Setting Up And Sharing Network Printers – Complete Guide
As important as digital information has become there are times when we need physical evidence of all that electronic hocus pocus in the form of a simple paper printout. Printing can be about simple or as complicated as you want it to be. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about printer setup and sharing printers on your home network.
Large corporations have centralized print servers with multiple print cues and access organized by location or department. In our home environment, everyone should be able to print anything if they can access a printer from the computer they’re sitting at.
Check out our home printer buyers guide for a detailed description of affordable and reliable home printers.
In this article, we’ll discuss multiple ways to connect and send print jobs to a printer.
- Printing on a wired network.
- Printing on a wireless network
- Printing to a USB-connected printer.
- Printing from a tablet or phone.
Three basic items are needed to print to an existing printer.
- An application that can send print jobs to an installed printer.
- A physical or wireless connection to that printer.
- Printer drivers are installed on the device doing the printing.
Since we’re all familiar with programs and apps on our devices that can print there’s no need to get that deep into the first item. Once you have a document set up the way you like it’s usually a simple matter of going to “File/Print” or hitting “CTRL+P” to open the printer dialog, select your printer, and print away.
Network Printers: Network printers can be connected via ethernet cables or Wi-Fi. The same principles that apply to all other network devices apply to network printers. You can assign a static IP address to a printer or allow DHCP to assign one automatically. A DHCP reservation like the one we set up in the port forwarding section can also be used with a printer.
An important thing to keep in mind is if a printer’s IP address changes you’ll no longer be able to access it. That’s why it’s best to use a static IP address or DHCP reservation on a printer.
Wi-Fi Printers: Many inexpensive printers have Wi-Fi capability. They usually work for a while and eventually lose their settings. Usually, this is because an inexperienced person rushes through the setup and doesn’t take the time to manually assign a static IP address or uses the convenient push-button (WPS) method to set it up.
Connecting your printer to the Wi-Fi is the same as with any other device. You find the SSID you want and type in the passphrase. Depending on the printer the Wi-Fi setup can be done using a web interface, a USB cable, or the touchscreen on the printer. Of those three methods using the touchscreen is the most painful.
USB Printers: Before home networks became commonplace printers were usually connected directly to computers using big, ugly parallel ports with unwieldy clips and screws to secure them. Nowadays you can’t even find a computer with a parallel port unless it has a special adapter installed. USB changed all that and remains one of the most useful standards ever invented.
USB is still a very commonplace and convenient way to connect to a printer. It’s usually just a matter of installing some software and plugging in the USB port. With the proper file and printer sharing settings you can also share a USB printer on the network allowing other computers to print to it even if they have no physical connection to it. We covered this in the File and Printer Sharing section.
Plugging and unplugging a USB device is usually accompanied by a familiar “Blah-doop” or “Blah-deep” sound. This instant feedback tells you your device has a good connection and is usually ready to go. Unlike USB mice and keyboards, printers are not immediately ready to print as soon as you plug them in. They need extra software and drivers to function. This brings us to our next topic.
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A driver is simply software that enables hardware (Like a printer) to interact with the Operating System (Windows 7 or 10.) The most common place to install and manage drivers is Device Manager. We discussed Device Manager in Chapter 6 – Basic Network Troubleshooting. Device Manager handles drivers for things like network cards, video cards, and pretty much every hardware device inside your computer.
Printer drivers are handled in a different place altogether. If you go to Control Panel and click on Devices and Printers you’ll find where printer drivers are managed, installed, and uninstalled.
Each of the objects in Devices and Printers is referred to as the driver for a particular printer. To install drivers for a network printer you need two things:
- An IP address for the printer. Preferably a static IP address or DHCP reservation.
- A file location with the driver software for your printer.
The printer driver software will usually be:
Residing in the Operating System: Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “Plug and Play.” What “Plug and Play” refers to is an Operating Systems ability to identify a device, look up a special “.inf” file that is associated with the drivers for that device and install them.
When the Operating System detects a new device it automatically searches a special folder (C:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository in Windows 10) that contains drivers for hundreds of popular devices and installs the drivers for that device if it can find them.
Unfortunately, “Plug and Play” has been jokingly referred to as “Plug and Pray” by many computer technicians because it doesn’t always work. In the case of printer drivers, the Windows 10 Operating System will automatically scan USB ports and even network connections for printers and install drivers for them automatically. This seems like a great convenience feature – at first.
