Why don’t PDF’s print at the same size as the original?

When a PDF is printed, even though it may be standard sized pages, the printer may add margins. You can adjust this behavior when you print.

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Why do my PDF’s print out smaller than the original copy?

I’m going to assume you mean slightly smaller, since that’s a very, very common scenario. I see it myself all the time.

The answer, in a word, is margins. And depending on the PDF document and the capabilities of your printer, you may, or may not, be able to work around it.

Most PDF documents are intended to be a representation of an equivalent paper document. That means that they’re typically sized as if they were paper. That means they usually represent a paper size 8.5 by 11 inches (or perhaps A4 sized paper in Europe).
A typical PDF ebook page.
When you view the document in a PDF reader, it provides a view on those series of pages, but they’re still conceptually pages.

Most PDF documents are intended to be a representation of an equivalent paper document.

Now, when you print your document, it would seem logical that an 8-1/2 x 11 page would print just fine on an 8-1/2 x 11 piece of paper. Sadly, that’s typically not the case.

The problem is that most printers cannot actually print on the entire sheet of paper. There’s a “margin” around the outer edge that will vary depending on the printer. It’s usually around 1/4 inch (but I must emphasize that this varies greatly depending on the printer). The upshot is that a printer will only be able to print on an area somewhat smaller than the full 8-1/2 x 11.
Printable Area of a Page
Now, when printing there are two choices:

  • You can print your 8-1/2 x 11 document directly on to the 8-1/2 x 11 paper, and risk cutting off from view the edges of whatever is presented in the PDF.
  • You can resize the 8-1/2 x 11 document down to a size that will actually fit entirely in the printable area of the paper.

The later is the most common default, and it’s likely exactly what you’re seeing.
A typical PDF ebook page.
Full page resized slightly to fit in printable area
Before and after – ever so slightly smaller to fit in printable area.

The thing to look for in your PDF viewer is “Zoom” or “Page Scaling”:
File Print Dialog in Adobe Acrobat Reader
As you can see the default is “Fit to Printable Area”, exactly as I’ve described. (And you can see a “Zoom” of 97% has been applied just under the preview.)

Now, the example page I’m using would actually print just fine without being resized smaller (since it actually has margins of its own).

Simply change the “Fit to Printable Area” to “None”, you’ll see the “Zoom” disappear or reset to 100%, and the PDF reader will attempt no scaling – it’ll just print the 8 1/2 x 11 document onto 8 1/2 x 11 paper. If there’s clipping because of the printer margins, so be it.

There are 11 comments:

  1. Joseph Reply

    Nice explanation, Leo. I print a lot of ebooks and sometimes I need to ‘put’ more on the page. I mean make it more readable. This article helps me with this issue. I’ll work with this and I always can print just one page and see the results.
    thanks Leo
    joseph

  2. Mary Ann Reply

    Thanks for the answer to,”Why Don’t PDF’s Print At Same Size As Original?” It’s a real aggravation to print from A PDF and the print comes out so small you can barely read it. I just rescaled my page to “none” and it worked beautifully.We struggle with these little things and it doesn’t occur to us sometimes to just “Ask Leo!” Mary Ann

  3. Gwen Reply

    I am sending a .pdf document by email for a company to print. They just called and told me the first two letters in each row are cut. Since I have no access to their printers, how can I change my document from my end?
    Thanks!

    You’ll have to adjust the margins when you create the PDF.

    - Leo
    13-Jan-2009
  4. Bert Coules Reply

    Thanks for the article. Unfortunately, even with the page scaling set to “none” I’m still having documents print out smaller than the originals (converted from Word 2000 with PrimoPDF). I know that my printer can handle the necessary area (I can print the document from Word with no problems at all) so I’m totally baffled as to why printing the pdf version causes it to shrink.

    It’s really very odd.

  5. Joerg Reply

    Very good to understand. My problem: how can I print without margins from a batch-job (DOS-Box) ? There is no option for “not scaling” …

  6. Joe Reply

    My problem is similar to one above (Bert Coules, Nov 2009). I can print PDF without scaling down (Page scaling: None), but my page nbr and other folio material are cut off at page bottom. Again, I know it is not the printer because the PDF creator (InDesign) prints fine. Why the difference? Seems Acrobat introduces a fatter NO-PRINT zone at page bottom . . . and we need prints at 100%, so again, scaling will not work. Help.

  7. nebigfoot Reply

    We create forms as PDF’s that we publish on our WEB site. We also have vendors that produce the same documents with 2D barcodes as PDF’s. We scan/image the returned doucuments and run OCR, ICR and 2D interpretation of data. When the public prints the documents in Adobe Reader with scaling set to none (or actual size in Reader X), everything is fine. The issue is when the the users leave the size option set to something other than none or actual. We have margins over 1/2 inch on all sides and the pages will always scale. This moves the exact positioning of the fixed print documents and shrinks the 2D barcodes to where they are unreadable. We have the page scaling set to none in the document itself but of course the user can always override.

    I have been told that if you change the size of the page to something less than 8 1/2 by 11, you can prevent the scaling. I have played with this and found that what works best for a laser printer is different than what works with an inkjet. Does anyone know a size that will prevent scaling on the most printers?

    Is there any other way to prevent a PDF document from scaling? I have even created a PDF with one word in the middle of am 8 1/2 by 11 page and it will still scale.

  8. John Reply

    To fix this issue, go to PAPER SIZE and click BORDERLESS 8.5 x 11 and it will remove the border and print actual size

  9. Martin Reply

    Mac user here, trying to print booklets (folded Letter size).

    I used to not have a problem with this as long as I was careful to make sure the size was set to 100% but I had to get a new printer at some point (cheapie HP inkjet) and now I can’t get PDFs to print right.

    Like many inkjets printable area is as much as 3/8″ above the bottom of the page so not only does it rescale the PDF, it comes out off-center. This is a disaster for the page margins; the fold is not centered and left-right margins are all uneven.

    I’ve tried printing from preview.app and Photoshop, both swearing to print 100% 8 1/2 x 11 actual size.

    Selecting boarderless at least gets the fold in the middle but actually enlarges the print too much, and forces it into photo paper mode.

  10. Martin Reply

    Downloaded your actual Adobe Reader which actually prints 100% when it says it will.

    Unfortunately the “booklet” mode which could be a nice feature resizes everything too small so the left and right pages are too close to the fold.

    So I still have to use separate software to generate the booklets, but this at least prints them correctly.

  11. William Wahl Reply

    I am using Acrobat IX. The “Page Scaling” item is not there.

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