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Java AWT Reference by John Zukowski

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In this chapter:

  • PrintGraphics Interface
  • PrintJob Class
  • Component Methods
  • Printing Example
  • Printing Arbitrary Content

Java 1.1 introduces the ability to print, a capability that was sadly missing in Java 1.0, even though the Component class had print() and printAll() methods. However, it is possible to print arbitrary content, including multipage documents. The printing facility in Java 1.1 is designed primarily to let a program print its display area or any of the components within its display.

Printing is implemented with the help of one public interface, PrintGraphics, and one public class, PrintJob, of AWT. The real work is hidden behind classes provided with the toolkit for your platform. On Windows NT/95 platforms, these classes are sun.awt.windows.WPrintGraphics and sun.awt.windows.WPrintJob. Other platforms have similarly named classes.

Printing from an applet has security implications and is restricted by the SecurityManager. It is reasonable to suppose that a browser will make it possible to print a page containing an applet; in fact, Netscape has done so ever since Navigator 3.0. However, this ability might not take advantage of Java's printing facility. It isn't reasonable to suppose that an applet will be able to initiate a print job on its own. You might allow a signed applet coming from a trusted source to do so, but you wouldn't want to give any random applet access to your printer. (If you don't understand why, imagine the potential for abuse.)

17.1 PrintGraphics Interface

Printing is similar to drawing an object on the screen. Just as you draw onto a graphics context to display something on the screen, you draw onto a “printing context” to create an image for printing. Furthermore, the printing context and graphics context are very closely related. The graphics context is an instance of the class Graphics. The printing context is also an instance of Graphics, with the additional requirement that it implement the PrintGraphics interface. Therefore, any methods that you use to draw graphics can also be used for printing. Furthermore, the paint() method (which a component uses to draw itself on the screen) is also called when a component must draw itself for printing.

In short, to print, you get a special Graphics object that implements the PrintGraphics interface by calling the getGraphics() method of PrintJob (discussed later in this chapter) through Toolkit. You then call a component's print() or printAll() method or a container's printComponents() method, with this object as the argument. These methods arrange for a call to paint(), which can draw on the printing context to its heart's content. In the simple case where you're just rendering the component on paper, you shouldn't have to change paint() at all. Of course, if you are doing something more complex (that is, printing something that doesn't look exactly like your component), you'll have to modify paint() to determine whether it's painting on screen or on paper, and act accordingly. The code would look something like this:

public void paint(Graphics g) {
    if (g instanceof PrintGraphics) {
        // Printing
    }else {
        // Painting

If the graphics object you receive is an instance of PrintGraphics, you know that paint() has been called for a print request and can do anything specific to printing. As I said earlier, you can use all the methods of Graphics to draw on g. If you're printing, though, you might do anything from making sure that you print in black and white to drawing something completely different. (This might be the trick you use to print the contents of a component rather than the component itself. However, as of Java 1.1, it's impossible to prevent the component from drawing itself. Remember that your paint() method was never responsible for drawing the component; it only drew additions to the basic component. For the time being, it's the same with printing.)

When you call printComponents() on a Container, all the components within the container will be printed. Early beta versions of 1.1 only painted the outline of components within the container. The component should print as it appears on the screen.

17.1.1 Methods

public abstract PrintJob getPrintJob () images

The getPrintJob() method returns the PrintJob instance that created this PrintGraphics instance.

This seems like circular logic: you need a PrintJob to create a PrintGraphics object, but you can get a PrintJob only from a PrintGraphics object. To break the circle, you can get an initial PrintJob by calling the getPrintJob() method of Toolkit. getPrintJob() looks like it will be useful primarily within paint(), where you don't have access to the original PrintJob object and need to get it from the graphics context.

System-provided PrintGraphics objects inherit their other methods from the Graphics class, which is discussed in Chapter 2, Simple Graphics.* The one method that's worth noting here is dispose(). In a regular Graphics object, calling dispose() frees any system resources the object requires. For a PrintGraphics object, dispose() sends the current object to the printer prior to deallocating its resources. Calling dispose() is therefore equivalent to sending a form feed to eject the current page.

17.2 PrintJob Class

The abstract PrintJob class provides the basis for the platform-specific printing subclasses. Through PrintJob, you have access to properties like page size and resolution.

17.2.1 Constructor and Pseudo-Constructor

public PrintJob () images

The PrintJob() constructor is public; however, the class is abstract, so you would never create a PrintJob instance directly.

Since you can't call the PrintJob constructor directly, you need some other way of getting a print job to work with. The proper way to get an instance of PrintJob is to ask the Toolkit, which is described in Chapter 15, Toolkit and Peers. The getPrintJob() method requires a Frame as the first parameter, a String as the second parameter, and a Properties set as the third parameter. Here's how you might call it:

PrintJob pjob = getToolkit().getPrintJob(aFrame, "Job Title",

The Frame is used to hold a print dialog box, asking the user to confirm or cancel the print job. (Whether or not you get the print dialog may be platform specific, but your programs should always assume that the dialog may appear.) The String is the job's title; it will be used to identify the job in the print queue and on the job's header page, if there is one.

The Properties parameter is used to request printing options, like page reversal. The property names, and whether the requested properties are honored at all, are platform specific. UNIX systems use the following properties:


Windows NT/95 ignores the properties sheet. If the properties sheet is null, as in the previous example, you get the system's default printing options. If the properties sheet is non-null, getPrintJob() modifies it to show the actual options used to print the job. You can use the modified properties sheet to find out what properties are recognized on your system and to save a set of printing options for use on a later print job.

