Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Better handouts, fewer dead trees

One practice that wastes a lot of paper yet doesn’t yield any benefit is printing Powerpoint presentations one slide to a sheet of paper.

One real downside is that it creates quite a stack of paper. Who needs to carry around 36 sheets of paper when you could get away with six. Another problem other than the simple mass of the extra paper is the hassle of leafing through all those pages to review the presentation.

When you go to print a Powerpoint file, there’s a “Print what” menu. The default is “Slides” meaning print one slide to a page. If you pull down the menu, you’ll see a choice for Handouts. When you select that just to the right is a choice for 2, 3, 4, 6 or 9 slides per page. 2, 4, 6 and 9 fill the page with reduced size versions of the slide. 3 only fills half the page with slides, and fills the other side with lines for writing notes.

A common response is: How am I going to read slides that are reduced that much in size?

There are two things that compensate for this reduction. One is that the type size for a Powerpoint presentation is typically in the 32 point and up range. The type you normally read on a page is 10 or 12 point so although six slides to a page is reduced from the size that you need for the whole audience to read, the type on the printed page is pretty much what you’re used to. Legibility studies show that readibility on a printed page is much better at 10 to 12 points than at larger sizes.

The second control is that the printer has much higher resolution than the projector you use to watch the presentation in class. The projector is probably 1024 x 768 pixels (There is some variation, but that’s been the standard for about 8 years). At the average laser printer’s resolution of 600 dots per inch, thats only about 2 x 1 1/4 inches, so the 3 x 2 1/4 reproduction you’re seeing on a six-to-the-page handout is actually more detail than you see in class.

Another thing you can do to make a better handout and be more sustainable is the Color/greyscale menu just below the Print what menu. (Output on a Mac) The default is Color which is pretty obviously reproducing exactly what you see on the screen, although you’re probably printing on a black and white laser printer, so what you get is a grey scale interpretation of the color image. Unless the presenter was pretty careful in keeping the contrast up, that could make a difficult to read print.

The second choice under Color/greyscale is Greyscale, kind of a confusing choice for the menu item, but what it does is drop out any background color of the slide to just white paper, changes the color of any text created in Powerpoint to black, and reproduces any graphic or photo to a grey scale rendering. So basically you get high contrast, easy to read text, and exactly the same information for any illustrative materials, and you save a lot of toner and wear and tear on the printer.