Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

If you've saved a document in .prn format using print-to-file your options to actually print that file are severely limited. As in slim to none.

To save time, I printed canceled check images (from BofA online) "to file". However, I have been unable to open and print the images from these files *.prn. None of the listed programs (Menu of to Open With list) to open these files work. Word show a bunch of pages of "text gibberish". What program will open these files? I am running Windows Vista 64 Home and Office 2007. My printer is a Canon iP 1600.

Don't use print to file.

I'll be honest and say that saving as .prn was probably a bad idea. I'll explain why in a moment.

If you have the same printer as you did when you printed to .prn there's a possibility you can print them. I'll show you what to try.

Then I'll also show you what I strongly suggest you do instead.

Print to file considered harmful

Print to file doesn't do what you think it does. I think.

Print to file writes to a file the instructions that would be used on your current printer to print the file.

Put another way, a .prn file can used to print the file only on a printer that is (extremely) compatible with the printer that was selected as the default printer at the time the document was printed to file.

There's no .prn viewer.

If you ever change printers or move to a computer that has a different printer chances are you will not be able to print the file.

A straw to grasp at

Open your Printers folder, or drag and drop an icon for your printer to your desktop.

Now locate your ".prn" file in Windows Explorer.

Click-and-hold on that file, drag it on top of the printer icon and release it.

The printer will attempt to print the document. If it's compatible it should work.

But in all honesty - I'm not very hopeful at all. There are simply too many things that can go wrong.

A better, more compatible approach

What you're attempting to do makes a lot of sense. I do it myself, a lot.

I just do it differently.

I print to PDF.

PDF, which stands for Portable Document Format, is, as its name implies, a portable format. PDF documents can be viewed just about anywhere, and more importantly to your situation they can be printed just about anywhere.

And they're easy to create.

Go grab a copy of CutePDF and install it. That'll add a new virtual printer to your system.

Print to that printer: not "print to file", just regular print, as if it were a real printer.

CutePDF will then prompt you for where to save the PDF file it will create that contains your print out.

And as I said, that PDF can be viewed on just about any device and printed on any computer with a printer.

† Some will catch this nod to a Dutch programming pioneer.

Article C4994 - November 19, 2011 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

November 22, 2011 9:13 AM

One of the newer Windows versions (7, I think?) have something called XPS built-in. Personally, I don't use it (I forgo it for PDF) but someone else might find this of course.

Also, for PDFs, I like doPDF. Just another suggestion.

As I understand it XPS does the same thing, sort of, that PDF does, except it's supported on far fewer machines and platforms. I see no reason to use it when PDF is so ubiquitous.
November 22, 2011 10:51 AM

Another option would be to install a text only printer which will create txt files. Just Add a printer by selecting "Generic" as the Manufacturer and "Generic - Text Only" as the printer, then select File as the port to print to. This is a trick that I've been using since windows 95 and works even on Windows 7.

November 22, 2011 12:14 PM

A second vote for DoPDF

November 22, 2011 12:56 PM

Better yet, I have a brother printer and it must have come with the pagemanager pdf writer or can be downloaded from

November 22, 2011 3:00 PM

Your "†" reference refers to the GoTo statement as being harmful. I have always heard that the GoTo statement causes brain damage. The same could probably be said for the Print To File command, as well.

Tony M.
November 22, 2011 3:26 PM

I'm not disagreeing with Leo's warning that printing to a file is potentially inconvenient. However, there was a time long ago when I needed to do this often and it worked perfectly. I'm not 100% certain of the DOS command I'd use, but I think it went like this.

At a DOS command prompt, after navigating to the directory (folder) containing the PRN file, I'd enter:

copy filename.prn /b lpt1

The "/b" option is required to tell the copy command that the source is a binary file. "LPT1" is typically the reserved item name that corresponds to the default printer. Destinations other than LPT1 are possible, depending on the system's printer assignments.

Using this DOS command would make the file print as normal, but as Leo mentioned, it will work only to a printer just like, or compatible with, the default printer in effect when the PRN file was created.

George Jensen
November 22, 2011 6:07 PM

This was the Lotus123 format many years ago. You could send it to the printer or import it into a blank Lotus page.

Have you tried to import it into Works or Excel?

November 23, 2011 4:56 PM

How about suggesting a program called FastPrint at... just might do the trick.

Glenn P.
November 24, 2011 1:48 PM

It'd be most helpful if a "PDF writer" program would intercept the normal "Print-To-File" functionality and automate it, placing a default-named PDF of the desired printing directly onto the current user's desktop instead of a "*.prn" file.

While it doesn't actually "intercept" print-to-file, a print-to-PDF printer does pretty much everything else. (Print to file is a function of Windows and cannot, itself, be intercepted.)

Stephen Clark
November 25, 2011 2:25 AM

The link in your article to Cutepdf seems to have morphed into one to sumatrapdf which isn't a writer and it tries to co-install any number of other things!

The link works for me, and correctly goes to - it's possible that you have malware or spyware on your machine that's peforming the interception.


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