Level: Intermediate, Version: FM 12 or later

PDF Trickery

If you produce reports or other FileMaker output in PDF format, here’s a little trick that can be a real time saver in terms of development.

Imagine this: a client receives a nightly report via email in PDF format, and asks you to make sure it will fit on a single page in landscape orientation. The report always contains three groups of 12 records, with each group preceded by a leading subsummary, a latticework of horizontal and vertical gridlines, etc.

It is a busy, crowded report, but with patience and fine tuning, you manage to get everything to fit on a single page. Just. Barely.

Now the client wants you to add a trailing sub-summary to each group, but of course still expects everything to fit on a single page. The report is already at 8pt type, with tight vertical margins, and you are not looking forward to a bunch of time-consuming heroic measures to accommodate this request, so instead you employ the following trick.

Define a custom paper size of 9.5″ x 11″, which provides enough room for the trailing sub-summaries. If the client views the PDF on screen, it will look fine, and if he or she chooses to print it out, it will be gracefully squeezed onto an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper.

Specifics may vary from printer to printer, and from platform to platform, but as a general rule you can set up a custom paper size via advanced options within Print Setup (or via advanced settings for the printer driver).


Here are a couple simple demos that are basically identical except for layout size and custom paper size:

Instructions: open a demo and run the script…


…and the resulting PDF looks like this.


Note: Once the custom paper size has been referenced in a Print Setup script step, you can distribute (or host) the FMP file and any user can produce the PDF without the custom paper size needing to be defined on their computer.

6 thoughts on “PDF Trickery”

  1. Kevin,

    I was really hopeful when I saw the title of this one, because it seems there are always little issues with FileMaker and PDFs (especially with multiple platforms, print drivers, etc). But I have to say that this one really feels like a cheat to me. You are making some assumptions about the user’s PDF print preferences. Scaling to fit the page size is usually the default, but some of us prefer to always print at 100%. When I worked in printing, people would call us asking why their proof was too small, and we would show them how to make it print at full size. Sometimes having a print set to the correct size is important, and changing print settings in their PDF viewer of choice just for this (and then back for their other documents) would be very inconvenient.

    Just my 2 cents.

    I haven’t tried it, but instead of changing the page size, could you create a page setup step that has the scaling already set to something like 90-95%, or whatever it would take? That way the PDF could still be made with the “correct” page size, and the user wouldn’t have to worry about changing their settings when printing. I have wished for a “fit to page” option for page setup or PDF creation. Just better native PDF tools in general would be great.


    1. Hi Shawn,

      I appreciate your comments re: assumptions I’m making in the article. As with many of the “hacks” on this blog, it may not be appropriate for all situations.

      For what it’s worth I have used this technique in a variety of situations for more than five years, and have not (yet) encountered a problem. Just grateful clients.

      Best wishes,

    2. With regards to your scaling suggestion, that was actually the approach I first attempted many years ago, but could not get it to work reliably on the Windows platform.

      1. Well, I guess great minds think alike then! ;^)
        And yes, if your solution works for your clients, then that is great. Coming from the printing world, I probably have a different set of “needs” in my head when it comes to PDFs, that may not apply to 99% of “normal” users.

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