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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 10 Issue 3
March 2016
Does Your Printer Have the Secret Ability to Print On Both Sides?

The old-school approach to double-sided printing
If you're like me, you like to save paper. You probably also know how to load paper that's blank on only one side into your printer so you can reuse it by printing on that blank side.

So, if you wanted to print one copy of a 2-page document on both sides of an unused piece of paper, you would probably load a singe sheet into the printer, print page 1, put that sheet back into the printer (using the right orientation for your printer), and then print page 2 on the other side.

And if you wanted to print 10 copies of that 2-page document double-sided, you'd print 10 copies of page 1, load those ten sheets back into the printer (using the right orientation), and then print 10 copies of page 2.

And for a longer document...
If you wanted to print one copy of a 5-page document on both sides using 3 sheets of unused paper, you could use this simple but high-labor approach:
  • Load only the first sheet into the printer.
  • Tell the computer to print all 5 pages.
  • When that first sheet comes out of the printer, you put it back into the printer (using the right orientation) along with an unused sheet underneath, so page 2 will print on the back of that first sheet, and page 3 will print on one side of the second sheet.
  • Setting that first sheet aside (which now has pages 1 and 2 on it), when that second sheet comes out of the printer, you put it back into the printer (using the right orientation) along with an unused sheet underneath, so page 4 will print on the back of that second sheet, and page 5 will print on one side of the third sheet.
Along the way you also might have to click "OK" or "Continue" on the printer's front panel if it complains that it's out of paper because you couldn't load those pairs of sheets fast enough.

Or, if your printer software gives you the ability to print in reverse page order, as well as print only the odd- or even-numbered pages, you could use this cleverer approach to print that 5-page document double-sided:
  • Load three sheets of unused paper into the printer.
  • Tell the computer to print all 5 pages in the "normal" page order (so the first page prints first), but only the odd-numbered ones, producing three sheets that have pages 1, 3, and 5 on one side, in that order.
  • Setting page 5 aside, you load the other two sheets back into the printer, orienting them so the sheet with page 3 on one side will be first.
  • Tell the computer to print all 5 pages, but now you use both the "reverse" page order (so the last page prints first) and choose to only print the even-numbered pages. This will print two sheets that have pages 4 and 2 on one side, in that order.
  • You now have two double-sided sheets with pages 1 through 4, so you add page 5 to that and you're done.
For years I used these methods with both inkjet and laser printers to print workshop handouts, tax returns, and other documents where it was important that the result was double-sided. Although I was adept at this, I only went to this level of effort on those occasions when I really wanted double-sided printouts.

I probably lost you at "...put it back into the printer," right? There must be an easier way! There is, but it depends on what your particular printer can do.

My printer's amazing secret
One day I was looking through the manual for my HP OfficeJet J6480 multifunction inkjet printer when I happened to find the following:

"Print on both sides (duplexing)...when printing finishes on one side of the media, the device holds the media and pauses while the ink dries. Once the ink dries, the media is pulled back into the device and the second side is printed. When printing is complete, the media is dropped onto the output tray. Do not grab it before printing is complete."

I never knew my printer could do that! After some experimenting, my approach to two-sided printing is now so much simpler and convenient:
  • Load unused paper into the printer.
  • Open the document (or website, etc.) to be printed double-sided.
  • Click File->Print.
  • Click the "Two-Sided" option.
  • Click the Print button.
Now my printer does all the work for me! I scarcely have to think about it, reload any paper, or even get out of my chair. When I print multi-page documents, I now print on both sides almost all the time. Apart from the occasional paper jam, the only time something goes wrong is when I intend to print double-sided but forget to click the option in the Print dialog.

When the hinge on my OfficeJet J6480 broke and it wasn't worth repairing, I shopped for a new multifunction printer that also had a "duplex module" or "duplexer," and now I have an HP OfficeJet 4630.

Additional things you should know
When it's built into your printer, two-sided printing can be a fast and convenient option, but there are a few important things to know:
  • I've found that cheap copy paper is too thin and the other side often shows through, so I've made 24lb paper my standard. Thick paper or card stock may be too rigid and get jammed in the duplexer. Test first, before you're under a deadline to produce something.
  • I don't recommend using two-sided printing with documents containing photographs (or large, dark areas) unless you have very high-quality paper and you've tested it.
  • I still use Print Preview all the time to confirm on screen how something will look before printing, but what it displays is technically inaccurate. While it always shows what each page will look like, it always displays the first page first even if the last page will actually print first, and it doesn't indicate which pages will be on the front or back of each sheet if I'm printing on both sides.
  • Double-sided printing is available on many models of both inkjet and laser printers, but usually not the cheapest ones.
  • The two-sided printing option may be in the main Print dialog or under Layout, and sometimes it's in both places.
  • For a regular "portrait"-oriented document (8.5" wide by 11" tall) be sure to choose "Long-Edge binding" or "Flip on long edge" (typically the default setting) before you click Print. For one that's "landscape" (11" wide by 8.5" tall), choose "Short-Edge binding" or "Flip on short edge." If you get this backwards, the pages on the backs of your sheets will be upside-down compared to the front. (You typically set your document's portrait or landscape orientation in the Page Setup dialog.)
  • When I saw that my printer paused between printing the front and back pages of each sheet in order to let the ink dry, under "Advanced Print Options" I tried changing "Ink Volume" (which controls how long it pauses) from the default setting down to zero. After confirming that it wasn't a problem for me, I left it on zero to save time. If you like this idea, you should test this yourself before adopting my approach.
  • If a given printout is only for my use, and especially if I'm going discard it soon, I also choose Draft quality, which saves ink and prints faster.
  • Double-sided printing makes the paper path more complicated, so learn how to open your duplexer (typically at the back of the printer) so you can clear the occasional paper jams.
  • I suggest practicing on 2- or 4-page documents before you try this on a longer document.
What if I want to take a bunch of separate things and print them all together, double-sided?
When you have a printer that can print on both sides and you have a multi-page document (where all of the pages are all together), it's easy to print it double-sided.

However, you might find yourself with a collection of separate documents (or spreadsheets, PDFs, web pages, etc.,) that may be all single-page items, or a mixture of single- and multi-page items. You'd simply like to print them all together, like a single document, double-sided to save paper. You might be able to copy-and-paste their contents into one larger document and then print that, but often you just can't do that. You'd like to be able to click Print on the first one and then tell the printer to "hold onto that while I go get the next one, and the next one, etc.," but the current technology doesn't permit that.

Here's what I do to accomplish this:
  • For each item (whether it has one page or many), I "print" it to a PDF file, unless it's already in PDF format.
  • Using some special software techniques (which aren't difficult to learn but are too involved to describe here), I gather the pages from all these separate PDFs into a single PDF, and also delete any pages that I don't want.
  • I print that combined PDF, double-sided.
  • Then I delete all the PDFs. Occasionally I'll keep the combined one to have a record of it, or if I might need to print another copy later.
I prefer to use software on my computer to combine PDFs. I don't recommend using online "PDF merging" services unless you're not concerned about privacy.

Where to go from here
  • Find out if your printer can print on both sides. Look in your manual, google it, or open any document, click File->Print, and look for options with names like "Print on both sides," "Two-sided printing," etc.
  • If your printer can do double-sided printing, try it with different kinds of documents and different types of paper until you get good results.
  • If your printer doesn't have this feature but it interests you, make sure your next printer does.
  • http://www.kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2013/2013_04_25.html - "Going Paperless, Carefully: Print to a PDF!"
  • To learn more about how to combine PDF files, google: combine pdf [and add "windows" or "macintosh" to narrow the results down for your computer]
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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