Since the dawn of time, web designers have had the tools to provide “print stylesheets” with their websites – invisible instructions that tell a user’s computer how to format the page when it’s printed, rather than displayed on a screen. After all, what’s the point in printing site navigation, footers, sidebars, large, decorative colour images etc, when they can be excluded from a page as it’s sent to the printer?
But instead of using this tool web designers have, for the most part, created printable-versions of pages. These are entirely separate pages which have all the junk stripped out, which have to be kept up-to-date when the main page changes, and which are downloaded when a user clicks a link normally labelled something like “Print version”.
I fear this has broken the usefulness of the print stylesheet. A user visiting a well coded site which has a print stylesheet may well hesitate before printing, previous experience causing them to think “this will print badly because there’s no printable version”, even when it would print well.
What to do? My untested reckoning is that the best option would be to include a “printable version” link which just makes the screen switch to using the print stylesheet instructions, rather than downloading an actual separate version of the page. As long as there’s a link to switch back to the normal style, job done.
It’s an ugly solution to an awkward problem, but it might just work. D’ya think?