Many times, the Windows Operating System will automatically install a printer, and as if by magic it works. You may find yourself thrilled for the moment and then troubleshooting that same printer later.
You can tell a printer driver has been automatically installed by the Windows “convenience feature” by looking at the name automatically given to the printer. It will usually be some non-human sounding name with random letters and numbers. Also, if you right-click on the printer and look at the “General” tab you’ll see a bunch of gobbledygook that was obviously not put there by a human being.
In my line of work whenever I see this I immediately uninstall the automatically installed drivers and manually reinstall them. I don’t mean to say the Microsoft Windows “Plug and Play” system is all bad. It’s a very useful tool when used correctly. We’ll get into that a little later.
- Already residing in the Operating System.
- On the installation CD that came with the printer.
- In a Windows Update.
- In a download from the printer manufacturer’s website.
Printer Installation CD: It’s always best to get drivers from the source. That means taking the trouble to either download the actual drivers from the manufacturer’s website or get them from the CD that came with the printer. Unfortunately, software installation and driver CDs are becoming a thing of the past as high-speed internet becomes more prevalent.
If you’re lucky enough to have a brand new printer and its shiny new installation CD use it. Especially if the printer is one of those multi-function printers, scanner copier devices. Multi-function printers need the software on the CD to make the copier and scanner functions work. The best way to connect one of these devices is by USB. If you want to access the printer on the network you can always share it out.
The CD that comes with a printer is the best way to get your printer up and running the right way the first time. The CDs are usually designed to be very intuitive and user-friendly. Just follow the steps and click next a few times. The installation process will vary according to how you’re trying to connect.
- If you’re using the CD to install a USB printer it will usually prompt you to plug in the printer’s USB cable when the software is ready to detect it.
- If you’re using the CD to install a network printer the software may have a built-in utility that finds your printer on the network, allows you to select it, and click “Install.”
- If you’re using the CD to install a Wi-Fi printer the software may have a built-in utility to access the printer with a USB cable and configure it to connect to the Wi-Fi network.
If you don’t have the CD that comes with your printer it’s not too difficult to find it online and download it. Simply go to Google and enter your printer make and model followed by “driver download.” Make sure you don’t get sidetracked and find yourself on some sketchy free download page. You want to make sure you’re on the manufacturer’s website. Once you find your printer model you should find your drivers under “Support and Downloads.”
Some printer manufacturers make finding drivers for your printer simple. Others make it difficult by having too many downloads to choose from. Usually, the CD download is the one with the largest file size.
- Insert the CD or double-click on the full installation file you downloaded. It will extract to your computer and run the setup routine.
- The setup routine starts. Click “Continue.”
- When given the option between “Manual” and “Automatic” always chose “Manual.” It’s not that we like doing things the hard way. Doing things manually gives us more control.
- The fork in the road has been reached. Your choice between Wireless, Wired, and USB depends on your personal preference, the cables you have on hand, and where you plan on putting your printer. First, we’ll select “Wired.”
- Printer installation routines are usually very good at finding network printers.
- That was easy!
- Go to “Devices and Printers to make sure your printer is there. See how nicely it’s labeled now?
- Right-click on the printer and send it a test page to make sure it’s working.
The only thing tricky about a USB printer installation with CD is remembering NOT to plug the printer’s USB cable into the computer until it asks you do. Most printer installation routines don’t send a signal out to detect the printer until they get to a certain point. If the USB cable is plugged in already, it won’t detect the insertion and you may end up starting all over again.
- The fork in the road has been reached again. This time we’ll choose “USB.”
- Connect the cable when it prompts you to. It may take a minute to connect.
- Go to “Devices and Printers” to check your installation. Right-click on the printer, go to “Printer Properties” and then the “General” tab. Scroll through the list of printers until you see the one you just installed. This printer is connected to “USB001.”
- Go to the “General” tab and send your new USB printer a test page to make sure it works.
- Select “Wireless” at the fork in the road.
- The wireless configuration is done with a USB cable.
If the installation routine detects your wireless network you’re on your way. If it doesn’t you may need to find an alternate way to set up Wi-Fi printing such as with the printer’s web interface (Coming up) or the dreaded display panel.
