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I am making a medical application, which has the need to generate reports. People want paper copies of the information visible in the application.

I am loathe to implement any sort of print preview functionality for the following reasons:

  • The print layout is essentially fixed, there will be no options to change the layout settings
  • No one is going to delete patient information to try and make a report fit on a particular number of pages
  • If it was implemented, I think people would use it once or twice until they realize all the reports always look the same, then would not bother previewing ever again.

The patient information will be viewed either in the applications interface, or exported as a pdf or a print out.

Will not having a print preview button confuse or annoy some users? Do users expect the print preview function whenever printing is a function? If I don't include it, are we going to get a lot of support calls asking about it?

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Yes it would definitely annoy me –  Marjan Venema Dec 7 '12 at 18:09
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Don't most operating systems provide print preview already as a system function? The specifics of the preview would depend on the hardware capability, which is usually handled by the system's print dialog. How would be the preview you roll on your own be different than what is already provided by the OS? –  Charles Wesley Dec 7 '12 at 18:27
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Are you quite sure of your bullet points #2 and #3? –  obelia Dec 7 '12 at 19:00
    
no, i don't think the OS should handle this. Well, the best solution would be to ask the users.. they will use it, not you. and don't forget, users can be stupid sometimes, so thinking about "what would they think" won't always work. –  csomakk Dec 8 '12 at 1:54
    
And again, I see the point you don't want the print preview button. but what if the printer is wrong, misconfigured? this would be an easy way to tell the user, problem is not on your app, but in the printer –  csomakk Dec 8 '12 at 1:55
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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Printing is an expensive operation, requiring lots of time, ink and paper, so it's generally a good idea to assure users that they're getting what they want and confirm they are printing the right document (this can be an issue if they're printing from a file view interface where they could easily click the wrong file). That suggests a case for a print preview.

Instead of a preview button, however, I would suggest showing the print preview within the print configuration dialog (which is where users might expect to find a preview button anyway), much like Google Chrome does. This will provide the feedback and opportunity to catch errors even if the user doesn't suspect them.

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Since the 'print preview' is a part of the operating system, you probably don't need to make your own.

That said, for things like web apps, having a 'print version' that is viewable is often nice simply because, a times, it's a preferred layout even for the screen.

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Although you may loathe the print funtionality, it seems, for a medical piece of software anyway, printing would be one of the most needed use cases. Lots of medical fields still rely on paper imo.

What I have used in the past, and seems to work well especially for report like printing that you seem to need, is a print mode of the page. Like Google Maps.

When you hit print, it opens the print view of the page. Strip all the unwanted stuff and just prints the information with a correctly implemented print stylesheet.

I'd shy away from PDF.

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I'm not loathe to implement printing, just the previewing. As far as PDF, that's definitely a requirement that will not go away. –  whatsisname Dec 7 '12 at 19:34
    
You have to admit you can't beat a sweet print preview. I think anyway. :) Let's hope that they don't need accessible PDFs! :) That in itself is impossible. –  Destructo Dec 7 '12 at 19:40
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Can you provide a "print layout" view within the app? If users aren't able to make adjustments from within the print dialog, perhaps they could make adjustments prior to invoking it.

As others have pointed out, print preview is often handled by the OS. Have you tested this out on your supported OSs? Or have you somehow circumvented this in your app?

Bottom line, for those who still love paper (and there are a lot of them), print preview adds a measure of assurance that has come to be expected. If you're going to allow printing (and why wouldn't you) then I think it's an important piece of the puzzle.

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