Borderless printing at 100%

Borderless printing at 100% seems impossible with the Brother MFC-J6920DW and similar printers and multifunctionals, even though the printer is physically capable of making borderless prints. Instead, prints are either enlarged or scaled down. Manuals don’t provide any information about this strange behavior. What is going wrong here?

Prints at 100% are scaled down

When you print a document at 100% on a Brother MFC, despite the correct printer preview, it will still be reduced to fit within a 3 mm border, measured from the longest side. An A4 document for example, will be scaled down from 210 × 297 mm to 204 × 291 mm. This results in a 98% print instead of a true scale image. You might think this isn’t noticeable, but 6 mm can make quite a difference. For example, you don’t want a folding mark or the address to be off 6 mm just to start with when using window envelopes.

Borderless prints are scaled up

When you print a document with ‘borderless’ paper settings it will first be scaled up until it has a 3 mm bleed on both ends of the longest side. For A4 this is 3+297+3 = 303 mm instead of 297 mm. 303/297 mm = 1,0202. The prints are therefore scaled to 102%.

For A3 sized paper these percentages are slightly lower because to enlarge the 420 mm length with 6 mm, a smaller percentage is needed: 426/420 mm = 1,0142  so rounded to an integer it’s 101%.

Why is my printer resizing my prints uninvitedly?

I assume these measurements are to prevent an imperfect borderless print to come out of the printer. The ISO paper sizes tolerances are specified to be ± 2mm (0.08 in) for lengths in the range 150 to 600 mm. Even if the paper itself has the perfect measurements of the chosen paper size, the printer may feed the paper with a deviation of 1 mm. Worst case these two add up to about 3 mm.

The printer will feed the paper with a deviation of a millimeter or so. If it will then try to print exactly to the edges of the paper, it will very likely fail at least some of the time. This will often result in a small white stroke along one of the long and one of the short sides of the print. Depending on the image, this will be quite noticeable. Specially with photo’s and documents with a tinted background this will look bad. By forcing the print either within a 3 mm border or using an image that has a 3 mm bleed on all edges, the risk of a very uneven white border or a white stroke on a borderless print are eliminated. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

‘We can’t print borderless at 100% on Mac’ – Brother helpdesk

I spend quite a few hours wasting paper and trying to find out a way to fix this problem, before I came to this conclusion. The US Brother helpdesk simply said “We can’t print borderless at 100% on Mac.“, suggesting it’s a Mac OS X flaw. Others at Brother said it’s a problem with only certain Mac OS X and Windows software, but could not give a list or even give a single example.

It’s true that available printing options can vary wildly per application, but this resizing has nothing to do with the operating system. It’s build into the printer firmware. The only reason it is so confusing, is because you can’t find anything about it in the manual. Quite the opposite: Your system print dialog pane doesn’t know about this resizing trickery, shows a wrong size preview and leaves out the white border.

Online, others thought it must be a problem with the drivers and pointed to the Gutenprint project, which is a noble and interesting initiative providing alternative printer driver software, but it could not bring me borderless printing at 100%.

I’m afraid there is no clean fix until the printer driver is updated. Looking at other people’s experiences it seems that more printer manufacturers, such as HP are using the same approach. Therefore, the only way to print at 100% is to work around it.

Still make a borderless print at 100%

The easiest fix is to take the deviation into account when you print. The Brother MFC’s make a 100% A4 print when you choose A4 Borderless as the Paper size and set Scale to 98%. I use this successfully while printing .pdf’s from Mac OS X 10.10.5 Preview. I noticed it doesn’t work while printing .pdf’s from OS X Safari 9.0.3.

Here are some populair paper sizes and the scales to make borderless prints with the Brother MFC models and others that use the 3 mm border upscale / downscale method:

Correction percentages per paper size

paper namepaper sizenearest correction %remaining deviation %remaining deviation (longest side)
A3297 × 420 mm99%0,429 %1,800 mm
A4210 × 297 mm98%0,020 %0,059 mm
Carta216 × 279 mm98%-0,215%-0,600 mm
Officio216 × 330 mm98% 0,182 %0,600 mm
Ledger17 × 11 in99%
Letter8,5 × 11 in98%
Look up the percentage that best corrects the printers 'borderless deviation' for your paper size.

Even better results

Notice that the A4 size percentage correction of 2% coincidently matches the deviation very well. The A3 however, is out of luck. The deviation is about 1,42% and because the printer dialog only accepts integers, a 0,42% deviation can’t be corrected this way. This will result in a difference of 1,764 mm over the length of the paper. This is not because the printer can’t be more accurate. It’s just because of the firmware.

There is better solution, besides buying a printer with better firmware. You can get a 100% scale print by adjusting the size of the paper.

Other side effects of printing borderless: a bad form of rich black

Interestingly, there seems to be another side effect included with printing in borderless setting on Brother MFC’s. Text, lines and images that are 100% black and printed as such in default settings, are converted to a combination of CMYK. This can have an interesting effect called rich black. Given the type of ink and hardware that is used, there are only downsides:

  • Much more ink is used, which costs more
  • Text is less readable, lines are too thick and images blur from the ink overdose
  • Text, lines and images are printed brown instead of black

On photographic paper there’s a slight chance that this might work. One would expect this option to appear when photographic paper is selected, but not to be silently activated when printing an every-day print job like an invoice.

Given the lack of advantages, this seems just a trick to sell more ink. Professional printers do the opposite: Grey Component Replacement (GCR) is a technique, used to partially replace CMY ink for blacK. Part of the CMY ink in dark images will often look like a shade of gray, despite that it is build from three colors of ink. One could say it’s only function is to create the right tone, not color. That part is replaced with blacK. This saves a lot of ink, which is cheaper, dries faster and is better for the environment.