If you are printing multiple pages, each page should originate from the same print job.

According to Sun's documentation, getPrintJob() ought to return null if the user cancels the print job. However, this is a problem. On some platforms (notably Windows NT/95), the print dialog box doesn't even appear until you call the getGraphics() method. In this case, getPrintJob() still returns a print job and never returns null. If the user cancels the job, getGraphics() returns null.

17.2.2 Methods

public abstract Graphics getGraphics () images

The getGraphics() method returns an instance of Graphics that also implements PrintGraphics. This graphics context can then be used as the parameter to methods like paint(), print(), update(), or printAll() to print a single page. (All of these methods result in calls to paint(); in paint(), you draw whatever you want to print on the Graphics object.)

On Windows NT/95 platforms, getGraphics() returns null if the user cancels the print job.

public abstract Dimension getPageDimension () images

The getPageDimension() method returns the dimensions of the page in pixels, as a Dimension object. Since getGraphics() returns a graphics context only for a single page, it is the programmer's responsibility to decide when the current page is full, print the current page, and start a new page with a new Graphics object. The page size is chosen to roughly represent a screen but has no relationship to the page size or orientation.

public abstract int getPageResolution () images

The getPageResolution() method returns the number of pixels per inch for drawing on the page. It is completely unclear what this means, since the number returned has no relationship to the printer resolution. It appears to be similar to the screen resolution.

public abstract boolean lastPageFirst () images

The lastPageFirst() method lets you know if the user configured the printer to print pages in reverse order. If this returns true, you need to generate the last page first. If false, you should print the first page first. This is relevant only if you are trying to print a multipage document.

public abstract void end () images

The end() method terminates the print job. This is the last method you should call when printing; it does any cleaning up that's necessary.

public void finalize () images

The finalize() method is called by the garbage collector. In the event you forget to call end(), finalize() calls it for you. However, it is best to call end() as soon as you know you have finished printing; don't rely on finalize().

17.3 Component Methods

The methods that start the printing process come from either the Component or Container class and are inherited by all their children. All components inherit the printAll() and print() methods. Containers also inherit the printComponents() method, in addition to printAll() and print(). A container should call printComponents() to print itself if it contains any components. Otherwise, it is sufficient to call printAll().

These methods end up calling paint(), which does the actual drawing.

17.4 Printing Example

Now that you know about the different classes necessary to print, let's put it all together. Printing takes four steps:

  1. Get the PrintJob:
    PrintJob pjob = getToolkit().getPrintJob(this, "Job Title", (Properties)null);
  2. Get the graphics context from the PrintJob:
    Graphics pg = pjob.getGraphics();
  3. Print by calling printAll() or print(). When this method returns, you can call dispose() to send the page to the printer:
    pg.dispose(); // This is like sending a form feed
  4. Clean up after yourself:

The following code summarizes how to print:

// Java 1.1 only
PrintJob pjob = getToolkit().getPrintJob(this, "Print?", (Properties)null);
if (pjob != null) {
        Graphics pg = pjob.getGraphics();
        if (pg != null) {

This code prints the current component: what you get from the printer should be a reasonable rendition of what you see on the screen. Note that we didn't need to modify paint() at all. That should always be the case if you want your printer output to look like your onscreen component.

17.5 Printing Arbitrary Content

Of course, in many situations, you want to do more than print the appearance of a component. You often want to print the contents of some component, rather than the component itself. For example, you may want to print the text the user has typed into a text area, rather than the text area itself. Or you may want to print the contents of a spreadsheet, rather than the collection of components that compose the spreadsheet.

Java 1.1 lets you print arbitrary content, which may include multipage documents. You aren't restricted to printing your components' appearance. In many ways, the steps required to print arbitrary content are similar to those we outlined previously. However, a few tricks are involved:

  1. Get the PrintJob:
    PrintJob pjob = getToolkit().getPrintJob(this, "Job Title", (Properties)null);
  2. Get the graphics context from the PrintJob:
    Graphics pg = pjob.getGraphics();
  3. Don't call printAll() or print(). These methods will try to draw your component on the page, which you don't want. Instead, get the dimensions of the page by calling getPageDimension():
  4. Set the font for your graphics context; then get the font metrics from your graphics context.
    Font times = new Font ("SansSerif", Font.PLAIN, 12);
    FontMetrics tm = pg.getFontMetrics(times);
  5. Draw whatever you want into the graphics context, using the methods of the Graphics class. If you are drawing text, it's your responsibility to do all the positioning, making sure that your text falls within the page boundaries. By the time you're through with this, you'll have the FontMetrics class memorized.
  6. When you've finished drawing the current page, call dispose(); this sends the page to the printer and releases the resources tied up by the PrintGraphics object.
    pg.dispose(); // This is like sending a form feed
  7. If you want to print more pages, return to step 2.
  8. Clean up after yourself:

Remember to set a font for the PrintGraphics object explicitly! It doesn't have a default font.

An example that loads and prints a text file is available from this book's Web page.

* Anything can implement the PrintGraphics interface, not just subclasses of Graphics. However, in order for paint() and print() to work, it must be a subclass of Graphics.

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