In this article we will look at why you might want to create a print file and four different ways you can print to file using Windows.
Raw print files, commonly with an extension of .prn or .ps have a number of different uses, the main one being that you can print from an application while you don't have access to a printer and later on print using just the captured file. There is a little more information on the different types of print files here.
Print to file from an application
Most applications have an option available to you when you print a document which redirects the raw print job to a file, if you select this option you will normally be asked for the name of the file to save. Using this method allows you to browse to a folder and specify the file name for every print. The following screen shot shows the option in the Microsoft Word print dialog box.
Creating a print to file printer
Some programs don't give you the option to print to file, in this case we can create our own printer in Windows which will popup a prompt for a file name every time we send something to print. Before you start this you will need rights to add a new printer in Windows, in fact I am going to assume you have been through the process of installing a printer using the "add printer" wizard from the Printers folder.
We start by opening the Printers folder and starting the "add printer" wizard, select a local printer and make sure you have turned off the option for Windows to auto detect the printer because there isn't going to be a physical device attached to this printer. When you are asked for a port select the FILE: port, if it isn't there then you can add it by selecting "Create a new port" of type local port and enter the text FILE: for the port name.
The rest of the process is just straight forward Windows stuff, select your driver and the settings and you are done. Now whenever you print to this printer Windows will popup a dialog asking you for the file name. The default extension will be .prn and you will have to type the whole path to where you want to store the file.
Creating a print to fixed file printer
If you are happy to print to the same file name each time then you can create a fixed file printer which will always send the job to the same file name, overwriting the previous file if there was one.
The process is similar to the previous section except this time when we are asked for the printer port we add a new local port and enter the whole path to the file for the port name. Having done this every time you print to this printer the print will be written to the file you entered.
Using Print Distributor to print to file
For a much more flexible solution to printing to file you might want to try our product Print Distributor, it allows you to name the file dynamically based on information about the print job or its creator as well as using the date, time or even a unique serial number. There is some more information on printing to file with Print Distributor here.