Illustration: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

For many years, the default Google Doc format would have been familiar to anyone who used a typewriter: A rectangular page, longer than it was wide, with text in the middle, inset about an inch on every side—left, right, top and bottom. Large empty spaces surrounded the page, like the air around a sheet of paper in a typewriter. When you typed enough text, a dotted line displayed to indicate where the next printed page would begin.

But in February 2022, Google Docs announced a new pageless option for Google Docs, which removes both the empty space around the page and the rigid page-based margins and omits page break delineators. The pageless setting acknowledges that there’s no reason to constrain text to a page-based format in a time when so many people access documents on a screen.

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To learn the differences between the Pages and Pageless Google Docs options, open your favorite desktop browser to a new Google Doc, then explore the settings as described in the following paragraphs.

How to switch between Pages and Pageless options in Google Docs

With a Google Doc open in a desktop-class web browser, select File | Page setup. Select either Pages (left) or Pageless (right), as shown in Figure A. With the Pages option selected, you may adjust various print-centric settings, such as paper size, margins, orientation, as well as background color. When you choose Pageless, you may adjust the background color.

Figure A

Screenshot of three images: (left) Google Doc menu with File selected and Page setup circled, (middle) Page setup | Pages option, with choices to apply to Whole document, Orientation (Portrait, Landscape), Paper size (8.5” x 11”), Page color (white), and Margins (1 in on all sides); and (right) Page setup | Pageless, with Background color set to white.
In a Google Doc, select File | Page setup to access and switch between Pages and Pageless format.

Whichever option you choose—page or pageless—select the Save as Default button to make every new Google Doc you create use your selected page setup. Regardless of the default page setup, you may change the page setup for your Google Doc at any time.

How to modify displayed text width when pageless in Google Docs

Within a pageless document, you may adjust the View | Text width setting to control the proportion of area surrounding the text displayed. The system offers three settings: narrow, medium and wide, with sample widths that vary as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Screenshot of three images: (middle) View | Text width setting set to Medium, (top) setting to Narrow, with larger empty space on either side of the column of text, and (bottom) setting to Wide, with long lines of text running across much of the display.
In Pageless format, you may adjust the View | Text width setting to modify the proportion of each line taken up with text. When you modify the browser window width, the display may adapt and reflow your document content to fit the frame.

Unlike static printed-page margins, which are set to specific sizes (e.g., one inch), the text width setting adapts when you modify the width of your browser window. From a full-screen width, decrease the browser window width and the margins will diminish in size. At a certain point, the margins remain, but text reflows fluidly to fit the width. Each person who views a document may choose their own preferred View | Text width setting. The option is a viewer preference, rather than a document layout setting (e.g., I might select narrow, while you might choose wide.)

Select pageless to maximize the flexibility of the content displayed in Google Docs

I suggest you select the pageless option for any Google Doc you don’t intend to print. For many people, that may be the vast majority of documents.

The pageless setting might especially be preferred by people who work with Google Docs in less-than-full-screen widths. For example, I often use a Google Doc snapped to one side of my screen. Pageless mode (Figure C, left) allows the text to display larger, with less of the screen consumed by margins and page border indicators (Figure C, right).

Figure C

Two screenshots: (left) Google Doc with Pages set, and Zoom set to Fit. Text is surrounded by static margins of 1” on all sides, and gray space surrounds the Document area. (right) Google Doc with Pageless set. Compared to the other format, the text is larger and white space surrounding the text is much less of the page.
With Page setup | Pages (left) selected, document margins and surrounding page borders display. With Page setup | Pageless (right) chosen, the system adapts your text, images and surrounding space for the width.

 Select standard page setup to format documents for print in Google Docs

When you intend to print your Google Doc, choose the conventional page-oriented options. Several options, such as Watermarks, Headers & Footers, Page numbers and Breaks (Figure D, left) are only available when Page setup | Pages has been selected. In particular, people who write academic papers (with footnotes), people who create documents to be physically posted (such as a letter, newsletter or flyer), and people who make long documents that require page numbers should select the standard Pages setup. When set to Pageless, these options do not display (Figure D, right).

Figure D

Two screenshots, both with all Insert menu options displayed (e.g., Image, Table, Drawing, Chart, etc.). Pages (left) includes Footnote, Watermark, Headers & Footers, Page numbers and Break, among others. Pageless (right) omits all of the previously listed items.
Insert menu options change, based on whether your Page setup option is Pages (left) or Pageless (right).

Similarly, format options for Columns, Headers & footers, Page Numbers and Page Orientation (Figure E, left) are available only in Pages mode. In contrast, the Pageless option relies on a single stream of content that adapts to varying browser-window widths, so these formatting options are removed (Figure E, right).

Figure E

Two screenshots, both with all Format menu options displayed (e.g., Text, Paragraph styles, Align & indent, Line & paragraph spacing, etc.). Pages (left) includes Columns, Headers & footers, Page numbers and Page orientation. Pageless (right) omits those items.
Format menu options change, as well, based on whether your Page setup option is Pages (left) or Pageless (right).

What’s your page setup preference?

I set the Pageless option as the default for my Google Docs as soon as it became available in my various Google accounts. Most of my work is intended to be shared online, and only rarely do I create a document that I need to print. So, for me, the flexibility of the Pageless format lets me continue to collaborate in Google Docs, as always, without the legacy display based on a printed page.

If the Pageless feature is available in your Google Docs account, have you selected it as the default for new documents? Or do you prefer to use the standard Pages option, with paper-based layout options? Let me know what you think of the Google Docs Pageless format, either with a comment below or on Twitter (@awolber).