Note: I'm not a graphic designer, but this seemed like the most relevant place to post. Feel free to send me off somewhere else if I'm not in the right place.

I would like to make some notebooks with double-sided grid paper that I've already designed, but my printer seems like it doesn't allow for absolutely exact alignment. Even if one side prints nice and straight, the other side will be slightly skewed left to right by one to two millimeters, which I read from an earlier post is a pretty reasonable variance for a home printer. So I suspect it's not possible to get both sides completely aligned on this printer – but if I'm wrong, please let me know how.

What kind of printer would allow for absolutely exact alignment? Is there any difference between inkjet and laser in this regard, or a more expensive printer versus a cheaper one?

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    Commenting because though this may not help you, it may be of use to others who find this question via Google: though, as the answers below state, you're unlikely to find a home printer that will give you alignment better than a few millimetres, a solution in many cases is to adjust the design so that it doesn't matter - so, for example, if designing playing cards, design the back such that it has a relatively wide border in a uniform colour, and give it a lot of "bleed" (extra colour extending beyond the edge of the card) so that when the playing card is cut out, any misalignment won't show.
    – psmears
    Jun 13, 2017 at 10:47
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    Note that there is an Arts and Crafts stack exchange: crafts.stackexchange.com
    – JPhi1618
    Jun 13, 2017 at 21:10
  • @psmears That's actually really helpful for me too. It's not ideal, but I can redesign things so there's a white border around it. That would probably work. Thanks for the suggestion!
    – melkimx
    Jun 14, 2017 at 5:54
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    I have a cheap Brother laser printer. When I print a sheet, then refeed it and reprint it, it seems to print in a pretty repeatable manner (text not very distorted or shifted). If your printer is the same, then you can measure the front-to-back registration difference, then move your backside image to compensate. So your front and back page margins would be different in the file, but print, on your machine, in alignment. Jun 15, 2017 at 5:53
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    Note that running a printed sheet through a laser printer not designed for duplex printing (double-sided) will ultimately ruin the fuser, which customarily costs about 2/3 of the total printer cost. In short, you'll ruin your printer. Which may be fine if it's cost effective to just replace it when needed.
    – Scott
    Jun 16, 2017 at 7:15

5 Answers 5



End user printers are not designed for perfect registrations. None of them. It should always be expected that paper will shift and move slightly and never be pulled through the printer in the exact same way twice. This even includes printers specifically designed for duplex printing. The nature of sheetfed laser or inkjets just does not allow for exact paper feed every time.

The only way to ensure proper registration is to get things printed via a commercial print provider.

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    And this includes big solid duplex machines designed for office use -- it's just not something they're built for. If you have a rule between the header and body of a page and hold a sheet up to the light, the error is often around 1mm. It's fairly reproducible for a given paper load, so you could reduce but not eliminate it by offsetting the even pages.
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2017 at 9:20
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    Why could it not be eliminated well enough to be below resolution by using transparent media to calibrate, then indeed using an offset and feeding printing media with precise care? Jun 13, 2017 at 9:35
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    Because each and every feed will be different. You can't calibrate to a constantly changing variable. Although there may be a range of variance, it is a range not a set value. The best you can ever do is get "close". But even that is highly dependent upon the actual printer.
    – Scott
    Jun 13, 2017 at 9:46
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    As a printer I feel I should point out that even our digital presses don't have the back-up registration accuracy of a traditional press. Our Kodak NexPress can be off as much as 1/16" front to back easily.
    – Logarr
    Jun 13, 2017 at 15:34
  • Thanks @Logarr I suspected as much, but with no direct experience I was hesitant to add that specifically.
    – Scott
    Jun 13, 2017 at 15:36

The only kind of sheet fed printers I know of that can achieve accurate registration are printing presses. They have suckers to lift each sheet, and mechanical lays to push or pull the paper into the exact same position for printing.

This is what they typically look like Printing press sheet feeder

I've never seen anything like this for home or office digital printers like inkjets or laser printers. They have simple feed rollers that feed the sheets by friction. So your only real option is to have the paper printed commercially on a press.

