit, the first item listed there is 'TextEdit'; in other applications, 'Layout' is the first entry. In TextEdit, that entry allows you to enable or disable the option to print a document's header and footer (which may include a document's name, date produced, and page numbers). You can also choose to rewrap text so that it better fits the printed page. But let's get to the meat of what you might find in this menu (not all printers support all of the following options).

Layout: No law says that you must print one virtual page to one printed page. If you like, you can choose to print multiple virtual pages to a single piece of paper. Just select a number other than 1 in the Pages Per Sheet pop-up menu. Do so and you can choose the way those pages are laid out in the layout direction area. You can also opt to add a border to your page, as well as to print the page two-sided (not all printers support two-sided printing). You can also reverse the page orientation and/or flip pages horizontally. Reversing a text document makes no sense, but it can be a useful option when you're printing photos.

Speaking of photos, you'll want to pay particular attention to the Layout option before printing them. Choosing two or more pages per sheet lets you print multiple pictures on a single piece of paper, thus getting better use out of your expensive photo paper.

Color matching: If you have a color printer, you can choose how the printer translates colors from your Mac. By default, the printer will use Apple's ColorSync color-matching technology, which tries to ensure that the colors you see on your Mac's screen don't vary wildly from what comes out of your printer. You also find an In Printer option. If your printer allows you to tweak its output settings (and you've chosen to use them), select this option instead.

If you click the Profile menu (which should read 'Automatic'), you can choose a different color profile. Color profiles are an advanced subject, however, and one we'll skip for the time being.

Paper handling: Select 'Paper handling', and you can choose which pages to print (odd or even, which helps with double-sided printing, if your printer doesn't natively support printing on each side of a page), and specify the page order (automatic, normal, or reverse). You can also choose to scale the document to fit the size of the paper you're using--an option to keep in mind if a document that you'd like to compress onto a single page (a spreadsheet, for example) extends to two pages. Enable the Scale option, and you can then choose the paper size to use.

Paper feed: If your printer has more than one tray for delivering paper, you can choose which of the available trays to use.

Cover page: People working in a formal business environment (or in a super-secret spy organization) are often required to produce a cover page for their printed documents. This option is where you can choose to do that. When doing so, you can select presets including Standard, Confidential, Unclassified, Classified, Secret, and Top Secret (again, helpful if you're a member of SMERSH). You can also add billing information in the appropriate field.

Color/Quality: If your printer allows it, you can change the output quality of particular prints. Why would you want to do that? To save ink and toner (and thus, money). If you're printing a fairly expendable document--your shopping list, say, or the first draft of your next acceptance speech--there's no reason to throw a lot of ink at it. If your printer offers an economy mode, which produces not-as-crisp prints because the printer is being parsimonious with the pigment, use that setting until you need the best-looking printout your printer can produce.

Finishing: Here you can choose the kind of material you're printing to--plain paper, labels, recycled paper, color paper, envelopes, and so on. Some printers can make adjustments to ink and toner output based on the kind of media they print to.

Supply levels: Some printers will report how much ink they have left in their cartridges. As I mentioned last week, this report isn't always accurate. However, it's a hint that you should lay in some new cartridges for the day when your pages don't print correctly because the printer really has exhausted its ink supply.

Paper Type/Quality: This option will appear far more often with a color inkjet printer than with a laser printer. The choices available include the type of paper to use (inkjet or photo paper, for example), the quality of the print you'd like (anything from fast draft to maximum dpi [dots per inch]), the tray source, and the option to print without borders. You'll also see a Color Options triangle. Click it and you can choose a different color profile, or adjust the image from within the print sheet--altering its saturation, brightness, and color tone, for example.

Saving a preset

As you can see, the print sheet provides many ways to tweak your printer settings. But you don't want to tweak those settings every time you use your printer, do you? Of course not, and that's why presets exist.

To save a preset, configure your settings as you like, click the Presets pop-up menu near the top of the sheet, and choose Save Current Settings as Preset. On the resulting sheet, you can name your preset and choose to save it for the currently selected printer or for all printers that are available to you. When you next print, your preset should appear as the default. If you'd like to return to a setting that you haven't configured, choose Default Settings from this pop-up menu.

PDFs and the print sheet

Before we close up shop, I must direct your attention to the PDF button that appears in the print sheet. Click it and you'll see that you can create virtual printouts--PDF files created from your documents--within this sheet.

You'll find options here to create a PDF file and open it in Preview, to save the document as a PDF file, to save it as a PostScript file (an advanced option useful for designers and art directors), to add the PDF to iTunes (for syncing with an iOS device), to mail the PDF, and to save the PDF to the Web Receipts folder. Depending on the applications you've installed on your Mac, you may see some other options here (see the figure to the right).

This very useful feature allows you to send someone a readable copy of a document even when that person doesn't have a copy of the application that originally created it. So, for example, you could use this technique to create a PDF file of an iWorks Pages document and then send it to a coworker who has a Windows PC.

Next week: Class dismissed for Macworld/iWorld. See you the following week.

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