Have you ever tried printing online information, and the web page is converted into what seems to be miles of garbled information, displaying the data you need pages down into the document? It doesn’t matter if you try a different browser, another printer, or one of the many PDF printer drivers available. If you pull up the Print Preview in the browser, the image is just as jumbled. Sometimes, one of the browser plug-ins, such as Print Pages to Pdf will allow you to generate a reasonable PDF of the web page, but even it can be confused by web pages of this type. This issue is not your printers suddenly going haywire, but rather the result of people coding web pages in so many different, and sometimes, unusual ways.
While I refer to these as web-based, some also include the option of installing the application locally. As we’ll examine in more detail below, most of these applications can be accessed in a variety of ways and the configurability of the resulting PDF produced can vary significantly.
The first of these approaches is CleanPrint from Format Dynamics. CleanPrint can be run in a number of ways, as a browser tool, a website tool, and even as an Android tool. When used as a browser tool, it can sense the particular browser that you are using and show you the installation instructions for it. As an example, to install the Browser Tool, it simply has you drag the displayed CleanPrint button to your Bookmarks Toolbar or right click on the button and select Bookmark This Link. Whenever you wish to use CleanPrint, simply click on the CleanPrint bookmarklet, while the desired web page is displayed. This screen capture from their web site shows the difference between using the browser print function and CleanPrint, and the browser print here, is actually a pretty good one.
When the CleanPrint button on the web browser or the web site is clicked, a CleanPrint Save window is opened on top of the selected web page, as illustrated in the attached example. As CleanPrint is primarily advertising supported, the overlay box to the right will display one or more advertisements that you can click on for more information. The large overlay box on the left displays a preview of the ‘cleaned’ web page, to show approximately how it would appear. Usually, CleanPrint does a fairly good job of selecting the main topic of the web page, but occasionally, even it gets confused and strips out almost everything from the page.
However, if you examine the sidebar at the extreme left, you will see that it displays a number of options. While one of the buttons under Edit allows you to remove images or add a note to the generated output, at the bottome is a button in green labeled Show More. This button will force the large overlay box to display all of the web page components, so that you can go through and manually toggle which items to display. While this gives you a great deal of flexibility, if the majority of items that you need are being suppressed, it might be easier to use one of the other tools, rather than tediously go through and reselect all of the missing items.
If you look at the top of this sidebar, labeled Output, you can see that CleanPrint is capable of much more than just printing a web page. It is capable of not only saving the output as a PDF or text file, it can also print the reformatted image to a physical printer or to Google Cloud Print. It is also capable of saving the reformatted document, either as a PDF or RTF file, to services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or to Box. It is even capable of saving the output to your Kindle device or app.
The eponymous Print Friendly also supports use as either a browser tool or a website button. It can be added to the Bookmarks Toolbar in the same way as CleanPrint. Additionally, if you want to use it only on rare occasions or test it out, you can entire a URL directly into its home page and, upon clicking the Print Preview button, convert the specified URL.
If you entered http://ScientificComputing.com/, you might have a page similar to the following returned. Note that this app provides significantly fewer output options than CleanPrint, but it does include the essential capabilities of saving the modified web page as a PDF, printing it, or emailing it. It also provides the capability to enlarge or reduce the font size of the web page. There is also an option to easily remove all images.
Additional control of what is displayed is applied by moving the mouse cursor over the desired page element. The selected element will be highlighted, along with a Click to Delete button. If you feel you must remove a significant number of the remaining elements, this removal process can become rather tedious, but it can provide a much more readable page than a raw browser print.
Save page as PDF is a free implementation of Web2PDF from Baltsoft Software. As with PrintFriendly, it allows you to enter a URL that you wish to convert to a PDF, as shown below. Unlike the previous applications, this one is designed to whet your appetite for additional features available in the paid version, which we’ll discuss later.
It too can be configured as a button on your browser toolbar or incorporated onto a web page.
Additionally, you can generate PDFs by emailing the URL in the body of a message to email@example.com with the subject Convert. After clicking on the Convert to PDF button, this page will display the message Creating PDF… please do not close this window until your PDF is ready.
Once the PDF has been generated, the following overlay is displayed. It displays the name of the URL specified in the original conversion window, the size of the PDF generated, with buttons to either download the PDF or to save it to Google Docs. If you had clicked on the previously displayed Options button, a list of options for configuring the PDF would be displayed, but you could not access them without becoming a Web2PDF member. We’ll discuss these shortly.
- Convert Web Page to Elegant Printer-Friendly PDF
- Save, Read, and Print Directly from your Browser
- Control Page Size (Letter, Legal, A0-A9, B0-B10, +more)
- Control Orientation (Landscape, Portrait)
- Control PDF Mode (Color, Gray)
- Exclude Web Page Images or Background to Optimize Printing
- No Registration, No Email, Unlimited Usage
While the options available for iWeb2Print are fewer than for some of the other tools, there are times that this can be an advantage. In my testing, I’ve come across pages that resulted in almost nothing being printed by PrintFriendly (without significant component selection), but which looked great when printed via iWeb2Print.
Web2PDF from Baltsoft Software is the actual application engine used by Save page as PDF. Baltsoft tools can be used with your browser or installed on web sites. The primary difference between Web2PDF and Save page as PDF is access to Web2PDF’s Options page, shown below.
To access this Options page, you have to sign up for a Membership. Memberships range from $5/month for Basic, $15/month for Premium, and $25/month for Elite. The different levels of membership basically determine how many PDF conversions that you can perform per month, whether ads are displayed, the level of usage support provided, and whether integration support is provided. Elite members can actually have new features added to the application on demand.
I mentioned four tools earlier, but there are of course more than four available. The following are tools that look good, but do come with a price.
The Options page allows you to set a wide range of PDF options. These include not only the physical structure of the PDF, but also meta-data about the file, such as its Title, Author, and Subject. While Baltsoft Software does receive support through advertising, it appear as if it is primarily supported through selling the various membership levels.
PDFmyURL appears to be aimed more at enterprise customers. Among its different features, or options, is an HTML to PDF API, batch convert to PDF, and the ability to save as PDF links, as well as a variety of PDF consulting services. It does allow free use of the product through physically entering the desired URL through its home page, as shown below.
A browser license for personal use is $15/year. For website use, which includes a browser license, the plans run from Starter ($19/month), Professional ($39/month), Advanced ($69/month), to Enterprise (pricing on request). The primary differences between these plans appears to be the type of support provided and the number of PDFs/month that you are allowed to generate.
Personally, I find myself leaning a bit toward CleanPrint, due to its flexibility. However, when it has trouble interpreting what I want from the web page, I find it simpler to try one of the other tools to see what they generate before manually reconfiguring the page’s appearance. If you have a favorite web-based printing tool, particularly a free one, that we haven’t mentioned, please share it and what you like about it.