The Print to file option is a holdover from earlier days of computing. It doesn't work easily on more common USB printers, and you can accomplish many of the same goals by creating a PDF or an XPS document. To learn more about XPS documents, see XPS documents: frequently asked questions and Print to the Microsoft XPS Document Writer.

If you use the Print to file option, Windows saves the formatting and layout information of your file so a printer can reproduce the document without the program or computer that created it. There are several reasons to do this:

  • You don't have a printer handy but want to archive a document and print it later.

  • You want to send a document or photo to a commercial printer.

  • You want to send a document to someone who has the same printer, but doesn't have the program you used to create the document.

However, Print to file has several limitations. It's a relic from the days of DOS, and it's primarily designed for parallel printers. It doesn't work easily on newer USB printers. Also, the computer used to print the saved file must have the same printer driver installed as the computer used to create the file.

Creating a printer file

Not all programs support the Print to file option. In most programs, the Print to file option is a check box on the Print dialog box. In Windows, the default file extension when you print to file is .prn.

Picture of the Print dialog box in WordPad
The Print to file check box is typically found on the Print dialog box.

If prompted, choose a file name and a location to save the file. (If you don't get this prompt, the file is typically saved in your Documents folder.)

Printing a printer file

You'll need to be comfortable working with a command prompt if you choose the Print to file option.

To print a file

  1. Open the Command Prompt window by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button. In the search box, type Command Prompt, and then, in the list of results, click Command Prompt.

  2. At the command prompt, type in the following command, where filename is the file you want to print, and LPT is the name of the appropriate LPT port (this is typically "LPT1:"):

    • copy filenameLPT1:

Note

  • Before you print the new file or send it to be printed, make sure that the fonts used in the file are installed on the computer connected to the printer you want to use. If the same fonts are not installed, the printer will replace your fonts with different (but usually similar) fonts.