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Overlays and Background Images in Print Wizard

A powerful and useful feature of Print Wizard is its ability to print forms as overlays. An overlay is any printing that is placed on every page of output, in combination with the text (or other content) that is coming from the main file.

The term “overlay” is actually a misnomer. It should be “underlay”, because it is generally drawn first on the page, with the variable text over it.

When overlays are printed as part of the output, it creates a way to print on plain paper what would otherwise require a preprinted form. This can be a significant cost savings. The classic illustration of an overlay is in printing invoices. You have a file of text that in the past has been printed on preprinted invoice forms. If you can create an electronic image of that invoice form (as described below), Print Wizard can print the invoice form plus the text on each page. Another example would be a watermark; that is, an image or large text that prints lightly in the background of each page.

Historically, an overlay has consisted of one image, which was printed on every page of output. However, Print Wizard also supports multi-page overlays, or a sequence of one-page overlay files, in which the overlay images are cycled as text is printed.

Note also that Print Wizard can apply overlays to non-printed output, namely faxes and PDFs.

Finally, an overlay is always considered to be a full-page image. By default, it is stretched so that the edges of the overlay are at the edges of the page. However, it is possible to adjust the placement of the overlay on the page (and then adjust the placement of the text on the overlay).

 An OVERLAY is always contained in a separate file. This file, like the main print file, can be on a local disk, a network drive, or an HTTP, HTTPS, or FTP server. There are many ways to tell Print Wizard that a particular overlay file should be used: a) externally, such as in the command line for PRINTWIZ.EXE; b) in a print-initialization file; c) in the PWML header of the main print file; or d) via a print profile.

A special case of overlays is the PREVIEWOVERLAY. This is an overlay that is shown only in the Print Preview window. It is not actually printed. This can be useful as an image of the preprinted form (or label stock) that the data will be printed on. You can use the adjustment capabilities of the Print Preview window to make the data line up correctly on the overlay.

The way that Print Wizard handles an overlay file depends on its file extension. Make sure that the file extension accurately indicates the type of file.

Following are descriptions of the various kinds of overlays Print Wizard can support.

Bitmap Overlays

A bitmap overlay is simply a file that contains a picture that you want in the background. Some notes:

  • Works on any non-generic printer
  • Supports BMP, GIF, TIF, JPG, JPEG, PNG
  • Image is stretched to the full size of the paper, including covering unprintable areas. If you are prescanning a form, scan it edge-to-edge so it will print at the same size.
  • TIF overlays can be one page or multiple pages. Other bitmaps can be only one page.

Scanned Overlays

In this case, you scan something to use as an overlay at the start of the print job. You specify this by using the reserved filename “SCAN://”. Some notes:

  • Works on any non-generic printer, fax, PDF.
  • Supports any TWAIN-compliant scanner
  • Image is stretched to the full size of the paper, including covering unprintable areas. Scan it edge-to-edge so it will print at the same size.
  • For best results, scan at the same dot density as the printer.
  • Can be multiple pages.

EMF and WMF Overlays

Any EMF (Enhanced Meta File) or WMF (Windows Meta File) can be used as an overlay. These files can be created by many graphics programs, notably Microsoft Publisher.

  • Works on any non-generic printer, fax, PDF.
  • Image is stretched to the full size of the paper, including covering unprintable areas.
  • File extension “EMF” or “WMF”.
  • One-page overlay only.

SPL Overlays

An SPL (spool) file is even more enhanced than an Enhanced Meta File (EMF), because it can contain multiple pages. SPL files are created by capturing print output from other programs, as described elsewhere. Notes:

  • Works on any non-generic printer, fax, PDF.
  • Image is stretched to the full size of the paper, including covering unprintable areas.
  • File extension “SPL”.
  • Can be multi-page. Pages are cycled as data is printed.

PCL Overlays

As previously described, a PCL file can be used as an overlay. Described elsewhere is how to create a PCL file using a Windows printer driver. Notes:

  • With TranslatePCL on (now the default), works on any non-generic printer, fax, PDF.
  • With TranslatePCL off, requires a PCL-5 printer and driver. This is more efficient.
  • File extension “PCL”.
  • Can be multi-page. Pages are cycled as data is printed.

PWML Overlays

You can use a file containing PWML markup as an overlay. This would be appropriate if you wanted to describe the overlay using PWML tabs, such as and


. The entire overlay file is processed first, and saved as one or more pages in memory (as EMFs). These are then added to the data from the main file. There is no interaction between the tags in the overlay and the tags in the main file. Notes:

  • Works on any non-generic printer, fax, PDF.
  • File extension “PWML”.
  • Can be multi-page. Pages are cycled as data is printed.

PDF Overlays

Print Wizard can read standard PDF files. These can be created with a wide variety of programs and printer drivers. Notes:

  • Works on any non-generic printer, fax, PDF.
  • File extension “PDF”.
  • Can be multi-page. Pages are cycled as data is printed.

Comparison of Methods

The primary tradeoffs between methods are file size, speed, and portability. A full-page bitmap is a large file, and it must be sent to the printer for each page of output. It is inherently inefficient.

A WMF, EMF, or SPL file can be small, depending on how it is produced. It must be sent to the printer for each page. Also, although these metafiles are designed to be portable between versions of Windows and types of printers, there could be problems. Fonts specified in a metafile might not be present on a different PC.

PCL files can be quite small and efficient. Later drivers (LaserJet 5 as compared to LaserJet 3, for instance), tend to be smaller. They are very portable.

PWML files are small, efficient, and extremely portable. However, they must be created by hand.

PDF files are small, efficient, and extremely portable.

More Tradeoffs

Here are some notes that may help you decide how best to approach overlays:

Speed is not necessarily determined by the printer

PCL files may include bitmaps, fonts, text, and other printer controls. They can be quite complex (a mixture of small bitmaps, fonts, bitmap fonts, vector drawing commands, and printer setup commands, or quite simple (just a series of bitmaps, including for the fonts). However, sometimes the simpler the file, the slower it is. The reason being that there are lots of printer and printer driver dependencies that come into play:

  • what printer driver and driver version created the PCL file
  • the efficiency of the raster engine in the printer
  • memory in the printer
  • the efficiency of the driver to generate the print job
  • the fonts used and whether the printer does font substitution for resident fonts
  • the available memory and swap space on the PC
  • the PC's CPU speed and how well the driver utilizes the processor
  • whether you are running a networked printer and whether the driver resides locally
  • and more...

PCL 5 versus PCL 6

It is important to note that a PCL 6 is not a later and better version than PCL 5. They are entirely different.  Print Wizard has only very limited support for PCL 6.

 

Last review and edit: July 8, 2014

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