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Setting up your browser

This page is deliberately very plain! You can use it to check some key settings of your Web browser and to change them to suit your preferences and circumstances. Many people never change or customise their browser's settings (preferences). Browser manufacturers try to ensure that the default settings are reasonable for everyone but there are obviously difficulties in achieving this.

Browsers are usually highly customisable. This page covers a few of the most essential settings concerned with the actual appearance of Web pages (on screen and when printed). You are probably using Microsoft Internet Explorer, which is the default Web browser for Windows. Don't forget that there is a choice of Web browsers and that you can install more than one.

Please note that we no longer recommend the continued use of any version of Internet Explorer because of its poor security track record and because, despite the undoubted improvements in IE7, IE8 and IE9, it is still well behind other browsers in terms of features and facilities and support for modern Web sites.

1. Text font and size

This paragraph (and the heading and subheading above) is in your browser's default font (typeface) and default (base) text size. Web pages often try to override this size for their body text. The better-designed sites won't do this: where they need to show smaller text (e.g. for side notes) or larger text (e.g. for headings) they will specify these sizes as a percentage of your browser's base size. You may want to adjust your browser's base size so that the text on this page, in all fonts, appears at a size that is right for you (both on screen and in print). See below for how to do this. Clearly, some compromise is needed! It's better to err on the large side – if a Web page tries to force a small text size, that text may become unreadable for you. Don't worry about the units (they're usually "points") – just use trial and error.

Once you've set your browser's base font size, you may need to change it temporarily when viewing a particular Web site or when printing its pages. With Opera and Firefox, a quick way to adjust font size on screen is to change the magnification percentage (View Menu and select Zoom).

Some browsers, such as Opera and Firefox, allow you to specify a minimum font size (see below). This facility is invaluable because it overrides any attempt by Web page authors to set text in sizes too small to read on your screen. The units are usually "pixels" but, again, just use trial and error. Here is some extremely small text that you can use to adjust the setting:-

Extremely small text in your browser's default font, to be used to adjust minimum font size.

Extremely small text in the Verdana font (see below), to be used to adjust minimum font size.

Examples of common fonts

This paragraph should be in the Times New Roman font (provided your computer has that font installed). This paragraph is at your browser's default size. Most browsers have this font as their default font although it's not really suitable for screen use, appearing squashed and uneven in thickness. You might want to change your browser's default font to another serifed font, such as Georgia or Century (Century Schoolbook) (if your computer has them). Don't specify Verdana, which is a sans-serif font.

This paragraph should be in the Georgia font (provided your computer has that font installed). This paragraph is at your browser's default size.

This paragraph should be in the Century or Century Schoolbook font (provided your computer has that font installed). This paragraph is at your browser's default size.

This paragraph should be in the Verdana sans-serif font (provided your computer has that font installed). This paragraph is at your browser's default size. Although the nominal size is identical to that of the paragraphs above, it actually appears larger because of the font's characteristics. Verdana is the most widely used font on the Web.

Font changes in Internet Explorer

To change the default font, use the Tools Menu (or the View Menu for earlier IE versions) and select Internet Options. On the General tab, press the Fonts button. For the Web Page font (or Proportional font) select Georgia or Century (Schoolbook).

To change the base font size, use the View Menu and select Text Size (or Fonts). Unfortunately, this setting has no effect on the pages of some Web sites. If this is a recurring problem for you, your best bet is to install another browser (in addition to IE) such as Opera or Firefox.

Font changes in Opera

To change the default font and size, use the Tools Menu and select Preferences, then the Web pages tab. Select the Normal font button. Select Georgia or Century (Schoolbook) and a suitable size.

To specify a minimum font size, use the Tools Menu and select Preferences, then the Advanced tab. Select Fonts and set a suitable minimum font size.

Font changes in Firefox

To change the default font and size, use the Tools Menu and select Options, then the Content tab. Under Fonts & Colors press the Advanced button. Then choose a suitable size for the Proportional font. For the Serif font, select Georgia or Century (Schoolbook).

Firefox also allows you on this panel to specify a minimum font size (see above).

2. Backgrounds

This page doesn't set a background colour, so the background colour is your browser's default. Most Web pages do set the background but you might want to change the browser default to something that suits you. If you set it to something other than white or an off-white pastel shade, you may find that text (which is usually black) is harder to read.

