The Art of Printable Sites

People cringe at the idea of printing websites. Ads, navigation, and unnecessary styles create terrible user experience in physical copies of websites, leaving content unread and undesired. Companies primarily use PDFs for document delivery, including concert tickets, whitepapers, and infographics. Living in a digital, mobile-first world makes forgetting printable content easy. We forget the problems that exist with PDFs. Updating PDFs require some graphical program knowledge. Application versions and file size create problems with e-mail clients. The answer to these problems? Printer-friendly websites. A printer-friendly website eases updated content delivery independent of consumption method, reduces the potential of outside errors, and provides single-format, universal product styling in one location.

Single location content

Currently, a typo in a white page means a trip to the designer or navigating what feels like an impossible dive into an expensive design program. With printable websites, content owners edit white pages in any web-based method, including Content Management Systems like WordPress or Craft. This approach places the ownership of the content on the owners and stakeholders, not the designer, developer, or any other middle man. Printable websites also ease the translation of material. Designers and content owners may rely on a user-chosen language in the browser to translate the content, ensuring a wider possible audience versus focusing prioritization of content translation based on purely analytics. Now users experience the same content online and offline, universally.

Have premium or specialized content? CSS classes create the ability to hide content. When combined with JavaScript, CSS classes can hide content based on an IP address, country, or logged in status. Tags in a CMS allow for filterable or restricted content. This concept translates to printable sites as well. Content owners can restrict access to certain information when printed through CSS classes.

Outside problems

PDF is the standard for document delivery. Companies deliver everything from concert tickets to whitepapers in PDF format. While creators can optimize and secure documents, problems exist with PDFs, which Adobe lists out here. Printable websites reduce the number of potential errors outside of the product. Can’t open a PDF because of versioning errors? Chrome and Edge auto-update, while others alert you quickly. Sites like (W3Counter)[] alert you to global browser usage, though initial research may require other focus based on country-level browser usage. Mail clients sometimes block or refuse to attach PDFs based on a number of criteria, while links rarely trigger spam filters and translate well into text-only emails.

Style problems

What about printed material? If you worry about sending a printable website to a professional printer or colors printing incorrectly, CSS has the ability to use CMYK with percentages. Need help converting color values to CMYK? W3schools created a tool to help transition. Lea Verou wrote about an (op-ed on the subject)[] on the pros and cons of transitioning to CMYK has beneficial value. Attribute device-cmyk allows for deeper control of CMYK specificity.

A browser adds the additional information to the page in a normal print job, including the page header, website URL, and page number. Developers remove this information through user Jacta’s approach seen in this StackOverflow response, allowing for top-to-bottom page styling.

Bad news

The incomplete support of @page illustrates the biggest downside of printable websites. According to CanIUse, the selector’s attribute ‘size’ lacks support in Internet Explorer, Edge, and Firefox, while desktop and iOS Safari completely disregard the selector. This problem creates the inability to control if browser-created additional page information appears or not, relying on the unknowing user to disable these features. Internet Explorer, Edge, and Firefox enable JavaScript event listeners “beforeprint” and “afterprint”, which allow for the developer to switch CSS files between print and web, but alas Safari still remains dark.

If these problems suffice as a reason to avoid printable pages, a browser’s print preview enables all of this work to retain purpose. Choose print preview from your browser, then from printer options choose ‘Save to PDF’. This approach takes your print-specific CSS into consideration with this option and removes the need for PDF creating applications while preventing potential version-control problems.