Tiled printing in OS X

A printer is a terribly useful thing for the vast bulk of the stuff you need to print most of the time — letters, school assignments, forms and the like.

But occasionally, you want (or need) to print something that exceeds the limitations of A4 paper — a poster or a banner — and it can be discouraging to see how much larger-format printing can cost from a bureau.

Hope is not lost, though, thanks to a process called tiled printing. What it essentially means is that the large thing you need to print is cut into smaller pieces (‘tiles’) that you print on A4 paper and then join together into a larger print.

The result might not be art-gallery quality, but it’s an inexpensive way to make a big colourful banner that reads “Happy retirement and good luck for the future, Bartholomew!” You could even add extra exclamation marks at the end. Luxury.

Back in the days of Classic Mac OS — before the X times — tiled printing was actually a standard feature of the Mac, provided your printer supported it (and most did).

Nowadays, it isn’t standard (though some applications like spreadsheets and CAD applications support it for their native file types). What’s most galling is that, while many printer manufacturers support tiled printing in their driver software for Windows, few (if any) support it in their Mac versions.

Why, oh why?

There are, however, two ways to get tiled printing of literally any file you want on literally any printer you might happen to own with your Mac. One is free but a little fiddly, the other is cheap and simple.

First, let’s try the free one.

Save as PDFAdobe Acrobat Reader supports tiled printing on the Mac, and it is completely free. Acrobat Pro does as well, but it is pretty much the exact opposite of free.

The limitation, of course, is that Acrobat Reader handles PDF files pretty much exclusively. So if you want to print a photo or a drawing you’ve created in some other application, you have to convert it to PDF first.

Thankfully, creating PDFs is standard for pretty much any OS X application that can print.

In most applications, this is a simple matter of selecting ‘File > Print’ and then selecting the PDF option at the bottom left corner of the Print dialog.

In other programs (for example Microsoft Word, Pixelmator or Apple’s Keynote), you’ll have to select ‘File > Export…’ and follow the prompts to save your file as a PDF.

One notable exception is Apple’s own Photos application, which doesn’t appear to have the facility to create PDFs at the current version. If you want to create a PDF of an image from Photos, try opening it in Preview (another Apple application) first.

Once you have a PDF version of your file, open it in Adobe Acrobat Reader and select ‘File > Print’.

ProfessionalAbout halfway down the Print dialog box, you’ll see a section called ‘Page Sizing & Handling’ and under that a button labelled ‘Poster’. Click on Poster and you’ll see options for creating a tiled print.

Acrobat will automatically determine the number of tiles necessary for the page you’re printing (though the display for this is a little confusing).

You can scale up or down and it will recalculate the number of tiles accordingly. You also have the option to decide whether the tiles should overlap (that is, the edges of each tile will have the same content as the edges of the neighbouring tiles) or whether you’ll risk leaving gaps when you attach the tiles together.

You can also have cut marks, which are useful both as guides for trimming the tiles and for helping align tiles.

Once you’ve chosen your options, simply click print and your tiles will start pouring out of your printer. Make sure you are well-stocked for ink.

Now, the cheap one.

SplitPrintConversion to PDF isn’t a particularly onerous task in OS X, but it’s a task.

And depending on the type of thing you’re trying to print, there may be differences in the PDF version that you would avoid if you printed the file in its native format.

If you want to avoid a step, print JPEGs or TIFFs or whatever directly, and are prepared to spend a few bucks, read on.

There are a number of apps on the App Store that offer the ability to produce over-sized prints, but the best balance of features and price is probably SplitPrint, by Dutch developer Ikka Virkunen.

At $9.99, it’s unlikely to blow too large a hole in your budget, but it does offer a great deal of sophistication.

(There are some ‘free’ apps on the App Store that claim to offer this functionality, but some of them print with watermarks if you don’t pay for the full version and others don’t print at all — they exist just so you can see the features you would get if you buy the full version.

SplitPrint deserves credit for being exactly what it says on the tin.

Doc settingsOnce you’ve installed it, open up the image you wish to print. Like Acrobat Reader, SplitPrint will attempt to determine automatically how many tiles are required for your image. Unlike Acrobat Reader, it will sometimes guess incorrectly and will even scale your image to fit its guess.

Thankfully, the application’s entire user interface is basically a Print Preview, so you can see what you’re going to get at a glance.

Make sure that the dimensions and resolution along the bottom of the window are what you want before you click Print, to avoid wasting paper.

If need be, select ‘View > Document Settings’ (or click the icon that looks like a light switch in the toolbar) to ensure that you’re printing at the magnification and resolution that you want.

Any changes you make are reflected in real time, so it’s easy to try a few things and see what effect each setting has.

When you’re happy with your settings, click the printer icon in the upper right corner and away you go.