CSS print stylesheets often get put on the back burner, if they ever get made at all. Most front-end developers and designers out there are more obsessed with pixels than printers. This can cause a gap in your site’s consistency when users attempt to print pages on your site. Often times, what get’s printed and what they see on the screen are two completely different things. From images wrapping in odd places to pages getting cut off on the sides, printing webpages can sometimes be a big headache for users.
Coding CSS print stylesheets doesn’t have to be a monumental task. Let’s go through some simple tips and tricks that can save you both time and headaches.
Place styles in a print media query.
Remember, you don’t need to recreate your entire CSS. Most all styles are inherited by the print query, only the differences should be defined.
Make color changes explicit.
Most browsers will automatically reverse colors to save toner ink. This can sometimes cause problems with the quality of the printed page. For best results, make color changes explicit.
Remove unneeded page elements.
Generally, the goal for printed pages isn’t to provide an exact screenshot of what’s seen on the screen. Instead, to provide a well-designed print version of it. Elements like navigation bars and search forms aren’t needed on printed versions, so remove those to save both room and ink.
Set page width & margins.
Make sure your content is getting printed edge to edge by setting the body width to 100% and defining the page margin. I’ve seen some sites that go a little further and provide users some extra space for handwritten notes on the page.
Avoid odd page breaks.
Make sure your content doesn’t get spilt up across multiple pages at odd points. This can sometimes be the biggest headache when creating print stylesheets.
Force background images & colors.
Some pages require background images and colors to appear correctly. You can force these colors to show when printed in color with WebKit browsers (Chrome or Safari) using a separate media query. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, there’s no equivalent for Firefox, Opera or Internet Explorer (no big surprise there).
Display link URLs.
Remember, this is a printed version of the page so users have no way to access links without knowing the URL of those links. Providing a reference to the linked URLs tell’s users where those links go to. Take a look at the HTML code below:
Here’s the printed result of the code above:
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One problem with the code above is that both anchor links and linked images will also get expanded. We can fix that with a countermand CSS rule:
Selecting links around images can be more difficult since CSS doesn’t currently allow for selections of elements based on its children. This get’s remedied with the CSS4 parent selector:
CSS4 also makes expanding external links easier:
Provide QR codes for easy URL references.
Using Google’s Chart API, you can provide users a QR code on printed pages. There’s a downside to this approach, because you have to define the URL in the style. If you’re running PHP or another dynamic scripting language, this can be fixed by providing the URL automatically:
Worth-while CSS Print Articles & Tutorials
Check out these other great articles and tutorials regarding CSS printing: