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Printing PowerPoint: Slide size v. Printer Page size

If you need to do more than just print basic presentations to standard size paper, this little tutorial will help you understand how PowerPoint interacts with printers and page sizes.

One print job, Three print settings

PowerPoint looks at three different things when it decides how large to print slides:

When you print, PowerPoint looks at the "Scale to fit" setting. If it's check-marked, PowerPoint scales your slides to fit as large as possible on the current Printer Page Size without distortion or cropping. For example, if you've set a PowerPoint Slide Size of 1" high by 20" wide and choose Landscape, Letter (8.5 x 11") paper in the printer driver settings, PowerPoint will scale the 20" dimension to the 11" paper size.

Note: Actually it scales the slide size to the maximum printable area of the printer, which is usually a bit less than the full page size.

If you turn "Scale to fit" off, PowerPoint sends the slide at its current PowerPoint Slide Size to the printer with no scaling. It centers the slide on the paper and that's it. If the Slide Size is smaller than the paper, you get a small slide centered on the paper. If the Slide Size is larger than the paper, you get as much of the middle of the slide as fits on the paper; the rest is cropped at the edges.

Here's more information on how to make each of these settings.

PowerPoint Slide Size

You can set PowerPoint's Slide Size using File, Page Setup. There you can choose any of several standard sizes or enter your own custom size.

Note: In PowerPoint 2007, choose Page Setup on the Design tab. In PowerPoint 97 and previous, choose File, Slide Setup. Same options, just a different name on the menu.

Printer Page Size

You can set the printer's Page Size from PowerPoint's Print dialog box.

Changes you make here affect the printer for just the current PowerPoint session. If you quit and restart PowerPoint, or even switch to a different program to print a different document, you'll need to check your printer driver settings again.

To change the default printer settings, choose the Windows Start button then choose Settings, Printers. Right-click the printer you want to change and choose Printing Preferences from the pop-up menu. You'll see same dialog box as above, but the settings you make here will be the default printer settings.

Print Preview is your Friend

If you use PowerPoint 2002 or later, use the Print Preview feature, accessible either from the main menu (Print, Preview) or from within the Print dialog box (Preview button). Of the two, the Print dialog box is more useful, since you can change printer and PowerPoint settings and get an immediate preview of the result.

Practical Uses

So how do you put all this arcane information into practice? Here are a few examples.

Photos, cards, other small printouts

Here you're trying to reduce a full slide to a smaller-than-Letter/A4 sheet.

Start by setting a slide size that matches the paper you want to print on. This way, the sizes you see in PowerPoint (height, width, text point sizes etc.) will match what you get in print.

Design your slides, taking into account any unprintable margins your printer may have. Use the Preview button on the Print dialog box to test this without wasting paper. Be sure to choose the printer and page size you plan to use first to ensure that the preview is accurate.

When you're ready to print, choose your printer, then verify that the correct paper size and orientation is set. Remove the checkmark next to "Scale to fit paper", load your printer with the right size paper and print.

Posters and other oversize output

Here the appoach is similar, up to a point.

As long as you don't need sizes larger than 56 inch in either dimension, set the Slide size in Page Setup to match the desired printout size.

If the Slide size matches a defined page size in your printer's driver settings, choose the matching printer page size, then turn "Scale to fit paper" off and print. Otherwise, choose the next larger page size, leave "Scale to fit paper" off and print, then trim the excess paper from the printout.

If you need printouts larger than PowerPoint's 56" maximum slide size, set PowerPoint's Slide size to the largest size you can, proportional to the desired output size. Then you may have to do a bit of experimenting. Depending on your needs and the printer in use, either:

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Printing PowerPoint: Slide size v. Printer Page size
Last update 07 June, 2011