What Is Printer Overlay?

By Peter Mitchell

Most modern printers accept printer overlays.
i Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images

Using a printer overlay file allows you to print multiple documents that contain the same graphic background without having to resend the background information in each print file. Used correctly, it can make your printing more efficient. High-end computers connected to modern printers may handle print requests fast enough to make printer overlays redundant. However, with basic setups, overlays can speed up certain types of print batches.


When you send a print command from your computer to your printer, you send the data contained in the document that you want to print. Sometimes, that includes a graphic or background image or layout that recurs on several pages. With printer overlay, the printer receives the background image only once -- speeding up the printing process for the rest of the documents. The printer does not have to process the overlay for each document, only the variable information that prints on it.


Printer overlays suit any printing job where the background template remains the same, while the top content changes. For example, if you're printing invoices, the branding and format stays the same. The content, however, changes on each invoice. Similarly, if you're printing party invitations with a different name and address on every one, then a printer overlay comes in handy.

Overlay Files

The overlay file itself is stored in a folder or server ready for the printer to access. Images in JPG, GIF, PNG or TIF formats work well as overlay files. Some printers handle other files, including enhanced meta files or spool overlays. A printer with scanner will sometimes accept a scan at the start of a print job as an overlay file, although you'll need to check your manual for instructions. You will need to enter a command to select and use the printer overlay file in its stored location.


Not all printers have a printer overlay function. Older printers may struggle to process the command. Check your machine for specific instructions as different printers handle overlays in slightly different ways. A possible drawback is that the default for many overlay files is to stretch the image across the entirety of the page, causing distortion. You may need to position or amend your image until it prints correctly.