  • Thanks! I was wondering what kind of printer allows for accurate alignment, even if it's not something I could ever use or afford. So I think this answers my question.
    – melkimx
    Jun 13, 2017 at 17:13
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    And even a printing press isn't perfect. Systems responsible for printing plates for a press create traps (small adjustments/overlaps where two colors meet) and overprints to hide gaps created by misregistration and the normal stretching of plates over a run.
    – Quint
    Jun 13, 2017 at 18:20
  • Thanks @Quint. I imagine that it must be pretty complicated to get an accurate print when you have to lay colors over each other. But what if it's just one color?
    – melkimx
    Jun 13, 2017 at 19:45
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    @user2357112 A lay is an edge (sometimes a front/side lay) to which the sheet of paper is pushed or pulled to register the sheet in the same position each time. Sometimes a side lay moves mechanically to push the sheet into position, other types are a kind of stroker lay which pulls the paper into position. There are different types depending on the kind of press/manufacturer.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 13, 2017 at 22:47
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    @user2357112, if you are interested in learning more there is an example here on youtube showing how the feeder is set up on a Heidelberg GTO lithographic press. youtu.be/Igw5GR9mz3s?t=4m27s
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 13, 2017 at 23:11

Depending on what you need to "print", a plotter-type device might work for you. These are typically sold for home use as vinyl/paper cutting machines, but some also have pen attachments for drawing line art.

This page on Silhouette's website shows one of the products in action.

For this to work, you could only "print" line art, and production speed would be low because you'd have to manually flip over the paper and ensure it was lined up perfectly on one of the marked mats that feed sheets into the machine. I've been able to get pretty accurate results when using the cutting heads, and the pens work exactly the same way.

  • Thanks! The Silhouette looks interesting. How long does it take to position and print one page? I'm guessing it will take way too long for my purposes, but it's worth asking.
    – melkimx
    Jun 14, 2017 at 5:47
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    You might also look at old pen plotters on EBay. Some of the old ones had a fixed tray where the paper went- they should be able to get pretty good alignment. Jun 14, 2017 at 11:33
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    When looking at the various craft cutters, look at how they feed. I know the one my wife has uses a sticky mat that feeds via friction rollers. In the end it's still got a lot of slop in the system. Jun 14, 2017 at 11:34
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    @IrvineWizards: In fact I have one of the Silhoutte machines. They're fantastic, but on their own they're not that great for solving this particular problem - the feed mechanism is no more accurate than a home printer. The machine does have a sensor that can align its cuts to marks printed on the page - but only on one side. What you can do with them, though (going back to the playing card example from my comment above) is print on both sides, with bleed on the back, then use the Silhouette to cut out the front. I made some Monopoly-like cards exactly like this, and it worked well.
    – psmears
    Jun 14, 2017 at 12:29
  • If a printer can move the paper bidirectionally without letting go of it, it might be possible to print one side of the paper including a test pattern on one edge, then print the test pattern on another side and move that edge where it can be inspected without letting go of the paper. A user could then shine a light through the paper, input information about how the test patterns relate, and then have a program print the other side of the page using the alignment information from the test pattern.
    – supercat
    Jun 14, 2017 at 20:27

As others have said, there are probably no personal, mechanical printers with the type of accuracy that you want. However, you can still accomplish it at home through silk screening (screen printing).

With a bit of setup you can align the paper (registration), silk screen one side, turn it over, align it again, and silk screen the other side. I recommend doing one side in a batch and then the other side in a batch, in order to give the ink a little drying time.

Here is a detailed explanation of the full process:

The Printing Process: Screen Printing

Here is a product that makes making the stencil quick and simple:


Note that I have never used this product and have no experience or connection with it. I’m mentioning it solely to show that there are ways of making screen printing much easier than it used to be. It’s also likely that there are lots of kits at your local craft or hobby shop and you can find supplies on sites like Amazon too.

Once you have the setup you should be able to quickly turn out your lined pages in nearly any quantity you need, nearly any time you need them.


Its called "registration", and you can improve it by specifying offsets in the printer based on your measurements. Typically you print targets (crosses) in four corners of the page (also known as registration targets, and often an option in advanced page composition software). The targets can be seen by either looking at a double sided page through strong light, or better, printed on a transparency.

Obviously there are limits to this based on the accuracy of the printer. If it is moving from page to page, that is your limit of accuracy. Using the above method you will find out rapidly what that accuracy limit is.

Why would you want to do this? Its standard for printing books.

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