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Fit a PDF to the Page for Printing - Or Not!

written by: Rebecca Scudder•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/7/2015

Have you ever tried to print a PDF and had only part of it fit on the page? Learn what to do to fit a PDF to the size of your printer paper, whatever the size of the PDF or the paper. If you seem unable to print the correct size, this may help too.

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    PDF and paper size- which comes first?

    Like the chicken and the egg, sometimes it is hard to tell whether a PDF is printing in type which is just very small, or whether the paper size is forcing the PDF to be printed at a different size than the document. The first thing to do is look at the PDF to find out theSee PDF size at bottom left - odd size  page size.

    Set the view at 100%, so the pages are the same size as when the PDF was created. Hover over the very bottom of the left hand corner. You will see a number- perhaps 8.5 x 11, perhaps 4 x 10, or something else entirely. It will not stay permanently, but you can always hover the cursor over it again. Since some PDFs have different size pages in the document, you may want to check the size of every page which doesn't seem to have the same proportions as the first you checked.

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    Print Options

    If you click on the printer icon at the upper left of the PDF, a menu will pop open. There are familiar print options, letting you select pages and decide how many copies you want, and then there are some additional ones. In particular for the PDF print menu, there is an drop down box called page scaling.

    Page scaling in the Adobe reader has five choices:

    None: This is obvious- you are keeping the image at the size it appears at 100%, because it fits on a paper size in your printer. Here we are using the choice current view for the next few options.

    Fit the Printable Area: This puts the page from the PDF onto the paper using as much of the paper as it can. It will keep the same proportions as the original 100% view. This can have the effect of enlarging your image, if it is smaller than your paper. If the PDF is larger than your paper, the PDF will be scaled down to fit onto the paper. This can have the effect of making images much smaller than the 100% view, and can make print difficult to read.

    Shrink to Fit: When your PDF is larger than your paper; If you have a 10 x 13 page, and 8.5 x 11 paper, this will also make the image smaller to fit in the printable area on the page. In this case, since the current view is selected and is smaller than the size of the paper, it appears at 100%, and is identical to page scaling none.

    Multiple Pages Per Sheet: This will put as many pages on a sheet as you select. You can give custom This multiple pages per sheet option is using a custom 1 x 2 pages per sheet, so the original 4 page document is on 2 pages settings or use the multiples of 2 up to 16 that are preset. Sometimes using a custom setting to put the same 2 pages on a sheet makes the pages larger because they are more efficiently placed.

    PDF booklet 



    Booklet: This will print a document which is printed on both sides of the paper and is set up to have pages printed so the fold is in the right place.

    If your default is set to Fit the Printable Area, you may get zoomed prints if the actual size of the PDF is smaller than your paper. If Fit the Printable Area is your default, you may not know what you are likely to have printed unless you are careful to keep an eye on print preview.

    If your default is Shrink to Fit, you may get PDFs printing with scaled down text all the time. This can be frustrating if you constantly have PDFs which are larger than 8.5 x 11 or 11 x 17 paper, because they will shrink to where the text cannot be resolved. The answer is to check your default print settings, and to make sure that large PDF files do not have the option Shrink to Fit selected.

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    Printing large PDF files and scaling up to print poster size

    Unfortunately, after paging through a number of pages on Adobe's support site, I found out the free Adobe reader does not have the capacity to scale to a larger size.

    The paid versions of Acrobat do, however. They offer the ability to print a larger than normal paper size across multiple sheets, which they call tiling. They also offer the ability to scale up a small document to a size large enough to be a poster, using the same tiling method. Pages printed as tiles have the pattern in which they should be fitted back together noted on the edges of the pages. There are additional options, which can give marks to indicate where to trim the paper to meet another page, and to determine how much overlap you want on your tiles.

    If you think you have a one time need to print a large document, consider downloading the 30 day trial of Acrobat Pro. This will let you try the scaling the page to a larger size option, so you can print your document. While you have it, you can try the other features and enjoy the ability to create your own PDF files.