Setting A Default Paper Size

printerThis post is in response to a reader request.

In Mac OS X, the default paper size is a setting that determines the size of paper that applications will try to print to unless the user chooses otherwise. For most systems and applications this defaults to US Letter.  In order to provide a positive user experience, especially for end users outside of the United States, it may be desirable to set a different default paper size.

The file that contains this preference is:

This makes the preference domain:

The Key that governs the preference is called : DefaultPaperID

DefaultPaperID contains a string value that corresponds to a paper size. See the chart below:

Paper Size String
US Legal na-legal
US Letter na-letter
A4 iso-a4
A5 iso-a5
JIS B5 jis-b5
B5 iso-b5
Envelope #10 na-number-10-envelope
Envelope DL iso-designated-long-envelope
Tabloid tabloid
A3 iso-a3
Tabloid Oversize arch-b
ROC 16K roc16k
Envelope Choukei 3 cho-3-envelope
Super B/A3 arch-b-extra

To set this preference with a script use the command below, replacing with the correct string for the intended paper size.

For a single user, run as the user:
defaults write ~/Library/Preferences/ DefaultPaperID

For all users, run as root:
defaults write /Library/Preferences/ DefaultPaperID

This process has been tested on Mac OS X v10.6 (Snow Leopard), v10.7 (Lion) and v10.8 (Mountain Lion).

I hope you find this useful.

15 thoughts on “Setting A Default Paper Size”

  1. Tried this for 10.8 and didn’t find PrintingPrefs.plist
    I want to add 4×6 borderless paper as a default for system, but can’t find the way to do this. Could you please help me with my task?


    1. I’ve tested the process under 10.8.

      ~/Library/Preferences/ does not exist until a preference has been set. This is a common occurrence for preference files. Many applications/system items “know” their default settings; preference files are created when the default settings are to be modified.

      For the custom paper size, I’ll make a new post.


    1. Be sure to run the command exactly as listed, substituting <paperSize> with the string corresponding to your desired paper size.

      A common error is to add the .plist extension after in the command. This will cause the command to fail. Note from my previous comment – this file does not exist by default. A preference must be set in order to create the file. Running the commands described in this article will set a preference and create the file.


  2. Of course, you’re right! I did not copy the entire line. I omitted the “defaults write ” part. It now took the command. Thank you for your patience. 🙂


  3. I am a basic mac user but trying to stumble my way through this.

    I have entered the following script into the script editor “defaults write /Library/Preferences/ DefaultPaperID ”

    then tried to run that script but I got an error: “Syntax Error – xpected “given”, “with”, “without”, other parameter name, etc. but found “/”.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.


    1. Hey there. Thanks for reading. The issue you’re seeing is because the commands listed in this article are shell commands. You can run them manually in the Terminal application. If you create a script, you would create a shell or bash script (among other possibilities). The Script Editor application creates Applescripts, which is another language entirely. For guidance on creating bash scripts, you may want to look at You can skip section 1.1 as OS X already has the appropriate version of bash installed.

      I hope this helps.


  4. In comment #2 you said you were going to make a new post for custom paper sizes. Have you done so? I can’t seem to find it and that’s what I need to figure out how to accomplish.


  5. thanks, I check that my preference is A4 and in my pref… I find this
    Printer Proxy Frame
    {{42, 193}, {683, 482}}
    Quit When Finished

    Scanner Proxy Frame
    {{42, 193}, {683, 482}}

    which I assume that all is set but my Brother HL 4750CDW still defaults to US Letter (the rest of my other install printers are OK) !!
    any thoughts/ suggestions ? Many thanks


    1. It is possible that this printer’s driver has its own setting that supersede the defaults. Have a look at the print dialog that appears when you print to this printer.

      Look at the options available in the menu just beneath the orientation and scale controls. This is where driver-specific options will be found as the Samsung paper type selection shown in the screenshot above. I hope this is helpful.


  6. This appears to have changed in Mavericks as the default size in printing preferences is different to the value is the plist file 😦


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