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PostScript is a graphics language invented by the people at Adobe Systems Incorporated. It is a simple stack language with a rich variety of functions. Writing graphics in this language is a joy because one can do some really cool things and because many printer devices can display it. This means that what you see on your screen will correspond to what comes out of the printer (unless there is a change of fonts). PostScript is a good way to present papers and graphics.

All PostScript documents require a PostScript viewer or must be downloaded for printing on a PostScript printer. You can get free public-domain PostScript viewers from

As of 2003 Oct 15, the gv project is now hosted at sourceforge.

Once you have the viewer on your system, you should be able to show PostScript files that you download. Then you must tell your www browser how to read the postscript. In Unix, this is done with the .mailcap file. The line I use is:

application/postscript; /usr/local/gnubin/ghostview -openwindows %s

This means that my Netscape should look at /usr/local/gnubin/ghostview to run the postscript aplication, and that it should be run with the openwindows option. For more information about the mailcap file, go here.

PostScript Test File

HERE IS A SMALL POSTSCRIPT TEST FILE. It should look like this:
A graphic for testing printers.  It consists of the word
'printer' written on the top of a square.  The word and
square are then rotated by 45 degrees around the lower left
corner of the square while changing the colors through the
spectrum.  A series of concentric rings is centered on the
same corner.

PostScript Tricks is an test file that will tell you the vertical and horizontal range that a printer uses. There are 4 numbers:

llx: lower left x
lly: lower left y
urx: upper right x
ury: upper right y
They are given in points. One point is 1/72 inch. To get cm, multiply points by 2.54/72. uses these 4 numbers. Make a version of nouter for your printer but replace the numbers in the code. It will display a red edge in ghostview. If any graphics touches or goes beyond the red edge, it will not appear on your printer. This can save one a lot of time!

Converting PostScript to PDF

This can be done using ghostscript. A script that does the job is called ps2pdf.

One Way to print PostScript on a Mac

1. To view a Mac PS file, get the Mac GS Viewer 1.0 at the site given above and plug it in to Netscape "application/postscript mime" in the Options/General Preferecnces/Helper. Set the "Save to Disk" feature.

2. To print the Mac PS file, go to

and download Drop*PS. Drag and drop the GS icon of the saved PS document from Step 1 above over the Drop*PS icon and it will print to a PS printer.

(Thanks to Nevin M. Summers,, for this tip! 1997 Jan 5)

Using Adobe Photoshop to Print PostScript on Macs and PCs

Delila Postscript figure files (e. g., logo, clist, map, xyout, etc.) can be nicely printed from a Macintosh or PC environment in the following manner using Adobe Photoshop. Transfer the Postscript file to the desktop machine (e. g., ftp) as a text formatted file. Name the file with the .ps suffix (e. g., Using Photoshop (this works at least with ver. 5.0 and 6.0), open the .ps file from the "open" menu, being sure to view "all files" or ".ps files". The file will be imported into Photoshop format with a default transparent background (checkerboard on monitor, but prints transparent). If you save the file as a Photoshop document (.psd suffix), it loads quickly into Photoshop the next time you open it. Individual Postscript images cannot be manipulated in Photoshop, although you can use "layers" and other approaches to print multiple images on the same page. My experience indicates you'll need to manipulate the Postscript output prior to export-import.

(Thanks to: Eric S. Miller,,, for this tip! 2000 December 15)

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Other Resources

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Small icon for Theory of Molecular Machines: physics,
chemistry, biology, molecular biology, evolutionary theory,
genetic engineering, sequence logos, information theory,
electrical engineering, thermodynamics, statistical
mechanics, hypersphere packing, gumball machines, Maxwell's
Daemon, limits of computers
Schneider Lab
origin: before 1996 February 14
updated: 2011 Aug 15 color bar