How to format attractive, easy-to-read, printer-friendly pages

Create “print and read” email newsletters

Many subscribers prefer to “print and read,” rather than read on screen. But, often, printer-friendly pages appear only marginally better than the original web page.

What would it be worth to project a truly First Class image, leaving your competition behind in the dust? 

—Roger C. Parker

The failure of more subscription site publishers to take advantage of printer-friendly formatting represents a tremendous wasted opportunity. Publishers can benefit from paying more attention to printer-friendly formatting by

  • Pre-selling the importance of their information, visually enhancing their perceived value.
  • Differentiating their information from the competition.
  • Building subscriber loyalty by making their articles and reports as easy to read as possible.


Following are ten easy ways to create better-looking, easier-to-read printer-friendly pages.

Line length

The easiest and most important way to improve the appearance and readability of printer-friendly pages is to reduce line length.

All too often, printer-friendly pages are characterized by long lines of type — i.e., text extending from the left to the right margins of the page. Sometimes line length is so long, that it extends beyond the printing area of ink-jet printers, resulting in chopped-off letters at the beginnings and endings of lines.

Long lines of type are tiring to read. This is because your reader’s eyes have to make several jumps across the page. Worse, readers can easily get lost making the transition from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. When this happens, they begin to re-read the same line (called doubling) or jump two or three lines down, getting hopelessly confused.

Ideal line length is between 40 and 60 characters. Anything more, and you’re taking a chance on alienating your readers. See Put Rhythmic Reading to Work!

Line spacing

After line length, line spacing (or leading) is the most important type specification to consider. Leading is necessary because readers depend on the white spaces between lines to guide their eyes from word group to word group. Line spacing also makes it easier for readers to recognize the descenders of letters like g, y, and p, which extend below the baseline (the invisible line letters rest on).

Readability suffers when line spacing is too tight. Because there is less white space between the lines, word and character recognition (which reading is based on) suffers.


Typeface choice is equally important for extended reading, like the bulk of your message. Serif typefaces, like Times New Roman, are more preferable for extended reading than sans serif typefaces, like Arial or Helvetica. The serifs, or tiny finishing strokes, on the left and right edges of each character, aid character recognition and also lead the reader’s eyes from character to character, word to word.

Typeface cannot be considered in isolation from line spacing. Typefaces with a large body, (or x-height – the height of the lower case x) require more line spacing than typeface designs with a lower x-height. Sans serif typefaces, especially, benefit from additional line spacing.


One of the reasons many printer-friendly pages are hard to read is a failure to hyphenate. Hyphenation, (splitting long words at line endings, continuing them on the next line), evens-out word spacing in justified text (lines of equal length) and evens-out line lengths in flush-left/ragged-right text (lines of different length).

Without hyphenation, a line containing a few long words can have awkwardly wide word spacing or be noticeably shorter than the preceding and following lines. Lines containing numerous short words can have noticeably tight word spacing or be very long. The effect can be very distracting when the lines appear next to each other.

Never hyphenate headlines or subheads, however.


Subhead typefaces should form a strong contrast with body copy. If you are using a serif typeface for body copy, consider using a sans serif typeface for the subheads. And strengthen the contrast by formatting the subheads in bold.

You can add further emphasis to subheads by adding extra space above them, and the previous paragraph, and reducing the space between them and the text they introduce. The added white space above the subheads creates a barrier, clarifying the fact that the subhead is introducing a new topic. See Put Subheads to Work Converting Skimmers into Readers.



With the exception of direct-response sales letters, avoid underlining. Underlining, whether in body copy of subheads, not only fails to add emphasis, it actually makes the underscored words harder to read! Underlining interferes with the descenders-portions of characters that extend below the line.

Underlining within text can be replaced with italicized text. Underlined subheads can be made bolder or slightly larger. In addition, underlined words resemble hyperlinked words, invites clicking, and the inevitable frustration that follows when nothing happens.

Page numbers

Always add page numbers to your printer-friendly pages. Otherwise, if readers drop a long article, they have to puzzle out which page goes where.


Keep clutter to a minimum! Avoid adding unnecessary graphic elements like borders added out of habit, or shaded backgrounds, which may detract, rather than add emphasis.


Use color with discretion. Don’t squander your subscriber’s ink-jet cartridges! Don’t include unnecessary colored backgrounds, or set your logo against a bright colored background on each page. A small spot on color may be enough to make your pages look distinctive, without being wasteful.

Punctuation and symbols

Replace typewritten punctuation with typeset punctuation. Insert appropriate open-and-closed quotation marks and true apostrophes. Instead of two hyphens in a row, insert an em dash (very long) or an en dash (slightly shorter).

Whenever possible, replace spelled-out words with symbols, i.e., always use the proper symbols for copyright, trademark, registered, etc. See Paying Attention to Details Communicates Your Firm’s Expertise and Professionalism


Ideally, your printer friendly pages should be delivered as Word .doc files or Adobe Acrobat .PDF files.

  • Word files will automatically launch your subscriber’s word processing program, which can contain the proper formatting options for line length, line spacing, typeface, and hyphenation.
  • Adobe Acrobat PDF files. Acrobat is the deluxe format. It is the standard of document interchange. Most subscribers probably already have the free Acrobat Reader installed. Acrobat embeds the type into the document, permitting you to “voice” your article or report with any typeface. Acrobat documents retain tiniest nuances of formatting. See Acrobat Distiller Tips.
  • Macromedia FlashPaper. Rarer, but more robust, is MacroMedia Flash Paper, which resembles Acrobat, except that no downloading is required; subscribers can immediately print your printer friendly page without first downloading it. See Showcasing Your Newsletters Online and four-page Seeing is Believing special report.

    Is it worth the effort?

    To decide whether a little extra work is justified when preparing printer-friendly pages, ask yourself questions like:

    • What is the lifetime value of each subscriber? How much is it worth to you to visually reinforce the value of your articles and special reports? How much is it worth to you for your visitors to create a special folder for good-looking reprints and store printed copies in a constantly expanding 3-ring binder?
    • What is the referral value of new subscribers? How many new subscribers, created by pass-along referrals and sample articles, would it take to justify a step or two to your monthly workflow?
    • How much more could you charge if the articles and reports projected a higher perceived value? What would it be worth to project a truly First Class image, leaving your competition behind in the dust?
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