printer delusion

Jeff Shannon jeff at
Thu Nov 4 01:35:01 CET 2004

Mario wrote:

>>"Larry Bates" <lbates at> wrote:
>>When you are new to something you may want to consider
>>going slow about criticism.  Quite often what you want
>>exists and you are unaware of it at the beginning.
>Hi, thanks for the answer, mine was not a real criticism, was more a
>delusion to see that a powerful thing such as Python needs external apps for
>making a serious printing task, instead of having a set of built in
>functions that handle it, no matter what os you are in [...]

The problem is that different OSes have greatly different ideas of what 
is involved in sending something to a printer.  It is not a simple task 
to print in a cross-platform way -- methods of finding/naming printers, 
determining printer capabilities, formatting data to send to the 
printer, etc., bear no relation to each other.  In situations like this, 
the Python team have a tradition of punting -- leaving it up to others 
to develop libraries for the needed functionality.  This is very much 
like the situation with GUI libraries.

As it turns out, nobody (AFAIK) has developed a real stand-alone printer 
library for Python.  In most cases, it's not that difficult to use one 
of the GUI toolkits that includes printer support, or deferring printing 
through the use of Reportlab and PDFs, or using an OS-specific system 
command for basic text printing (e.g. 'start notepad /p', or 'lpr', etc).

On the one hand, I can certainly see that there's a niche for just the 
sort of tool you're asking about -- something that'll do fairly simple 
styled-text printing in a cross-platform way.  On the other hand, I 
certainly don't have the time or skill to develop such a library, and 
I'm not even certain that it's reasonably possible.  I'm not sure that 
there *is* a way to do styled-text printing, on either Windows or Linux, 
without doing one of (a) working through the GUI subsystem, in which 
case you might as well install wxPython or equivalent instead of 
duplicating half of their code, or (b) using external tools to create 
device-independent data files which can then be printed by another 
external tool (i.e. PDFs or postscript), or (c) using printer-specific 
control sequences which would be a nightmare to make even remotely 

It wouldn't be too hard to write a library that would let you write 
plain, unstyled text to the current system's default printer... but 
then, the benefit of having such a library is pretty slight, so why 
bother?  It's also easy enough to do this as a part of the application, 
rather than in a library.

In short, while it *sounds* simple to say "just dump this stuff to the 
printer", the reality is that it's not a very simple thing to do at all, 
and difficult problems may have multiple best answers depending on the 
specific circumstances.

Jeff Shannon
Credit International

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