Fitting a Word or Excel doc to your printer

How to print a document when the paper sizes are different.

On our new Twitter account we saw this question:

“When I send an Excel file to someone, should I have to set it up so they can print? I don’t know the printer/size they use.”

Part of that answer is preparing the document but that’s not always possible.  Here’s are some suggestions if you’re at the receiving end or trying to help someone print a document you’ve sent.

There are several ways to get a printed version of a document without changing the page setting in the Word or Excel document itself. In most cases people can open a document and print it with little fuss.

Of course, much depends on the abilities of the person getting the document but generally you don’t need to worry about paper size differences when printing.

If we’re talking about standard paper sizes like Letter, Legal or A4 then there are plenty of options to handle differences between the way a document or worksheet is setup and what the paper the printer has installed.

In other words, you can print any standard document to a printer without worrying too much about the paper sizes available by someone else who gets the document. Here at Office Watch we deal with a mix of Imperial and Metric sized documents regularly and they all get printed out without a second thought.

As long as the document margins aren’t tight against the paper edges one of these techniques should be enough. In rare cases you’ll have to reformat the document to fit the paper size available.

These options are very useful in trans-continental document sharing between Imperial (Letter/Legal) and Metric (A4) users.

At the Printer

Often the printer itself it smart enough to handle the difference in paper sizes itself with no preparation at all.

The exact actions depend on your printer and model but in broad terms:

1. Print the document from your computer as usual

2. If the paper size is different to what’s in the paper tray you’ll see a message on the printer screen such as:
“Unexpected Size”
“Insert paper in Tray”

3. On most printers you can press the Enter or OK button on the printer itself. This should clear the messages and the pages will print on the available paper.

The Printer Driver

Another alternative is to check the features available in the Windows printer driver. Gone are the days when the print driver controlled the paper tray and some other basic settings. These days you can do a lot of nifty printing tricks in the print driver.

Go to the Print dialog box in any Office or Windows program, select the printer then click on the Properties button to see the print driver options available.

These options depend on the printer, model and the print driver installed. Here’s just one of the option screens in the print driver for an HP Laser printer:

Print driver - scale to page option.jpg image from Fitting a Word or Excel doc to your printer at


As you can see there is an option to print the document to a different size paper and scale the document image to fit on the paper available. There is a wide range of paper sizes available including Letter, Legal and A4.

Also in this printer driver are options to print multiple pages on a single page (2, 4, 8 etc), watermarks, force grayscale printing and others. These are things you’d normally expect to do in the original program (like Word or Excel) but can now do at the print stage to avoid tinkering with the original document.

What options are available for you depend on the printer maker. Go to the web site for the printer maker and download the most recent print driver / software. This may well add features not available with the default Windows driver.

As always when we write about printers and drivers – what you can do very much depends on your printer maker. What works for one printer or model might not work for another – but it’s worth getting the latest software and checking out what’s possible. Your mileage may, nay almost always will, vary.

In Office

Word 2003 and Word 2007 have an option to scale the printed page to fit the printer. Like the print driver option above, this doesn’t change the original document only the printed output.

Go to the Print dialog box and in the bottom right you’ll see a pair of ‘Zoom’ options.

Word - Scale to paper size.jpg image from Fitting a Word or Excel doc to your printer at


The Pages per sheet choice lets you print more than one document page on a single piece of paper. We often use ‘2 pages’ to work on a draft document or for casual paper reading.

Scale to paper size has a range of paper options for you to choose include Letter, Legal and A4.

The strange thing is that the ‘Scale to paper size’ option is only available in Word 2003 and Word 2007 – there is no equivalent in either Excel or PowerPoint. For those programs you have to use one of the other choices in this article.

Adobe Reader

Adobe PDF Reader v8 and v9 has a similar ‘Fit to Page’ option in the Print dialog.  In fact there are even more options than in Word.  Acrobat Reader’s Page Scaling options include Fit, Shrink, Multiple Pages per sheet and Booklet.

Yes, booklet – that means one option for making a booklet from a Word document is to save to a PDF then print from Adobe Reader using the booklet option.

It’s worth looking in other programs to see what page scaling options might be available.

In the document

As last resort, you can alter the settings in the Word or Excel document directly. This is usually OK but if the formatting is complex or tight can result in unwanted changes in the look of the document. That’s why we prefer the other options above, they fit the document onto the page without changing the document itself.

In Word 2007 and Excel 2007 go to the Page Layout part of the ribbon and pull-down the Size list to see all the paper size options available.

In Word 2003 and earlier versions go to File | Page Setup | Paper to change the paper size.

In Excel 2003 and before it’s almost the same, go to File | Page Setup | Page.

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