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Print to file : Viewing saved .prn files

Submitted by Druss on Thu, 2007-04-05 03:56

I usually have something along the lines of Adobe's PDF Writer or Flash Paper and such, to print stuff directly to a file. However, earlier today, I found myself needing similar functionality, but not having the afore mentioned software. Therefore, I had to resort to using the "print to file" check-box on the Windows print form that allowed me to save a document to a file on the hard disk.

The "print to file" function basically takes a stream dump of everything sent to the printer and saves it to a file. This is essentially binary data that is understandable only by the printer in question, or in other words, this data (and its format) varies from printer to printer. So, now that I had a prn file, I needed to find a viewer for it.

After a little intensive digging around, I'd found three solutions to accessing files printed using the 'print to file' functionality:

  • GSView: This only works if the printer is a postscript printer. The printer in question was not.
  • Many suggestions on adding a dummy text only printer and printing to that. While, this is not applicable in my case, this is apparently a good way of being able to view text documents (via any editor) that have been printed.
  • PCL Reader, a freeware application that does exactly what everybody wants: view and convert .prn and similar files (with support for a wide variety of printers etc.).

So PCL Reader it was. It allows you to save the the prn file as a PNG, BMP, TIF, PCX or a PDF and worked out of the box for me. But if it doesn't, I reckon that creating a dummy printer that the program does support, will allow you to print to file and be able to view it on your PC.


Use Microsoft document imaging by adding a Microsoft Document Image Writer to your list of printers. Choose that printer when you "print to file" and save it to your desktop. It should be an MDI file. Give it a name *.mdi with the star being a name you create.
- M. Caulfield