About Word's background printing

Don't let long documents languish or hamper user productivity. Teach users how to use background printing to their advantage.

Printing can be a quick or laborious task, but either way, it consumes resources. Depending on Word's configuration, it can tie up more than resources — a print job can keep users from working in Word until the print job is complete. Fortunately, Word supports background printing. In fact, it's the default setting. When background printing is enabled, Word sends a document to disk and from there, to print (via Windows). This configuration allows users to continue working in Word immediately after sending a document to print. On the other hand, when this option is disabled, Word stops everything to print the document, bypassing the quick disk save and sending it straight to Windows. Enabled or disabled, there's a tradeoff: performance versus accessibility:
  • Enabled, users can work immediately after printing, but long documents can take a long time to print.
  • Disabled, users can't work in Word, but the document prints quickly.
How do you advise your users? Here's a simple list of guidelines for helping users get the best of background printing, most of the time:
  • Unless you have good reason not to, enable background printing for most users. There are exceptions to every rule, but most users will fare better with background printing enabled. Users printing short documents won't notice much difference between enabled and disabled.
  • Disable background printing for the lone user who prints lots of long documents and does little actual work in Word itself. You probably don't have anyone using Word who fits this description.
  • Train users to fend for themselves. If they know how background printing works and how to use it appropriately, they can work more efficiently on their own.
  • When necessary, use VBA to disable background printing temporarily.
Train users Most users will stick with the default setting and continue to work with background printing enabled. When they need to print a long document quickly, teach them how to disable the feature as follows: Word 2003

  1. From the Tools menu, choose Options.
  2. Click the Print tab.
  3. Uncheck the Background Printing option in the Printing Options section and click OK.
Word 2007

  1. Click the Office button and then click Word Options.
  2. Choose Advanced from the left pane.
  3. Scroll through the options until you find the Print options.
  4. Uncheck the Print In Background option.
  5. Click OK.
After the document prints, the user simply re-enables the feature. Don't worry that they'll forget. As soon as they print a document and find themselves unable to continue working, they'll remember and reset the option. Remember, an empowered user works more efficiently, and doesn't call you (at least not as often). Use VBA to control background printing The above guidelines cover most situations, but occasionally, you might want to take a different course of action. If you have users printing long documents, you can help them out a bit using VBA. Specifically, you can let the document disable and enable background printing. You control the settings via the document itself, and users don't have to be involved at all. To disable background printing, use the PrintOut method as follows:

ActiveDocument.PrintOut Background:=False

To enable the feature, set the Background property to True as follows:

ActiveDocument.PrintOut Background:=True

Setting the Background property to False has one more benefit. Sometimes, users print a document and then exit Word immediately. Or they execute a macro that prints the document and exits Word. Either way, exiting doesn't always work. Word might display a warning message that exiting Word will cancel the current print job. In this case, add a statement that sets the Background property to False. VBA won't execute the next statement (the statement to exit Word) until the print job is complete.

Of course, you'll have to automate the print process via the interface somehow, instructing the user to print the document using a specific button or command instead of using Word's built-in interface. You might even disable the built-in Print commands when loading this document, to force the issue.

About Susan Harkins

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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