How to customize print margins in any OS X program

PrinterIconXWhen you use various word processing programs and other document handling tools, you will likely have options right at your fingertips for setting the page margins. These among other document layout settings can be used to customize where your content will be displayed and ultimately printed. However, you may find yourself using programs like Preview where even though printing is supported, there are no readily available tools for setting with width and height of print jobs.

Despite this, and with only a few exceptions, you should still be able to set custom margins for any program on your Mac that allows you to print. This is because they will likely use OS X’s built-in printing system for handling the document, and this in turn supports the option to set your document’s margins. This setting can generally be found in one of two places:

Page Setup

First go to the program’s File menu, where if available, you will see a “Page Setup” option. This will give you access to the settings for the size of document your current work is on. In here you can select your printer as the device you are formatting for, along with the document size you are using. To set a custom size, simply create a new custom document profile:

  1. Choose “Manage Custom Sizes” from the Paper Size menu.
  2. Click the plus button to add a new profile.
  3. Set its size at the top, followed by a User Defined non-printable area.
  4. Enter your desired margins.
  5. Save the profile, and then use it for your document.

This approach can be used for setting the print area to custom locations, such as the top-left of a standard 8.5×11 page by setting the right and bottom margins to values such as 4.25 and 5.5, respectively. Similar can be done for moving and sizing the print area to any other location on the page.

Page Setup in OS X

The Page Setup tool in OS X gives you the ability to use custom margin setups in most programs that support printing.

Note that the values here may not be exact, especially if your printer does not appear in the “Formatted For” menu. Selecting your printer here should compensate for innate non-printable areas for the selected printer, so without this you may need to print a few test pages and then adjust your custom margins accordingly.

The Print window

Some programs may have been coded to not include the Page Setup option in the File menu; however, you should still be able to access the settings for these in the Print dialogue box. When you print, the panel that appears should have a Paper Size option, usually with a menu by it that contains your various page layout options. This menu should have the same “Manage Custom Sizes” options as the Page Setup, allowing you to create and duplicate profiles, and then set margins accordingly.

2 thoughts on “How to customize print margins in any OS X program

  1. Matt Strange

    Topher, did you test this? My experience is that Cocoa apps fail to honor the margin settings, while Carbon apps work as expected.
    I reported as a bug to Apple back in 10.6 or so. When I saw your article, I thought maybe they’d fixed it for Yosemite, but I just tried it in Safari and Mail, and it still fails. But I see that it does work in Notes and Preview, so maybe they’re getting around to it slowly.
    You may need to create a ‘radical’ setup to really see it fail. Try creating a page setup with a 1″ wide left margin, e.g. for printing to insert in a ring binder. “Good old apps” like BBEdit work great, but newer ones don’t always. I’ve never seen a Carbon app where it doesn’t work, but those are getting pretty scarce.

    FWIW, when I originally reported it to Apple, they replied that it is up to the application developer to properly handle the custom margins, totally ignoring the fact that, at that point in time, it failed in every Cocoa-based app they themselves produced, but worked in every Carbon-based app.

  2. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    In my experience, Apple is much better at ignoring problems than they are at solving them. Perhaps that’s because, as in your case, whoever responded to your report didn’t know what he was talking about. Competence is apparently no longer a job requirement at Apple.


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