The ‘print friendly’ website, what is it, and why should you care?

Last Updated on November 19, 2020

Printed web pages from the Web Matters website

Despite futurists predicting that we’d all be paperless by now, it just hasn’t happened (probably much to the relief of the paper manufacturers). For many reasons, I don’t think we’ll ever get to a completely paperless society (well at least not in my lifetime).

Personally, I don’t really enjoy reading a long PDF document on my screen, I find it hurts my eyes and I miss things. So documents will usually be printed and put aside for reading somewhere comfortable at a later date. I also do this for any articles, essays or tutorials I find online. Generally, if there is a lot of information to digest, it’s still so much easier to comprehend everything when it’s printed out in black and white.

If I am travelling, I also tend to print out the information I source from websites, including e-tickets, phone numbers and addresses of hotels I’m staying at or restaurants and cafes I want to visit. And the easiest way to reliably carry this information around is to have a printed copy from the website. Yes, I’ve got a smart phone and can access the web, but have you looked up the cost for global data roaming? And getting access to a free and reliable wireless network is not always that easy either. So for now, a ‘hard copy’ of the important information I need when I travel is still the way to go. So if you’re a travel related business, it’s pretty important to have a print friendly website.

Now I’m sure you’ve had that frustrating experience where you’ve printed something off a website and parts of the text are either cut off or hard to read. Annoying isn’t it? It’s also a waste of time and paper. And if you’re in business it’s a giant wasted opportunity.

Hopefully by now you are starting to understand how important it is to know just how your web pages look printed out. Why not test it out now? Print out one of your pages and check to see how readable it is. There’s a high chance it looks ‘just ok’ with bits cut off here and there. That’s because not all websites are optimised for print.

This lack of print optimisation is due to web designers having quite a narrow focus about websites; it’s often all about how things look on a screen. That’s because it takes a lot of skill, talent and hard work just to get a website to look great across a range of web browsers. So how the content looks printed on a piece of paper can get overlooked.

Having a print-friendly website can be a huge competitive advantage. If your website information prints out nicely, people will be impressed and they will be able to understand your offer so much better than the competition’s offer. As an example, I’ve frequently turned up at meetings with prospective web design clients who have printed out pages from this website and have commented on how nice it was to have them print out perfectly. So much easier to read and understand.

Ok, so having a print friendly website may not be the deciding factor in someone choosing your business over another business, but it might just be one of those little factors that helps to create that ‘good feeling’ someone gets about one offer over another. Prospective customers also get nervous about making a buying decision if they do not fully understand what they are getting (if you’ve ever bought insurance you will know that feeling). So why not make it really easy for your prospects to get to a comfortable level of understanding about your offer so they can weigh up their options. A print friendly website will help immensely.

How to make a Website Print Friendly

I won’t bore you with the technical details, what I will say is that it involves writing a style guide for the website that gets used if the page is being printed. There are style guides that come into play for ‘on screen’ and for ‘on print’.

With the print style guides, we can hide entire sections of the website (such as the navigation section or the sidebar) that are not relevant to a printed version of the website. We can make the text bigger and darker, we can use a print friendly ‘Serif’ font, and we can hide images, and do things like remove background gradients as these don’t make sense on a printed page.

In general, we can tailor a page in many different ways so it can look very good printed.


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