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Why Don’t PDFs Print at the Same Size as the Original?

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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.

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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.

32 comments on “Why Don’t PDFs Print at the Same Size as the Original?”

  1. 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

    Reply
  2. 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

    Reply
  3. 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
    Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply
  5. 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” …

    Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
  7. 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.

    Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
  10. None of the comments helped me. I asked question as requested on the top righthand corner. All of my copies are always cut off
    too short and so small print I can’t read it, documents from internet especially or from friends.

    Reply
    • Delma – if you go on Acrobat’s website, it states there is a known issue with printing – it states:

      •Xerox printers shrink page content to 1/10 or 1/20 of the original size, and print the content in the upper left part of the paper. This behavior occurs when both of these options are selected in the Print dialog box: Choose Paper Source By PDF Page Size and Use Custom Paper Size When Needed. [2392553]

      I am assuming it will be fixed with a patch at some point.

      Reply
      • Hey leo i’m printing an circuit’s schematic diagram in which distance between two points is 8.2 cm in pdf as i can see it on eagle software but when i take a printout it gets reduced to 7.9 cm so what’s the problem here?

        Reply
  11. Hi,

    When I create a PDF document and save or try emailing it, the document is too small to read or view. Somehow it’s saving all PDF documents too small . When I tried viewing the document I have to zoom in about 1200 to read at a normal size.

    How can I undo this shrinking to all PDF documents?

    Thank you,
    Sandra

    Reply
  12. I know how to change the printer to actual size however with windows 10 the pdf goes to internet explorer and it does not give you the option to print to actual size.

    Reply
  13. For Mac users – this is what I have found:
    Set the scaling to ‘Actual Size’
    Check ‘Choose paper source by PDF Page Size
    Check ‘ Use custom paper size when needed’
    My prints are now at 100% correct size

    Reply
    • My solution is very similar but for me it’s to
      Uncheck ‘Choose paper source by PDF Page Size
      Then go to Page Set-up and choose the right paper size. I needed it Legal Size.
      FYI I was trying both Fit to Page and shrink oversized pages. Doing the above fixed it for me while doing Fit to Page.

      Reply
  14. Thanks for this, it’s a problem that we’ve been having for a while – we’re UK based and receive a lot of pdf’s from the US that are nearly always in Letter. This solved our problem straight away and I’ve let all of our users know.

    Reply
  15. My PDF files are printing smaller than the actual PDF size. I read above about selecting “None” in “Fit to Printable Area”. I do not have that option when I print a PDF. What can I do to prevent this smaller print? I keep using my old, very very old, computer and am not using my new computer because of this problem.

    Reply
  16. I made a graphic in MS Paint, that when printed, was much smaller than the screen scale. I ended up blowing it up 225% to get it to match what originally the screen showed. You would think the screen would show you to scale what it would print on the paper, but no! Then, when I copied what I had in MS Paint to MS Word docx and printed it, the scaling was out of wack, so I had to go back and edit it again. Now, in order to put it on a transparency, I have to change it to a pdf. So, I printed it after the pdf conversion and now it is about 135% larger that I started, pulling hair out. So now I am stuck because I can’t adjust that thing in pdf because they want to nickle and dime you for a prescription just so I can edit it and take it to FedX and print 4 copies. I just love wasting hours on a simple project trying to scale something from apples to oranges to bananas I’m frustrated! Why can’t a file transfer from one program to the next and stay the same?

    Reply
  17. What about when the person doing the printing is sloppy and prints on completely the wrong paper size? I’ve created several A5 size product information sheets but the people printing them off to include with the products keep on printing them off on A4. Is there a document setting that will tell the PDF viewer and the printer that not only is the document to be printed with in Actual Size mode, but it is to be printed on A5 paper only, not A4, not ever ever A4 (on pain of being clubbed over the head by the author!)

    Reply
    • Ideally I’d want it so that the paper size and page scaling should be grayed out in the print dialog box, so even the most rushed and stressed out of manufacturing department staff can’t possibly print it wrong!

      Reply
      • I don’t know whether or not this is possible. I tend to think not. There are several PDF readers and each one would handle it differently. And even if you did find a PDF reader which could grey out anything but print original size, it wouldn’t stop people from printing an A5 image on A4 paper. The only thing I can think of is to specify in the instructions that if the wrong size paper and settings are used, the job won’t be paid for. After losing money, they might actually learn 🙂

        Reply
  18. When I print in pdf format, it prints to about 300% from my Brother laser printer. You talk about small print outs. What about my problem?

    Reply

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