Frequently Asked Questions

I have received a number of questions from readers, and many of them are the same. Since these seem to be popular questions, I thought I would list them here, along with my usual answers. Of course, you will also find the PostScript faq to be useful. There are far more FAQs in that list than are here. By the way, if anyone knows of a better answer to any of these question, let me know.

Is there a utility to convert a PostScript file into my favorite wordprocessors format?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: Maybe. There is a utility to convert PostScript files into ASCII files (it tries to extract the text), but it can not work on every PostScript file. The problem here is that PostScript is a full programming language, and there are many ways to accomplish a given thing. It would be next to impossible for a program to look at some piece of PostScript and decide what the contents are. It would be possible to write a program which would accept some subset of PostScript files and convert them to some useful format, but it would be difficult to write (and it could not handle all possible PostScript files).

I have a Hawat-Pickford 520xz ink jet printer without PostScript, is there anyway I can print PostScript files on it?

Yep. There are a number of PostScript interpreters which run on your computer and can print out PostScript files. There are versions of these kinds of utilities for the Mac and for DOS/Windows machines. I have never used one of these utilities, so I can not recommend any particular one. Go to your friendly neighborhood dealer or your favorite catalog to see what they have. There is a section in the PostScript FAQ on this issue. You may also want to have a look at GhostScript. GhostScript can print PostScript files on certain printers.

Can you point me to a good previewer for my computer?

My first recommendation is GhostScript. Hey, it's free. GhostScript is not perfect, but it is a good place to start. There are also a number of commercial previewers. I have not used any of these commercial packages, so I can not recommend any of them in particular.

Ok. I got GhostScript, but why does the text look so bad?

I don't know why GhostScript's text reproduction is so awful; it must have something to do with the fact that nobody pays for it (yes, that was sarcasm). Seriously, though, GhostScript's text reproduction is not the greatest. If your text looks just mildly terrible, you are just seeing GhostScript's normal output. Only GhostScript's authors know the answer, but I could put forward two theories:

  1. GhostScript uses free fonts which are not very good (yes, Virginia, you do have to pay for fonts)
  2. GhostScript uses a crude character rendering algorithm

Regardless of the reasons, you probably won't want to use GhostScript for high-quality output. It is more than good enough for experimental or rough previewing purposes.

If your output looks so absolutely horrible you feel sick (and, more importantly, text you know to be set in different fonts show up looking the same) you are probably seeing GhostScripts aptly named "Ugly" font. This font is used whenever GhostScript can not find the font you requested. There are three possible causes (all related):

  1. You misspelled the font name.
  2. You don't have that font on your system (actually, you don't have a version for GhostScript; it matters not what you have installed on your operating system).
  3. You don't have your GhostScript fonts installed correctly.

Can you tell me X about Acrobat and PDF files?

Nope. I don't know anything about Acrobat or PDF files. Check out the Adobe website. You may find the information you need there.

How do I print out a PostScript file from my computer?

The procedures and tools vary, depending upon the machine. I'm going to assume that you have a PostScript enabled printer and either received or wrote the PostScript file (if you have the application that generated the file, you should just use your application's print command or menu).



Windows 95


My company has an Acme Laz-o-Tron typesetter. We're having problems printing out a set of color separations for a TIFF photograph processed by FotoWerks Pro+. Why are the separations coming out wrong?

Beats me.

I'm afraid the basic fact of the matter is that I'm not very bright. Nope. Nope. Nope. I'm not very bright. I also don't know a heck of a lot (you know, there's a joke: a dog, sitting in front of a computer says to his doggie friend, "You know, on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog..." for "a dog" substitute "not an expert," and you've got something). I do know a fair amount about PostScript. Despite my deep and abiding love for fine typography, however, and despite the fact that ink runs in my blood, I don't know much about the printing industry or of the equipment they use.

If you have questions about your software or your printer, I recommend contacting the manufacturer or a posting a question to a newsgroup (if there is a relevent one). I just do not know the particulars on different printers or software (unless it's something I own or use).

I'm looking at two printers, one has PostScript while the other does not. Which should I buy?

This is a common and very good question (there is a related one on whether or not to buy a PostScript extension for an existing printer). The answer, as it usually does, boils down to a definite, "It depends."

If your main printing task consists of printing the monthly report or letters to clients, friends, family members, or whomever, then you will probably find PostScript to be an extravagence. This is especially true if you have no interest in mucking about with fonts or graphics. In other words, for light-duty, mainly text, print once and send to whomever kind of work, the answer is, "No."

If you are a desktop publisher, you are writing a book and want to send the book to your publisher electronically, or you do a lot of graphics work and want the graphics to look good regardless of the printer, the answer is yes. In all of these cases, you have a complex printing task and may want to proof your document at home or in the office but then send it out for final (higher quality) printing. Generally speaking, the same PostScript file will look the same regardless of which PostScript printer you use, with one exception: if one printer is capable of better print quality (finer lines, smoother curves, gentler shades of grey) than the other, your document should benefit from these increased capabilities without the PostScript file's needing to be changed. You are benefitting from PostScript's device independence.

As for graphics intensive work, I find the EPS format to be the best for line drawing type graphics (i.e. no bitmap images) that I will want to include in a document. I very often want to print an image generated by one package when the word processor may be from a different vendor. Many times (incredible to tell) I sometimes need to include a graphic made on one computer system in a document on a completely different system! In such a heterogeneous environment, EPS graphics are just about the only reasonable option. Also, many top-quality drafting/painting programs generate their best output in EPS (on some windowing systems, the built-in graphic format can have a limited resolution that results in badly displaced elements in a printed image). If you use EPS graphics, you must have a PostScript enabled printer if you want to print them out with any quality at all.

As with most things in our complex universe, it all depends upon what you are going to do. You must sit down and evaluate your needs and probable work habits. If you think you will benefit from PostScript's unique characteristics enough to justify the cost, then go for it.

Is it true that you are one of the most stunningly attractive men on the net?

Why, yes. How did you know?

Okay, so maybe no one has ever asked me that. It was worth a shot. Maybe you wouldn't have noticed.

pjw 12/21/96