Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Discovering Printer Drift.

Discovering Printer Drift

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 10, 2015)

When you print a document, you may be surprised to find out that the placement of some text or graphic on the screen isn't exactly where you want it. For instance, you might have a one-inch left margin and you discover that on the printed page the margin isn't precisely at one inch from the edge of the paper.

Before assuming that Word has gone haywire, you'll want to determine if the problem has to do with your printer or not. Printers are mechanical beasts, and as they grab paper and move it through the printer, the paper can "drift" to the left or right (or up or down) relative to the mechanism that places the actual output on the paper. This can cause your margins to appear incorrect or the placement of other items incorrect.

To check out how much drift there is in your printer, try these general steps:

  1. Open a new, blank document.
  2. Use the graphics tools in Word to draw a vertical line down the middle of the page. Make sure the line is as thin as you can get it and that it is exactly in the middle of the page. For instance, if you are using regular letter-size paper, format the line so it is 4.25 inches from the left edge of the paper. Also, make sure that the line extends all the way from the top edge of the paper to the bottom edge (the line should be 11 inches long).
  3. Use the graphics tools to draw a horizontal line across the middle of the page. Make sure the line is as thin as you can get it and that it is exactly in the middle of the page. For instance, if you are using regular letter-size paper, format the line so it is 5.5 inches from the top edge of the paper. Also, make sure that the line extends all the way from the left edge of the paper to the right edge (the line should be 8.5 inches wide).
  4. At the top of the page type the words "Top Left." These words allow you to identify the orientation of the printed page.
  5. Print a few copies of your document.
  6. Now, precisely fold each piece of paper in half both vertically and horizontally. Don't fold on the printed lines; make sure you fold the paper in half based on the edges of the paper.
  7. Unfold the paper and compare the printed lines to the folds. If your printer is very, very good, the lines should be right on the folds. Chances are, however, that the lines won't be on the folds; they will be some distance from the folds. You can measure the distances and this gives you an idea of how much drift there is in your printer. These measurements can then be used to adjust margins and placement of items so that what you get on the printout is closer to what you expect.

You should note that every printer is different, and therefore every printer will have different amounts of drift. The above steps will tell you the drift in the single printer on which you perform the steps; it won't necessarily tell you the drift in a different printer, even if the other printer is the same model.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13354) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Discovering Printer Drift.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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