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Linux Printing HOWTO
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5.1. Postscript

5.1. Postscript

As for what printers do work with free software, the best choice is to buy a printer with native PostScript support in firmware. Nearly all Un*x software that produces printable output produces it in PostScript, so obviously it'd be nice to get a printer that supports PostScript directly. Unfortunately, PostScript support is scarce outside the laser printer domain, and is sometimes a costly add-on.

Un*x software, and the publishing industry in general, have standardized upon Postscript as the printer control language of choice. This happened for several reasons:


Postscript arrived as part of the Apple Laserwriter, a perfect companion to the Macintosh, the system largely responsible for the desktop publishing revolution of the 80s.

It's device-independent

Postscript programs can be run to generate output on a pixel screen, a vector screen, a fax machine, or almost any sort of printer mechanism, without the original program needing to be changed. Postscript output will look the same on any Postscript device, at least within the limits of the device's capabilities. Before the creation of PDF, people exchanged complex documents online as Postscript files. The only reason this standard didn't "stick" was because Windows machines didn't usually include a Postscript previewer, so Adobe specified hyperlinks and compression for Postscript, called the result PDF, distributed previewers for it, and invented a market for their "distiller" tools (the functionality of which is also provided by ghostscript's ps2pdf and pdf2ps programs).

It's a real programming language

Postscript is a complete programming language; you can write software to do most anything in it. This is mostly useful for defining subroutines at the start of your program to reproduce complex things over and over throughout your document, like a logo or a big "DRAFT" in the background. But there's no reason you couldn't compute π in a Postscript program.

It's open

Postscript is fully specified in a publically available series of books (which you can find at any good bookstore) and also online at Although Adobe invented it and provides the dominant commercial implementation, other vendors like Aladdin produce independently coded implementations as well.

Linux Printing HOWTO
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  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire