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Most documents are A4 size these days. There’s not much choice because that’s the size all our paper comes in and it’s also what our printers use. So why do so many people who really should know better use Letter size!!?

Letter size is the standard paper size in America. Microsoft is an American corporation and when Microsoft Office is installed the default settings are English(US) not English (UK) and that means Letter not A4, amongst other things. This is a real pain. Here’s why.

First let’s look at the difference

This is where the text ends on one page and starts page two in Letter size.
The text is wider and the last line further up the page. Footers, whilst apparently
the same in this illustration tend to print further up the page than is desirable too.
This is because the printer thinks that the paper is 2cm shorter than it actually
is so finishes higher up.

This is what the page break looks like in A4 – and would be similar in print.

Letter paper is about 1cm wider and 2cm deeper than A4. That may not sound much and it’s not something you’d easily spot from the above illustrations. In fact, for a single page without much text on it you may not notice any difference between a print with correct A4 settings and one with Letter settings. The problems start when you use footers or when your contents spill over onto more than a single page or the margins are either tight or important to get right.

A big problem can ensue if letter size documents are printed on advanced printers that detect what they consider to be the wrong paper size and refuse to continue – just flashing ‘Load Letter’. Often found in classrooms, a print queue rapidly forms and disaster strikes as it may not be obvious where the offending item originated.

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page updated by Andrew Hill, Dunstable College 24 July, 2006