Page Bottoms Don’t Print

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The bottoms of my pages don’t print

Frequently people have problems with material at the bottom of a page (the page number, for example, or the footer) not printing correctly. Often, the characters get cut in half so that only the top half of the line prints. The most common complaint is that the bottom of a page border doesn’t print.

The most common cause of this problem is that the bottom margin, footer margin, or page border is outside the printable area of the page. All printers have an irreducible unprintable area necessitated by the mechanical requirements of paper handling.

Your printer manual may specify the printer’s printable area, or this information may be included somewhere in the Properties dialog for the printer driver. The simplest way to determine the printable area for your selected printer, however, is as follows:

  1. Open to the Page Setup dialog and choose the Margins tab.

  • Any version: Double-click at the top of the horizontal ruler.

  • Word 2003 and earlier: On the File menu, select Page Setup.

  • Word 2007 and above: On the Page Layout tab of the Ribbon, in the Page Setup group, click the dialog launcher (the small arrow in the bottom right corner). Or click the Margins button and choose Custom Margins…

  • On the Mac, you have to choose Microsoft Word from the Settings drop-down before you will see the Margins button.

  1. In the Page Setup dialog, select the Margins tab.

  2. Set Top, Bottom, Left, and Right margins to zero. Click OK. Word will present the following dialog box:

  1. Click Fix to accept Word’s offer to fix the margins and note what margins it sets. You can then click Cancel to exit the Page Setup dialog without actually changing the margins, but this will let you know what restrictions you’re working under.

Usually the unprintable area will be largest on the trailing edge, that is, the bottom of portrait pages or one side of landscape pages. Inkjet printers in general have a larger unprintable area at the bottom of the page than laser printers (up to 0.67″ is not uncommon; the record is probably 1.01″ in case of the HP 420). Even printers that can print “borderless” may be able to do so only on certain sizes of paper (with a special carrier) and/or will require a special setting in the printer Properties.

Footer doesn’t print

Word’s default bottom margin is 1″ (2.54 cm), which will be adequate for most printers, but the page footer (if any) will be below the bottom margin. The default footer margin in Word is 0.5″ (1.25 cm); this may well be too little for many printers. To deal with that, you need to increase the footer margin.

The header and footer margin settings are on the Layout tab of the Page Setup dialog; in Word 2007 and above, you can also adjust them in the Position group of the contextual Header & Footer Tools | Design tab that is displayed when the header or footer is active.

Keep in mind that, if you increase the footer margin, you may also need to increase the bottom margin to maintain the same amount of space between them.

Note: All versions of Word will warn you if you are about to print a document that has page margins outside the printable area. Some earlier versions will not warn you if the header or footer (or a page border) is outside the printable area. Print Preview, however, should always give you a faithful representation of what will print using the currently selected printer. Do not confuse Print Preview with Print Layout view, which merely shows you the page as you have laid it out, not what will actually print.

Page border doesn’t print

Page borders present unique problems because they are, by default, much closer to the edge of the page than any of the margins. If you click Options… in the Page Border dialog, you will see that the default page border setting is “From edge of page,” with a default measurement of 24 points (one third of an inch) and a maximum of 31 points (less than half an inch), so obviously many printers will be unable to print these elements.

To remedy this, change the setting to “From text” instead (again only up to 31 pts); you'll need to uncheck “Surround footer.” Note that “From text” means from the document body margins, not the actual text present; you can get more space between the page border and your text by using left and right paragraph indents to reduce the size of the text inside the document margins. For more on page borders, see the “Page borders” section of my article on borders for Word 2003 and earlier or Word 2007 and above.

Specific Mac problems

A common problem on the Macintosh is that you are formatting the document for a printer that is different from the one you are actually sending the document to.

  1. Go to the File | Print menu.

  2. Make sure that the name of the printer shown there matches the name written on the front of the printer!

  3. Older Macs have a bad habit of setting the "Format For" setting to "Any Printer." Some corporations standardize on a single printer driver for every PC in the company, regardless of which model printer is actually connected in your office. In either case, the computer now has no idea where the edge of the paper in the printer is.

  4. Correct the setting so that the name of the printer is correct.

  5. Word will now warn you if you attempt to print a document that contains anything that is placed closer to the edge of the paper than the printer can place ink.

Note: This information for Mac was provided by either Dave Rado or John McGhie. I have no experience with Word on the Mac.

Printing in the unprintable area

If you are determined to print outside the printer's printable area, some workarounds have been devised. One of the simplest is to temporarily tape an extension onto the bottom of the page and set a Custom page size a little longer than the actual sheet, adjusting margins accordingly. This requires some calculation and experimentation but reportedly does work if you are stubborn enough to try it!

Microsoft's suggestion is to define the page size as smaller than the actual so that Word will be tricked into printing the page border, with a measurement “From edge of page,” higher than the actual bottom of the page.

Another solution is to switch to a more modern printer. Many laser printers will print within 0.17″ of the edge on all sides, and inkjet printers marketed as “photo printers” often boast of “borderless” printing (known as “full bleed” printing in the trade).

This article copyright © 2000, 2017 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.