What Does “Print to File” Mean in Windows 11/10?

Published by Nyau Wai Hoe - Updated on

One of the many features that users of the Windows operating system might come across but not fully understand is the “Print to File” function. This option, often found in the printer dialogue box, may seem puzzling. If you’ve ever wondered about this function, how to use it, or why it’s even there, this article is for you. We’ll explore what “Print to File” is and how to use it effectively in Windows 11 and Windows 10.

Also see: How to Check Print History in Windows 11

What does Print to File mean

What is “Print to file”?

When you create a document in a program, such as Microsoft Word, Adobe Reader, or even web browsers like Google Chrome, and you choose to print it, a print dialogue box materializes. This box contains a list of available printers and a range of settings for your print job. An option within this list labeled “Print to File” might catch your attention.

This feature, contrary to its name, does not result in the physical printing of your document. Instead, it generates a .prn file (print file). This file essentially captures the entire dataset required to print the document just as you’ve designed it, including the precise layout, fonts, images, and more.

Print to File Windows 11 or 10

Why might this be useful? Consider a scenario where you’re working on a computer that does not have the necessary printer available. “Print to File” allows you to create a .prn file that can be transferred to another computer that has the appropriate printer. You can then print your document from that machine, maintaining all its original formatting and features.

Useful tipHow to AirPrint From iOS to Windows 11/10 Shared Printer

How to use “Print to file” in Windows 11 or 10

Using the “Print to File” function in Windows 10 and 11 is a straightforward process, though it can be slightly different based on the application you’re working with. Here are the general steps:

  1. Click “File” in the menu of the application you’re using (this might be Notepad, Microsoft Word, Google Chrome, Adobe Reader, etc.)
  2. From the dropdown list, select “Print”. This action will prompt the print dialogue box to appear.Notepad File Print
  3. Within the print dialogue box, you’ll find an option for “Print to File”. Select this option.Print to File
  4. Upon selecting “Print” again, the system will ask you to designate a location to save your newly created .prn file.
  5. Choose your desired location and save the .prn file.How to create .PRN file from Print

Keep in mind that the above steps might vary slightly depending on the application you’re using. For instance, in some applications, you might need to click “File” -> “Print Setup” or “File” -> “Page Setup” before you see the “Print to File” option.

Recommended guide: How to Clean Print Head in Windows 11

How to open or print a .prn file

A .prn file isn’t meant to be opened and viewed like a standard document file. Instead, it’s used for printing purposes. To print a .prn file on a Windows computer, follow these steps:

  1. Transfer the .prn file to the computer that has a connection to the appropriate printer.
  2. Open the Command Prompt. This can be done by clicking the “Start” button, typing “cmd” into the search bar, and pressing Enter.Command Prompt Run as Administrator
  3. In the Command Prompt, you need to change the CMD’s directory to the location of your .prn file. You can do this using the cd command. For example, if your file resides on your C: drive, you would type the following and hit Enter.
    cd C:\

    Changing CMD directory to C drive

  4. Once you’re in the correct directory, use the following command to print the .prn file:
    copy /b filename.prn \\computername\printername

    How to open a .prn file
    Replace “filename.prn” with the name of your .prn file. Replace “computername” with the name of the computer where the printer is connected, and replace “printername” with the name of the printer.
    Alternatively, you can specify the local printer port instead of the network path:

    copy /b filename.prn LPT1:

    How to print .prn file

  5. Press Enter to execute the command. The .prn file will be sent to the printer, and it should start printing.

Note: Make sure the printer is turned on, connected to the computer, and properly installed with the necessary drivers. Also, ensure that you have the appropriate permissions to access the printer.

Remember to adjust the commands according to your specific file name, printer, and setup.

This process allows you to leverage the .prn file to print your document on another system with the correct printer. However, remember that the same printer driver must be installed on both computers, as a .prn file generated for one printer type might not be compatible with a different printer.

Related resource: Using a PowerShell Script to Add a Printer Driver by IP

Why might a .prn file not print correctly?

Problems with printing a .prn file can often be traced back to the role of the printer driver in the “Print to File” process. A common question that arises when discussing the feature and .prn files is whether the printer driver plays a role in the process. The answer is a definitive yes.

When you opt to “Print to File”, the resultant .prn file is formatted explicitly for the printer selected during the creation of the file. This is because the .prn file contains comprehensive data about the document, inclusive of particular printing instructions such as details about layout, color settings, paper size, and more.

The translation and execution of these instructions rest on the printer driver, the software that forms the communication bridge between your computer and the printer. Given that different printer models have varying capabilities and features, their corresponding drivers interpret and handle the printing instructions differently.

Printer Drivers Windows 11

Consequently, if you generate a .prn file using one printer driver and then attempt to print that .prn file on a different printer with another driver, the document may not print correctly. This discrepancy occurs because the second printer may fail to understand certain instructions in the .prn file, or it might interpret them differently. This miscommunication could lead to formatting changes, color reproduction issues, and in some instances, the document may not print at all.

Therefore, when using the “Print to File” function with the intention of printing the document on a different computer, it’s crucial to have the same printer driver installed on both systems.

How to print .prn file on different printer?

If aligning printer drivers on different systems is not feasible, an alternative solution can be adopted. Using a universal printer driver or a universally recognized file format like PDF (Print to PDF instead) can help maintain consistent formatting across different devices and printers, bypassing the need for matching printer drivers. These options are designed to be versatile and can provide consistent results, regardless of the printer model or brand.

Final thoughts

The “Print to File” function is a convenient, albeit somewhat antiquated, feature that can be useful in specific circumstances. While not often used due to the rise of cloud-based printing and email, it can be a handy tool to have in your tech arsenal when faced with certain printing challenges. As Windows continues to evolve with new versions like Windows 11 and 10, this feature may eventually be phased out.

The primary benefit of using “Print to File” is the flexibility it offers for printing documents from any computer to any printer, regardless of their physical locations. For instance, you might generate a .prn file at home, take it to the office, and print it from a computer that’s connected to the office printer. This function also lets you ensure that the formatting of a document remains intact when moving it from one computer to another for printing.

Nyau Wai Hoe
Nyau Wai Hoe is the Founder and Chief Editor of WindowsDigitals.com. With a degree in software engineering and over 12 years of experience in the tech support industry, Nyau has established himself as an expert in the field, with a primary focus on the Microsoft Windows operating system. As a tech enthusiast, he loves exploring new technologies and leveraging them to solve real-life problems.

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