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What do you think, does a website for a general audience need a "print" link or will the users know how to print the page for themselves (using the browser controls)?

Some background:

  • It's not a content heavy website, so printing won't be a primary usecase.
  • The design has a quite heavy background that can make people stop and think before printing the page, therefore having the print option may also give the right signal to the customers that the page can be printed properly.
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9 Answers

I would say that a "Print" link is hardly ever necessary, even for content rich websites. You can use print styles in your CSS to have things render differently for print without creating a separate URL. My general rule is that if the browser can do something, there's almost never a reason to duplicate that with something on your page.

The only times where I think a print link is useful is when you are going to do something very different with the formatting, like giving the user to print an entire article in a single pass when the article is split up into multiple pages on your site (which I personally don't like anyways, but that's a different topic). Another example is like on this recipe page (click on Print), where the recipe is then formatted specifically for print to look like a cookbook page or to fit on a standard index card size. These views are significantly different from what is displayed on the site itself, so it is good in this case to have a view to see that first. Note that when you print, it still only prints the recipe content, it doesn't include all of the functional pieces in the left column.

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You don't need a print version, just like you don't need a "bookmark" button.

However, sometimes you will have content that needs a special layout, that you can't do purely with CSS media="print". In this case having a print or "Printer-Friendly" button is a good thing. Example: Google Maps.

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Personally i think a print friendly CSS with default browser behaviour is usually sufficient.

However, In addition to the exceptions Glen points out. I find a printer friendly page works well on sites where an article is spread across multiple page such as on NY Times, Inc. Magazine etc.

Quite apart from being able to print the entire article i've noticed that a proportion of the user base will actually read the article in printer friendly mode as you have the whole article on a single page and it usually has less advertising; it's as if the print link is actually an expert user short cut.

Matt

p.s. I would love to see the actual stats on this. I would expect it would be a great big hint to the host website that they shouldn't split there articles.

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Thanks! Btw, whenever I send a multiple-page article to someone, I always send the printer friendly version :) On a quite different note but still: copying and sending text is also an interesting phenomenon, Tynt says that "Depending on the site, up to 6% of page loads results in a user copying content". More info: www1.tynt.com/why-tynt-insight –  Zoltán Gócza Jan 15 '10 at 9:53
    
Zoltan - I find myself often copy+pasting text on news sites in particular, because many of them pull their articles offline or behind a paywall after a specificed amount of time. –  snipe Mar 12 '10 at 17:26
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I agree with Techboy. I think that a print button does serve a purpose on some pages:

At the end of an online purchase - users often want a record of their transaction (e.g.purchasing a train ticket, holiday etc and when a booking reference number is required - Ryanair is a good example of this where users are required to check in using a reference number or an online checkin boarding pass). Although users are aware that the browser allows them to print the page, a clear call to action helps to remind them the need to print.

I also found when testing an e-commerce site, users re-acted positively to a print button on product pages as this allowed users to research a product online, print out the specific details and then go to the store to examine the product in more detail.

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My personal take on this is that proving a printer-friendly page doesn't really make sense anymore - but if you have one, for the love of all things holy don't force a printer dialog box when the page loads. Not everyone is going to arrive at that page via a "printer friendly" button, and that can be disconcerting. Since printer-friendly pages tend to have less page-formatting code, they will sometimes come up first in search engines, above the original article. It can be maddening to start reading an article and randomly have a printer dialog box popup un-invited.

Print-friendly CSS can handle all the magic obviously, but Zoltan brings up an interesting point in his question, about the page can be printed properly. I think that the users who are savvy enough to consider whether or not the page will print properly ahead of time (instead of printing it out and swearing when it doesn't print well) will likely do a print-preview beforehand to check that it will print well.

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It depends on the context of the page that the user is on.

If there is a good chance that the user might want to print the page (such as a recipe, car specifications, directions to a venue), then it can be a good idea to have a print button on the page.

The print button helps re-affirm to the user that the person who made the website has thought about printing - so has hopefully created a print style-sheet that makes the print-out cleaner and more relevant (e.g. the pages menus, adverts, etc. should not be printed).

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I don't really understand the reasoning of your last paragraph. Web sites aren't really designed for printing (as a general rule), so I don't see why an affirmation that the site owners "thought about printing" is really a priority. –  Charles Boyung May 11 '10 at 14:10
    
There are a lot of examples where you will want to print. e.g. recipes (getmecooking.com/recipe/sexy-swedish-buns), cinema tickets, flight tickets, directions to an event, ebay listing, etc. –  Techboy May 11 '10 at 20:53
    
@Charles Boyung Unfortunately, you're right - some websites have been designed without a thought for w3.org/TR/CSS2/media.html#media-types –  agtb Oct 22 '11 at 21:36
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It always comes back to the actual page/application and what the context of use is.

For most pages, a print button is redundant.

For portlet/widget style pages where there are lots of separate components on a page a print button can trigger the print friendly version and therefore gives the user an indication that printing is OK/supported.

For one of the sites I work on, printing (or saving the page) is a requirement prescribed by federal law that says the person must retain a physical copy of the information they have provided. In this instance a great big [Save or print your receipt] button is a great idea.

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I think a print button is only needed in case of online magazin websites, and especially only for articles.

Otherwise I agree with others above!

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In my opinion that does not make sense and personally I hate it.

First, I want to keep the control over my printer.

Moreover, if there is a print dialog automatically shown, it's the problem, because I loose control - I need to decide print or not (the answer is not), but first - I want to check again if everything is ok.

Second, when I print, I need to set all the things like page size, orientation, scale and so on. Probably, if I see that there's something that doesn't fit, I can remove it (printing only the marked area).

The best idea (for me) is not "print version", but "printer friendly". Personally I'd like to have it in the PDF, without URL, date/time of the print and so on. I can print it, but -- nowadays -- also put in my e-reader or something like that.

If the PDF would be large, the printer friendly version can be simple button switching the CSS styles.

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Who downvoted without leaving a comment? –  rk. Apr 16 '13 at 21:52
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