Tools and techniques for printing folder contents

Why Microsoft refuses to give Windows the ability to print the contents of folders is a mystery, but there are several ways to circumvent this limitation--with or without freeware.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
4 min read

There aren't many of us left who remember using PCs before Windows arrived. While I don't pine for the good old days of DOS, I was comfortable operating those old machines from the command line.

Back then, I frequently had to print a list of the files in a folder. Doing so was as easy as copying the list to a text file that I opened in my text editor and printed from there. This trick still works via the command prompt built into Windows.

Instructions for using commands to print the contents of a folder--including various command switches that let you control the format of the resulting file list--are in Gregory Harris' TechRepublic article from 2002. I tested Harris' instructions in Windows 7, and the only change is that you enter "cmd" at the Windows Run line to open the command prompt rather than "command.com" as his article indicates.

Another option is to add a Print Directory option to the context (right-click) menu in Windows Explorer and other folder windows. The procedure is explained in an article on the Microsoft Support site.

Unfortunately, the process entails creating a batch file, editing the Advanced settings in Windows' Folder Options (in XP), and opening the Registry to edit a key value. If you modify your context menu in this manner, be sure to back up your Registry by creating a restore point beforehand.

Free utility simplifies folder and directory printing
Of the many freeware solutions to the problem of printing the contents of folders and directories, two stand out. The first is KarenWare's Directory Printer (which I always knew as Karen's Directory Printer, but it's the same program). I used this program years ago but have since switched to Directory List & Print from Infonautics.

Directory List & Print is only slightly larger than 400K, making it less than half the size of the KarenWare product. But the main reason I chose Directory List & Print over KarenWare's Directory Printer is the Infonautics program's ability to export the folder list directly to MS Word or Excel. Still, when it comes to options for sorting and modifying the list of files and folders prior to printing, KarenWare's Directory Printer has the edge over Directory List & Print.

Infonautics Directory Print & List
The free Directory List & Print utility from Infonautics makes it easy to print a list of a folder's contents or export the list to Word or Excel. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Printing playlists in iTunes (easy) and Windows Media Player (not easy)
I've been spending a good chunk of my weekends converting my library of some 200-plus audio cassettes to MP3s using the free Audacity sound-recording software. Audacity can be a bit difficult to configure, but once you've got the program set up correctly, it's amazing what it can do.

I use only a fraction of Audacity's many features, but even for straightforward conversion of audio tracks to MP3s, a thorough tutorial is in order. Sourceforge.net offers a five-part Audacity training guide. But when I encountered several minor glitches in setting up Audacity on my PC, I relied on the solutions offered by the Audacity Wiki. I also found the Audacity Wiki's tips for transferring tapes and records to computer or CD very handy.

After completing the conversion of your analog tracks to digital, you may want to burn them to audio CDs. And what's a CD without a nice cover listing the tracks on the disc? If you use iTunes to create music CDs, printing a good-looking cover is as easy as choosing the playlist in the left pane, clicking Print, and selecting one of the layout options on the Theme drop-down menu.

iTunes Print dialog box
Apple's iTunes software provides several themes for printing cover labels for the CDs you burn. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Good luck finding a similar option in Microsoft's Windows Media Player 11. Several people have devised workarounds for the inability to print playlists in WMP, and there are also free programs for creating and printing CD labels (one of which I describe below). In fact, your printer may have shipped with a utility for printing CD labels.

I prefer a low-tech solution. First, arrange the playlist window so only the information you want on the cover is visible. This will likely include the song titles, artists (if you're creating a compilation CD), and track length. Next, resize the window to make it easy to capture using the Print Screen function (press Alt-Print Screen to capture only the active window).

You don't want the entire WMP window on your CD cover, so paste the screen capture in MS Paint or another graphics program, select and copy only the material to appear on the cover, open a new window in the program, and paste the selected portion of the original screen into the new file. Save the file as a bitmap or JPEG.

Now open MS Word or another word processing program, type the name of the CD in the center of the top line of the new document, and then insert the image you just created of the CD's tracks, also centered on the page. You may have to resize the image to get it to fit the 5-inch-by-5-inch CD cover. To do so, just select the image to highlight its resize buttons, grab a corner, and drag it to the desired size.

Paste your CD-label image in a word processor for printing
Create a CD label for playlists in Windows Media Player by capturing the list in WMP, pasting the image in a graphics app, and inserting and resizing the list in a word processor before printing it. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

This crude-but-effective technique may not win any design awards, but it meets my modest needs. If you prefer to go the freeware route, Magix Xtreme Print Studio is a highly rated program, although it appears to lack the ability to import playlists or other data from WMP or other apps (I haven't tested the program). The only requirement is that you register to use the program longer than 7 days.