Print Style Sheets and URLs

Post from June 14, 2011 (↻ June 9, 2021), filed under and  (feed).

This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved ebook: On Web Development.

Print style sheets are awesome. They’re easy to write, too. Site owners and developers who care about print typically know what to do. Alas there’s one thing that’s done rather the wrong than in any right way: printing URLs, typically via the content property.

A List Apart.

Figure: I’m ( so glad ( we’re talking about this (

Popular Mistakes


  1. Not obtaining any data on how many users actually print out documents and go to the length of memorizing or writing down URLs they saw on the print-out to then type those URLs into the next machine they find. (There may be neither users who do that nor data to prove it.)

  2. Displaying URLs in the wrong context, namely copy text (see the figure above). While one may maintain some optimism that URLs are actually accessed later, expanded in regular text they do but one thing—disrupt the reading flow.

In other words, don’t expand URLs in print because you can. Then, as always, exceptions prove the rule: Special forms of content like link lists, for example, can still benefit from expanding all URLs in print; important URLs may even want to be shown on screen. We just need to exercise caution.

Toot or tweet about this?

About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!

Comments (Closed)

  1. On June 14, 2011, 11:40 CEST, Leon said:

    Yes, it’s always a disappointment to find a site which consists of lots of articles neglecting print styles; as you say, it’s not difficult to implement.

    Still, if you do find such a site, I’ve found the readbility plugin useful. It has a print button and produces a nicely formatted document.

  2. On June 14, 2011, 16:57 CEST, a user who wishes that site used print style sheets said:

    if you wanted a project that unhappy users would probably kick in some money to pay for, the money management site (owned by Intuit) doesn’t have a print style sheet, an epic fail for a personal money management site where people will want to print out reports.

  3. On June 15, 2011, 17:27 CEST, Ben Buchanan said:

    At a previous job a coworker came up with a solution that created numbered footnotes with the URLs. It’s a nice balance between losing the data and making the text hard to read.

  4. On June 15, 2011, 17:32 CEST, Jens Oliver Meiert said:

    I’ve seen such solutions, some of them quite smart, but they’ve usually been a pain with quite a toll on the markup. Did your coworker happen to write about or publish the solution?