Is there any easy way of printing out Chemguide?

I get occasional e-mails from students asking whether there is a PDF version of Chemguide available so that they can print it out, because they find it easier to work from paper than from a screen.

The short answer to this is "no!"

The only file versions of Chemguide pages (or Chemguideforcie if you are a CIE student) are written in HTML, the language which browsers use to display text and diagrams on the screen.

Even if you had these files, they would be no use to you. You could follow the text with some difficulty, but the diagrams aren't embedded in the page - instead they are retrieved from the server when the page is loaded.

Is there any way around this?

Printing browser pages

In principle, you could just print the pages individually from your browser, but if you tried to do this, you would end up with a huge pile of paper!

At the time of writing (March 2015), Chemguide has about 900 pages, including the menus. If you are working from the Chemguideforcie site, that has about 450 pages as well.

Some web pages could easily take up to 10 sheets of A4 to print out and, apart from the menus, most pages will take at least 2 or 3 sheets to print. This fairly short page would take 3 sheets of A4 to print as it stands. You would end up with a completely unmanageable heap of paper!

You also lose the advantage of being able to jump quickly from one page to another following links to clarify things you don't understand. Because Chemguide is designed exclusively for the web, there isn't an index and there aren't any page numbers. I can't see how you can possibly organise this great pile of paper in any way that would make it useable.

You could, of course, just print out the pages you want rather than the whole site, but you would still produce a mass of paper which you would have to index in some way to find what you wanted later on.

Printing just what you want

One of the reasons that Chemguide web pages take up so much room when they are printed is the font size. It may be possible to change the font size on your browser before you print it, but different browsers handle this differently, and you can't be sure that a change to the screen font size will make any difference to what is actually printed.

There is a way around this, but it is fairly tedious. If you decide to do this, I suggest that you only use it for things that you find really difficult .

Select the bits of a page that you want to print, copy them, and paste the result into whatever word processor you use (Word or OpenOffice or whatever). You can then select the text and change the font so that you can fit much more on each page.

There are problems though . . .

  • The formatting (paragraphs and so on) will almost certainly be wrecked, and you will have to put this right.

  • It is unlikely to copy any graphics (which includes equations as well as more obvious diagrams). You will have to copy these separately. You will need to click on the diagram to get a contextual menu - right-click with Windows or control-click with a Mac. Then use the "copy image" command.

    Then paste it into the correct place in the document. You will almost certainly then have to make the text flow around it properly.

  • It won't work for tables of information - it will probably just run all the information together.

This isn't for the faint-hearted, but you will probably find it gets faster with practice!

Why not just abandon the idea?

Personally, if I have got something I want to read and concentrate on, I wouldn't do it on my 21.5" iMac. I tend to choose to do it on an iPad, which is really no different from reading an e-book. Any other tablet with a big enough screen would do instead.

If you enlarge a Chemguide page a bit so that the text just fills the screen held in landscape mode, it is perfectly readable without distraction, and there is enough of the page on the screen so that you can follow arguments easily without constantly having to move the page up or down.

If you don't have a tablet, then I think you are probably stuck with your desktop or laptop.

My web stats show that quite a lot of visitors to Chemguide use an iPhone (or other smartphone). Unless you just want an odd bit of information, I don't see how you can successfully follow an argument given the very few lines available on these tiny screens. It just makes the task unnecessarily difficult.

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© Jim Clark 2015