3. Printing Web pages with backgrounds

Suppressing backgrounds ... and more besides

This panel has a red border and a pale red background (and red text) (it's a floated div).

Your browser may suppress the background on printing, making the page layout less clear. Try printing this page (or use Print Preview) to see what your browser does.

This panel has a red border and a pale red background (and red text) (it's a floated table).

Your browser may suppress the background on printing, making the page layout less clear. Try printing this page (or use Print Preview) to see what your browser does.

This panel has a red border and and the text is "reversed out", i.e. it's white on black (it's a floated paragraph). If the text is readable when printed, then your browser has changed it from white so that it's readable when the black background is suppressed.

Most browsers default to suppressing background colours (and background images) when printing – at least those for the page body. But the browser may also suppress other backgrounds on certain elements of the page (see panels). Often, this can adversely affect the look of the printed page and make it harder to read. If this happens, you can temporarily switch backgrounds on when printing.

The better-designed sites will suppress or adjust backgrounds for you when printing their pages. This is the best solution because it can be tailored for the site's design. However, very few sites do it. The present page specifies a white background when printed (effectively no background). This ensures a saving on expensive ink cartridges and much faster printing. But the page specifies that the panel's background and border should be printed, to preserve the page's design.

If you have backgrounds suppressed and a page doesn't look right when you print it, try switching backgrounds on and then try again (use Print Preview if your browser has this facility).

Printing backgrounds in Internet Explorer

Use the Tools Menu (or the View Menu for earlier IE versions) and select Internet Options. On the Advanced tab, check or uncheck the box under the "Printing" heading labelled "Print background colors and images".

Printing backgrounds in Opera

Use the File Menu and select Print Options. Toggle backgrounds on or off.

Printing backgrounds in Firefox

Use the File Menu and select Page Setup. On the Format & Options tab, check or uncheck the box labelled "Print Background".

4. Print margins

For printing Web documents, margins are usually set from the File Menu, in the browser's Page Setup (or Print Options) dialog box.

The settings must be big enough to encompass the printer's physical non-printing areas. Further, they must be big enough to encompass the header and footer that the browser is usually configured to print (see below).

The values you enter (in inches, cm or mm) are not an accurate reflection of the actual margins. The discrepancy varies between browsers, so set the values by trial and error. To help you, this page has a solid green border.

To reduce page-break problems (see Other page-printing problems below) be generous with the bottom margin in particular.

5. Print headers and footers

Browsers are normally set to print a header and footer on each page, typically showing the page title, page number, URL and date. Their font and size is usually based on the default font and size you have set for the Web page itself (see above) and can't be changed independently. If you don't want headers and footers printed at all, you can suppress them.

Print headers/footers in Internet Explorer

Use the File Menu and select Page Setup. To suppress headers and footers, delete the contents of the Header and Footer boxes. Type them in again to restore.

Print headers/footers in Opera

Use the File Menu and select Print Options. Toggle headers/footers on or off.

Print headers/footers in Firefox

Use the File Menu and select Page Setup. On the Margins & Header/Footer tab, set each item as required.

6. Other screen display problems

Page too wide to fit screen window

Unfortunately, many Web pages are not designed fluidly enough so that they can adapt to being displayed on a variety of screen (window) widths.

7. Other page-printing problems

Page too wide to print

Many Web pages are also not designed fluidly so that they can adapt to being printed on a variety of paper sizes. A common problem is that the page is too wide for standard stationery (A4 or U.S. Letter).

Shrink-to-fit in Internet Explorer

This is not possible in IE6 or earlier. Use the File menu and select Print preview. Set Shrink To Fit or choose a percentage.

Shrink-to-fit in Opera

Use the File Menu to select Print Options and then check the Fit To Paper Width box. Alternatively, scale the print to, say, 80 per cent.

Shrink-to-fit in Firefox

Use the File Menu to select Page Setup and then check the Shrink To Fit Page Width box or choose a percentage.

Page-break problems

Another common printing problem is that (paper) page breaks aren't handled very well. The design of some Web pages makes it difficult for browsers to find suitable break points. In the worst cases, page content may be truncated or missing altogether. To reduce page-break problems be generous when setting the size of the bottom margin. Testing shows that Opera, whilst not perfect, handles page breaks better than either Internet Explorer or Firefox.