For our customers that choose to save money by printing our blank stock invitations at home, LCI Paper offers free Microsoft Word computer printing templates for a growing number of our invitations, programs, place cards, and other stationery, and we're adding more daily.
One of the files included in the printing template download is this PDF. You Can Print Your Own Invitations Using Your Computer & Printer
Why Microsoft Word?
When it comes to word processing applications, Microsoft Word has been and continues to be the industry standard program for the majority of Windows-based platforms, and is the environment in which many users feel most comfortable formatting and printing their invitations at home. This is why our printing templates are offered as Word documents in the .doc format.
What About Word Alternatives?
What about those users who, for whatever varied philosophical or financial reasons, choose the path less traveled and opt for a different word processing program? This article will examine three major alternatives to Microsoft Word--Open Office Writer, AbiWord, and Google Docs--all of which can open or import a .doc file. We'll see how they stack up with regard to ease of use and similarity to the familiar standard. Best of all? Unlike Word, these programs are free.
Printing Template for Testing
For our testing, we'll use the printing template for LCI's DIY Tuxedo Wedding Invitation Kits, one of the more advanced invitations to set up and print. We'll use this example to show how Word and the alternative programs handle templates saved in Microsoft's .doc format. Here is how the template looks when it is opened in MS Word:
Our customers would then personalize the template by changing the names, wording, fonts, etc., then print the Tuxedo invitation as shown here:
First up is Open Office, a fully-featured suite of software programs including spreadsheets, database management, word processing, and more. It is a powerful alternative to Microsoft Office and of all the programs reviewed, mimics the functionality, look and feel, and implementation of that suite most closely. As a result, this program might be the best alternative for someone wishing a change, but not too drastic of one.
Open Office, as its name implies, is "open source" software. "Open source" refers to the practice of computer programmers making their code -- the basic computer language that makes a program do what it does -- available to the public, in the hopes that many hands will make light work. Programmers of all skill levels from anywhere in the world can help each other tweak and perfect the program, for free. Conversely, Microsoft Word and other proprietary programs are "closed source," meaning their code is just that -- a secret. Neither is necessarily a better or worse approach, they are just two ways to tackle a problem.
The application we're concerned with is called Writer (Open Office's version of Word). Right out of the gate, Writer is very similar to MS Word. Setting up a page for custom printing is slightly different than Word: instead of File --> Page Setup, the option is found under Format --> Page. Once there, however, setting your page margins, widths, and custom dimensions is nearly identical to doing so in MS Word. Writer is able to import .doc files (the default file format of Word) very well. When we imported the Tuxedo Invitation printing template, it looked perfect and printed without a hitch. Here is the same template opened in Writer:
Annoyingly, Writer uses massively more CPU power than Word, which could pose a problem for older machines, or those running many programs. Otherwise it is an extremely viable alternative.
Next we have AbiWord. AbiWord is another "open source" project, however it's not a suite of programs. AbiWord's approach is decidedly low-fi; the programmers have opted for simplicity and an understated graphical interface that recalls the more iconic design of Apple's programs. There's much less overhead in terms of options and CPU load compared with Word or Writer, with the tradeoff being that AbiWord isn't quite as much of a workhorse as either of the former programs. When it comes to importing our sample .doc file, it was unsuccessful.
After opening the Tuxedo Invitation printing template, we were presented with some problems stemming from AbiWord's inability to properly display text originally created within text boxes. The text boxes that contained the names intended for the front flaps of the invitation were empty. We were able to repair the template by typing the names into the text boxes, but were unable to enter the exact font size due to the way the program handles font sizing. Instead of allowing for a custom font size to be entered, the user must choose from a range of 16 specific font sizes. We wanted to enter 25 but were limited to choosing either 24 or 26. This limitation would cause problems for advanced users that want to set up custom documents.
Before printing, we like to go into page setup and verify our document size and orientation. File --> Page Setup brought us to a simple setup screen but our width and height were shown in millimeters rather than inches. Switching Units to Inches did not update the measurements. Just as frustrating, there is no option within the program to set inches as opposed to millimeters as the default units. Also, the Portrait and Landscape orientation modes seem mislabeled; they're the opposite! After setting the dimensions and trying to figure out AbiWord's odd orientation rules, we were left with a poor looking template that would not print correctly. AbiWord is probably a fine program for typing and printing general 8½" x 11" documents, but we can't recommend it for formatting and printing custom sized invitations. Some kind parting words for AbiWord; it is cross-platform and uniquely strives to be truly international -- the code is written in such a way as to make it very easy to "port", or translate, into different languages and different operating systems.
Finally, we have the ubiquitous Google. Simply called "Documents", Google has aped only the most basic functions of a generic word processor: simple web-safe fonts and formatting, font sizing and color.
With Documents, Google is making a foray into the largely uncharted world of cloud computing. Cloud computing refers to many users sharing information in a decentralized manner, and storing that same information on the internet (the "cloud"). It is a new technology and is something of a paradigm shift in the world of information storage. This allows users of Google Documents to access and alter their work on any computer, anywhere in the world. However, this access has some drawbacks, and in this case the end user loses the vast majority of customization options available to those using more conventional word processing programs.
There is extremely limited page setup for printing, and in fact a user can't even suggest custom dimensions to print. Google Documents is able to open other file formats including Word's .doc, but much of the formatting is lost in doing so. Because of the poor formatting and lack of ability to format, we debated whether or not to even include a screen shot of the Tuxedo template.
In fact, Google Documents resembles most closely an HTML editor more than a word processor. In light of this, we cannot recommend Google Documents to users looking for a home printing solution, as admirable as their technological ambitions may be.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Hopefully this article has shown that there are options beyond Microsoft Word with the clear winner--Open Office--just as able and flexible. If you want to participate in the world of printing your own custom invitations at home but don't have a program to open Word documents, OpenOffice.org should be your first stop.
Let us know how you fare with our templates in Word or an alternative program like OpenOffice.org's Writer. We'd love to read your comments and reply back to you.