The art of printing in Bento

Providing tips about printing in Bento may seem a bit impertinent. After all, unlike its big brother, FileMaker Pro, Bento isn't really designed for printing reports. It's built instead for storing and retrieving an individual user's data. If the tasks you are going to ask your database to perform require a lot of printing, you should consider using FileMaker Pro instead. But if Bento works great for you most of the time, and you want to know more about how to get the best printed output from it, then read on.

The print dialog box

Let’s say you are using the attractive Recipes library template that comes with Bento 3 to manage your recipes, and you want to print out a recipe for tonight’s dinner. You find the recipe, press Command-P to print, and without thinking, you accept Bento’s defaults and click the Print button in the print dialog box. If you do this, you’ll basically be printing a screen shot of the recipe, complete with the colored background—seldom what you want.

The print dialog box is the main tool for improving output directly from Bento, so you will want to study it carefully. Start by putting a check in the box labeled Don’t Print Background (under Options). This gets rid of the colored or patterned background that is part of the Bento template, leaving only black text, field borders, and graphics (like a photo of the finished dish).

When you are printing a one-record form, Bento will automatically try to shrink the record’s contents to fit a single piece of paper. (Look closely and you’ll notice that the Fit to Width option is checked—and grayed out so that you cannot uncheck it.) In order to make the best use of the paper, consider using landscape orientation rather than portrait. Because computer screens are wider than they are tall, most Bento templates are designed the same way, so they look nice on screen. If you print your recipe in landscape orientation, you’ll make fuller use of the paper and the text will be larger and easier to read.

My recipe as it prints from Bento using the default settings. Printing the colored background wastes a lot of ink. Worse, several of the fields aren’t large enough to display their entire text contents.

You can also use the print dialog box to add page numbers or a date and/or time stamp to the bottom of each page, if you wish.

The print dialog box also includes an option for printing a Bento form without data—just a blank record. This is sometimes useful if you are distributing a questionnaire of some sort to others to fill out.

Editing a form

Checking Don’t Print Background and picking the right orientation works fairly well, provided that the amount of data in each of the record's fields is small enough that it fits within the fields. Bento will automatically shrink the entire form to fit to the width of the paper, but it will not shrink the font size of data to make all the text in a field visible when printed. For example, imagine that the directions for a recipe are complicated and there’s more text than you can see at once in the Directions field. If you are sitting at your computer, Bento automatically provides a scroll bar. But this doesn’t help at all when printed. Crucial data—whatever isn’t visible in the field at once—simply dosen’t get printed.

The solution is to take advantage of Bento’s automatic fit-to-width printing feature by making the fields on the form large enough to accommodate all the text that you have in the field, that is, large enough so you can see everything in the field without scrolling. When you print the recipe now, Bento will shrink everything visible on the form to fit on the page; and since all the text was visible, it will all be visible when printed.

The disadvantage of this approach is that Bento fields don’t shrink and slide the way fields in FileMaker Pro do. If you print out three recipes, and one of the recipes is very simple and has very little text, its fields will be shrunk to the same size as the fields of the more complicated recipes. What to do? Well, first, for records that have varying amounts of text data, don’t print out multiple forms at once. Instead print out each form individually—and tweak the size of the fields as necessary for each form. Here, the fact that modifying a form in Bento is much easier than modifying a layout in FileMaker Pro becomes a real help. For example, to make the recipe’s Directions field smaller or larger, simply click on the field label (in other words, the word Directions), then drag the resize handles that appear on the data field.

If you want to do a lot of printing from within Bento, you might want to create a special form just for printing. In the Form menu, choose Duplicate Form. Bento creates a new form named Form Copy. Double-click that form name and change its name to Print. Now, click on the objects on the form that you want to remove when printing. I got rid of the recipe’s description, rating, category, and preview (picture) fields, none of which I need when I'm in the kitchen. When you edit a form for printing, be sure to move the field labels above the fields, if your template by default put them to the side. When a field is supposed to contain text measured in sentences rather than characters, placing the label above the field is the most efficient way to use space on the page. To make things even cleaner, go to the View menu and uncheck Show Field Borders.

My recipe as printed using my special print form. Note that I’ve removed a number of fields from this page and enlarged the fields that matter so all their text is visible in the printout. I also hid the field borders. In the print dialog box, I checked Don’t Print Background to eliminate the colored background, and I set the orientation to landscape to make use of the printed page as efficient as possible.

More quick tips

Finally, what if you are printing a table view that lists multiple records? You can’t create a special table layout for printing in Bento, but you can use the field listing in the Bento tray on the left to show or hide the fields you want to print. To print a list of recipes, I got rid of the long text fields (description, ingredients, and directions) from the table view and kept just the short text fields (name, rating, and so on).

Going further in Bento involves learning how to create your own theme (or edit an existing theme). That takes us beyond the scope of this article, but if you're intent on specialized printing tasks in Bento, looking over these tips will be time well spent.

Export

For other, more complicated printing needs, your best bet is to export the Bento data and print it in another app.

If you want to print data from your contacts library, you don't have to export from Bento. Because Bento and Address Book share data, you can simply create a collection in Bento containing the records you want to print, say, Family. Switch over to Address Book where the Bento collection will appear as a group. Select the group, and then use the print options in Address Book to print envelopes, labels, or lists. (This approach works with iCal and iPhoto, as well.)

Otherwise, go to the File menu and choose Export. The Export options dialog box in Bento first asks what sort of output you want to generate. You can export to Numbers or Excel formats, or to plain text. There is a fourth option—Template—but this exports simply what the name suggests and does not include data. One of the spreadsheet options (Numbers or Excel) would be a good choice if you have one of those programs. If you aren’t sure, select the Text option, then pick either comma-separated or tab-separated. You can now open your output file in an appropriate program and reformat the data there to your heart’s content.

Simple and flexible

To say that printing isn’t a strong point of Bento would be a bit unfair. Bento is designed for personal information management and was never intended to be a full-fledged database management application like FileMaker Pro, where you can generate complicated reports to meet almost any need you can imagine. Instead, Bento gives you simple tools that are very easy to use and, in the final analysis, surprisingly flexible.

[William Porter is a database applications developer and event photographer in Dallas.]

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