Taming the Horrors of Printers and Printing, Part 3

by Marcel Gagné

Hello everyone, and welcome to another week of printing magic and demystification right here at the Sysadmin's Corner.

Before I go into this week's tips, tricks, and all around "this is how you do it" stuff, I want to tell you about something wonderful that happened to me yesterday. No, something else. It had to do with color. Some time ago, I bought a nice, shiny new HP DeskJet 710C color printer. Of course, I broke the first rule, "Thou shalt check the hardware compatibility list". As it turns out, this printer is one of the so-called "Winprinters", an evil invention for Windows-only systems. Sort of like a winmodem, only this is a printer.

Anyhow, my DeskJet 710C uses what HP calls PPA or Printing Performance Architecture. This is a closed protocol and HP had the right to decide to do this, but it made for some tough choices on my part. We did have one (and still do) Windows 95 PC in the office and it could use the printer. The color was beautiful and at least one of us could use it. Turning to the 'net, I found that there was a printer driver/filter in the early stages of development (it could print in black and white). So, armed with wild optimism and the belief in the stalwart band of Linux developers out there, I decided to keep the printer.

Time passes ... Tim Norman (the name on the httptech web page) and the Linux PPA development team (6 developers are listed on the sourceforge site) work their magic, and finally, we have a color driver for the HP 710, 720, 820, and 1000 series of color printers. They do warn that the code is in the test stages (read unstable), but after trying it, I think they've done a great job of finally letting my Linux systems take advantage of what is otherwise a great printer. The latest source and development information can be found at the sourceforge.net web site.


The original home page is at http://www.httptech.com/ppa/.

Before I repeat the big warning, I should also let you know you can download Red Hat and Mandrake RPMs and filters from the sourceforge site. You can also get the current source for pnm2ppa (which is what the driver is actually called) and pick up the latest documentation. Now, the warning once again ... while I am very happy with this release and it seems to work beautifully for me, the code is alpha and should be treated as such.

One last thing on the PPA filter: they are planning support for ghostscript, but that is sometime out there in the future. Speaking of ghostscript (can you say "segueway"?): last week, I talked about creating a ghostscript filter so that programs which generate postscript can be used with non-postscript printers. In Linux or UNIX land, that accounts for a lot of programs. Anyhow, here's a quick reminder of my ghostscript output filter to convert postscript to my LaserJet 5L printer. I've saved this file as /usr/local/bin/psfilter and made it executable with chmod 755 /usr/local/bin/psfilter.

   # This is a ghostscript filter so that our HP LJ5 will print postscript files
   echo -ne \\033&k2G
   gs -q -dNOPAUSE -sDEVICE=ljet4 -r300 -sPAPERSIZE=letter  -sOutputFile=- - 

Now, I also have a definition for the printer which uses that output filter.


Now that we can print postscript to our HP LaserJet (or Epson for that matter), we can do some pretty cool postscript things. Here is just one of them.

Say you've got a two-page document (a program listing, or a collection of bad but funny one-liners) and you really only want the thing to take up one page (the jokes are not that good). This is where the mpage command comes into play. We are now going to print this document so that two pages fit on one. The output will be rotated, so this will actually come out as portrait orientation.

   mpage -2 funnyjokes.txt | lpr -Ppshpljet

My two pages appear on one page, with a nice thin line around both pages. Let's make this just a little fancier, shall we? Check out the next command, and see what kind of output it generates.

   mpage -2 -B-5r-5l-3t-3b3 -M50l50r50t50b -H wright.txt | lpr -Plptest

What does this all mean? The -2, by the way, could be a -4 to fit 4 logical pages per physical page. Just so we are clear on my hastily chosen terminology, I am using the terms "logical" and "physical" to differentiate the printer output from the physical, "hold it in your hand" page. You can even do a -8 but that might be getting a tad silly. The -B-5r-5l-3t-3b3 means a bold line (3 pt) should be drawn around the box. That's actually the last 3 at the end of that line. The -5r- 5l-3t-3b means I want a three-line margin at the top and bottom and a five-character margin to the left and right. The -M line uses a similar format. Give me a 50-pt margin all around my virtual page. Remember, we have two logical pages on one physical page in this example. Finally, the -H means I want a header on each page. The header has the date on the right, the filename in the center, and a page number on the right.

So, where would you use this? One place that comes immediately to mind (after the one-liners, that is) is source code for your programs. This is a great way to generate compact program listings without having to import them into a word processor. I should point out that there is a non-postscript way of creating simple numbered pages. All you have to do is use the pr command. Try this with a text-only printer definition:

   pr +2 -h "Secret Kernel Enhancements" -o 5 ftl_travel.c | lpr -Ptextonly                              

pr is a command designed to format text for printing. The line above says to take the file ftl_travel.c, start printing at page 2 (that's the +2), add a left-hand indent of 5 spaces (the -o 5), and print the header "Secret Kernel Enhancements" on each page (the -h followed by a string). If you do not specify a different header name, you'll get the file name itself, in this case ftl_travel.c. Oh, yes; it will actually start numbering the pages at 2.

Before we go, I'd like to talk about StarOffice. A number of people wrote and asked if I would add a little something to help them with StarOffice printing. Well, who am I to say no?

There are a couple of ways to get into the StarOffice printer dialog. If you have KDE installed, StarOffice popped up a nice little set of icons in the "Personal" section of your K menus. Those are Setup, SPAdmin and StarOffice. For printer configuration, click on the SPAdmin menu item. You can also choose printer configuration from your StarOffice menu when you start the package.

Notice that when the printer dialog appears, you've probably got something that says Generic Printer on queue default_queue (lpr). Below is a list of printers you can add--all of them postscript. My printer won't show up in that list, since I have a LaserJet 5L. I do, however, have a queue defined to print postscript to my LaserJet (pshpljet). So, I highlight the "Generic Printer" and click on the "Connect" button to the right. This brings up another window with a list of "Existing queues", one of which is my generic_queue (lpr) and the other says fax_queue=(FAX). We won't talk about faxing today, but I will tell you what you need to get that printer working. Click on the default_queue and change it to read something like this:

   my_printer_queue=lpr -Pmy_ptrname

In my case, it actually looks like this:


Now, click on the Test button (you'll be told that this will save your configuration). You should get a nice printout with a spiral pattern that seems to say, "You are getting sleepy...". At that point, you can specify this as your default printer and click Close. As I mentioned earlier, it is also possible to run this dialog from StarOffice itself, but for the really brave among you, there is yet another way. That is to edit the .Xpdefaults file in your home directory. The file is fairly interesting to look through, but in particular, look for the [ports] section of the file. In mine, there was a single entry for the default queue that looked like this:


If you have only one printer that you intend to use StarOffice with, you could simply change this line in the same way I did.

   default_queue=lpr -Ppshpljet

Of course, you would substitute your own queue name here. Now, all you need to do is restart StarOffice.

There you have it. When next we meet, I want to have one last look at filters: Red Hat filters, magic filters, apsfilters, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Filters, filters everywhere, and no paper left to print. Until then, "Print lightly and carry a big toner cartridge."

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