Use advanced print features in TextEdit

In some ways TextEdit is a nice little word processor that can be used to create documents on your Apple Mac, but in other ways it can be very frustrating and basic features are missing. In this article I will look at one useful feature that you may not have spotted and then look at a feature that is missing and see how to get around the problem.

Print in reverse

If you regularly print long documents you will have noticed that there is an associated irritation. After printing it, all the pages end up in the printer tray in reverse order and you have to manually sort them into the right order. This is OK if it is a two or three page document, but if you regularly print 30-page documents then it becomes irritating.

The problem is that TextEdit prints page one and it lands in the printer output tray. Page two is printed and lands on top of it, then page three and so on. The first page ends up at the bottom and the last page is on top.

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Wouldn’t it be better if TextEdit printed the last page first, then the second to last page lands on top of it, then the third to last on top of that. Finally, the first page ends up on top of them all. You can simply lift the stack of paper out of the printer output tray and the document is in the right order.

This feature is an option that is built in to TextEdit, although you may have missed it because it is buried within the advanced settings.

Start TextEdit on your Mac from the Applications folder and open a previously created document on the disk drive or iCloud. It must be a long one with several pages or you will not see all the features.

Select File, Print and click the Show Details button at the bottom. The print window expands and shows settings on the right. Click the pop-up menu half way down that says TextEdit and select Paper Handling. The print window changes again and more options are displayed.

Click Page Order and select Reverse. In a five page document it will print page 5, 4, 3, 2 and then 1 so it comes out in the right order. These options are well hidden and hard to find, but they are there, you just have to know which buttons to click to get them.

Reverse printing in TextEdit on the Mac

Set the margins

Now we come to a feature TextEdit should have, but is missing. Where are the options to set the margins? You cannot set the left, right top or bottom margins for a document. There is a margin, which can be seen when a document is printed, but there doesn’t appear to be a way to change it. How do you make it larger or smaller?

It is really odd not having this basic feature and the only way to get around the problem is to save the document as an RTF file and then edit the code. It isn’t that difficult if you know what you are doing, but you shouldn’t have to go to these lengths for such a basic formatting feature. Sort this out Apple!

If the document is not currently in RTF format, go to the File menu, hold down the Option key and select Save As... In the File Format pop-up menu, select Rich Text Document and the file extension is changed to .rtf. Close the document afterwards.

TextEdit preferences display RTF files as code

Go to the TextEdit menu and select Preferences. Click the Open and Save tab and tick Display RTF files as RTF code instead of formatted text. Close Preferences.

Open the .rtf file you saved and it looks something like this:

Set margins in TextEdit

Codes in the text are used to indicate formatting such as bold, italic, font and sizes, and so on. The document above has two margins set - margl1440 and margr1440. The \ is used to separate items, margl is margin-left and margr is margin-right. (Some .rtf files have a lot of code, so search for margl and margr to fnd them.)

The 1440 is a strange figure, but all you need to know is that 1440 is one inch. The units of measurement is actually called a Twip and there are 1440 Twips per inch. So if you want to have half inch margins at the left and right you would edit margl and margr values and set them to 720. If you wanted a 1.5in left margin then set marginl2160 (1440+720). With a little bit of metal arithmetic (use use of the Calculator app), you can set any margin width you want.

Remember that a printer might have a physical printing limit and some models cannot print right to the edge of the paper, so don’t set the margin to zero or less than the printer is capable of printing. Check the printer specifications or manual for the minimum margins.

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I have seen .rtf documents without any margin codes at all and presumably in this case the defaults are used. If you cannot find margl and margr near the top of the document you will need to add them. Look for the line with paperw and paperh, this is the paper width and height. Immediately after them, as in the screen shot above, insert \margl1440\margr1440\ or whatever margin widths you want.

In addition to setting the left and right margins, you can also set the the top and bottom margins. Look for margt and margb. If they aren’t there, insert them after margl and margr. You will end up with a line that looks something like this:


Those are half inch margins all round. Save the ,rtf file after editing it and close it. Return to TextEdit Preferences and clear the tick against Display RTF files as RTF code instead of formatted text. Now you can load the .rtf document as normal and print it.

It is a shame that such a basic feature as margins is missing from TextEdit and it is pain to manually edit, but it can be done.



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