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I have an intranet application that has a few "printer friendly" buttons on pages users were expected to print, and I really would like to get rid of them. The previous designers didn't know what they were doing and the print buttons are a particularly ugly example. In my opinion Printer Friendly buttons just make the layout that much more erratic (they're on very few pages), the print version as-is looks nothing like the normal version, and I would really rather print by CSS.

In fact the default print settings in most browsers actually make my pages look 90% okay in print, all the print button is doing is removing the navigation buttons and all styles; this has the effect of destroying the user interface and forcing the use of the back button.

So is there a reason I should keep these? I hate to just do it for "consistency's" sake, because the behavior is NOT consistent. However I do want my users to be able to print, and I don't want them to think that without those buttons the printout won't work or that it will be ugly. Do people even use these buttons? Is there any research on them? Any recommendations are welcome. I have barely seen "Printer Friendly" buttons on webpages (outside of news articles) in years, I was hoping they had fallen out of favor.

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Assuming it's suitable for your particular content, is there any scope for incorporating something like http://www.printfriendly.com/ services into your intranet (using the browser tool as it's an intranet). You can even delete bits you don't want to print. –  Roger Attrill Aug 31 '11 at 14:36
    
I'd rather use as little extra functionality as possible, especially anything I can't add on server. There's a few dozen users across 6 states, and I can't reliably push software out to their computers; satellite connections and poor infrastructure for remote scripting –  Ben Brocka Aug 31 '11 at 14:40
    
Since you have so few users, perhaps an email update to let them know you've removed the button but they can still print would help with the transition? –  Yamikuronue Jan 10 '13 at 16:57
    
For websites, see Are “print” links needed on a website?. –  unor Sep 19 '13 at 14:40

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

'print friendly' functionality is a bit of a hold-over akin to 'font resizing' widgets. It was an attempt to take somewhat hidden browser tools and bring them into the UI of the page itself.

The thing with print-friendly, however, is that it can serve purposes other than printing. The typical alternate use for a print-friendly link is on news sites or content-heavy sites. Typically the print-friendly version (somewhat ironically) will lead you to a much easier to read version of the page even on-screen. Typically it's now one page, no ads, and 100% width allowing you to resize your browser to your preference.

Print CSS supposedly makes the need for print-friendly links unnecessary. Technically, it works well, but there can be UX issues as well...namely that one can end up printing a page that looks very different than what they see on screen. This can be disconcerting to folks at times.

So, no easy answer, unfortunately.

In your specific situation, where the screen version isn't really different than the print version, I say the print friendly links are superfluous.

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I think this is going to depend on your target audience.

Do they know that they can use the browsers "File > Print..." option?

If so then remove the option, if not then you might still need it. However, you should be able to change it from a "Printer Friendly" link that destroys your site to a simple "Print" button that invokes the browser's print functionality.

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The printer friendly button doesn't actually initiate the print either (and since I don't like it I haven't added it to the button yet). The users have had great difficulty with printing (we moved most to firefox from IE, and they expect the print button in the top bar). I'm considering a universal "print this page" button but it seems odd given almost no pages need printing –  Ben Brocka Aug 31 '11 at 14:44
    
@SirTapTap - if they're used to using the browser to print then simply remove the button. –  ChrisF Aug 31 '11 at 14:47

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