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It's your printer. No two printers are exactly alike, and all printers end up scaling the length (and sometimes the width) of the page as the paper travels depending on lots of variable factors. Also as paper absorbs or sheds moisture during the printing process (depening on if it's liquid inks or fused toner) the size of the sheet will change slightly. What you are looking at is normal small error accumulation.
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You will never get a desktop ink jet to print with that kind of precision.
Thank you, Bob and Peter. Do you know if a laser printer is any better in this regard than an inkjet? Xerox has at least one model of laser printer that can accomodate my 12x18 size.
Forget it, Marie. Not gonna happen.
Again, you are depending on optics which have some +/- tolerance for focus, motor and gear driven imaging drum (and probably transfer belt), roller-driven paper travel that might or might not be constant in speed, and a hot fuser that is going to remove moisture form the paper, causing it to shrink a little bit, and which direction will depend on the grain direction of the paper. I'm not sure you can get that kind of guaranteed accuracy even on a litho press.
What's the application, and what, really, is your tolerance for variation?
Your Xerox rep, by the way, should be able to provide a print sample from your file.
Do you know if a laser printer is any better in this regard than an inkjet?
I think you'll find that laser printers are dramatically better than ink jet printers in this regard, because drum-based systems are not subject to the same degree of "tolerance stackup" (drifting). They tend to be much more regular.
I'm sure your errors can probably be described by an Affine transformation. To a first order, print some tests, correct for them, and iterate until you start to see sheet-to-sheet or day-to-day variation.
ID isn't really optimized for this, though I guess, as of CS5, you can apply arbitrary Affine transformation to Pages using the scripting interface (and almost-but-not-quite the page tool). See http://www.rorohiko.com/wordpress/indesign-downloads/transformmaster/.
Still, in a perfect world you'd use some imposition-like tool that would be applying these precision compensations to all your output automatically.
Let's hear about the application!
Oh, also, if you really care about precision, you may want to print much larger and shoot down on a copy camera. Or use an imagesetter to film. Etc.
I'm afraid my application is nothing more exciting than trying to print accurately on some pretty small labels, arrayed on a 12x18 sheet!
A laser printer may be accurate enough for that, in terms of spacing, but there will probably be some drift from page to page, both top to bottom and left to right. Typical page to page registration allowance from the manugacturer is +/- 1/6", for a total range of 1/8" in each direction.
Are thes address labels? That usually is doable if you leave a little wiggle room. Sounds, though, like these might be some sort of product label where you expect to have color to the edge of the finished label. Even on press such a label would be designed with a bleed allowance, or for a monchromatic background that can be shared across all edges, sufficient internal margins to allow for cutter misalignments.
If this is a product label, rather than something with variable data, have you considered having them printed by a specialty label printer?