- Enter your wireless passphrase.
- The installation routine looks at the Wi-Fi network your computer is connected to first. If that’s not the right network you may have to select another one or make sure your computer is connected to the right wireless network and try again.
- Click “Next.”
- That’s it!
Check your installation in “Device and Printers” and send a test page.
- Right-click on the printer.
- Go to “Printer properties.”
- Click on “Print Test Page.”
Windows 10 has a vast built-in driver store which makes it easy to connect a device such as a printer without manually running an installation routine. As with any other automatic process sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s important to know what to do when it doesn’t.
In this section, we’re going to walk through using the Windows “Plug and Play” service to install drivers in the Windows driver store and a driver downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. We’re going to use driver files from the same CD download we used before to demonstrate what needs to be done if Windows doesn’t have the drivers for your printer.
Maybe the reason printer manufacturers stopped sending driver CDs with their printers because they know people will just lose them anyway. Or maybe they’re just cheap. Either way, customers are having to download their drivers or rely on Windows plug-and-play more and more often when it comes to installing printers.
So let’s get one done. It’s not hard really and once it is done the drivers are permanently added to the driver store on your computer so you should never have to look for them again.
- Type printers into the search bar and click on Printers & Scanner.
- Click “Add a printer or scanner” in the “Printers & Scanners” window.
- To avoid the dreaded “automatically installed printer driver” click on “The printer what I want isn’t listed” to manually select a printer.
- Choose “Add a local printer…” We’ll also be using this option for installing a network printer later.
- Click “Next.”
- Since this is a USB printer installation select “USB001.”
- Use the list on the left to select the make of your printer and the list on the right to select the exact model of your printer. Click “Next.”
- If your printer is not on the list you can allow Windows Update to try to find it by clicking on the “Windows Update” button (This will take some time.) or clicking on “Have Disk” to browse to the drivers we downloaded earlier.
- Browse to where you downloaded your printer drivers.
- You may not know what to look for but the printer driver wizard does. It’s on a mission for “.inf” files. Each device has a special “.inf” file which identifies it and points to the location of its drivers. This CD download has a ton of “.inf” files so hopefully, if we click on the first one we’ll get lucky.
- There’s our printer! Click “Next.”
- Share the printer and give it a name if you want to. This is fine for a USB printer but kind of useless for a network printer since network printers are, technically, already shared on the network.
- Send a test page to make sure it’s working. It should work but what do we do if it doesn’t? Time to do some basic troubleshooting.
Type “Control” into the search bar and click on “Control Panel.”
- Go to “Devices and Printers” and let’s have a look at our newly installed USB printer.
Our printer drivers are there but so are a few other things we’ve never seen before. The two little heads are simply a symbol meaning the printer is shared which we remember doing so that’s OK. Then there’s that error message “Status: Error.” That’s not good. We need to look into this more closely.
You’ve probably heard of printers having paper jams. Well, this is another kind of jam. The computer sends print jobs to a “queue” which waits for the printer to finish any previous print jobs before sending more. Sometimes for whatever reason, print jobs can get stuck in the queue and you have to manually release them. This can be done by restarting the computer or by canceling the print jobs.
- To access the print queue right-click on the printer and select “See what’s printing.”
- Right-click on the print jobs with errors and select “Cancel.” In most cases, this will clear up the queue and the printer will begin printing again.
- Send another test page. Everything should be fine now. If not here’s something else to check.
- Go back to your list of printers in “Printers and Devices” and look closely at the printer that’s not printing. If you hover your mouse over it and can see it your connection to the printer should be fine. If it’s faded out or barely visible there’s a problem with the connection. It may even have a message saying “Status: Offline.”
It’s time to check your connections. If it’s a USB printer you need to check your USB cable. Unplug it and plug it in again. Try it in another USB port. The same thing goes for Network-connected printers. Check your network connections, switch, etc. Try power cycling the printer (Turning it off and back on again.) The same logic goes for Wi-Fi printers. You need to make sure your Wi-Fi is up and running. Are your other Wi-Fi devices connecting? Is the computer you’re printing from connected to the Wi-Fi or ethernet network? Wi-Fi printers that are not set up with static IP addresses have a way of losing their old IPs and picking up new ones. If that happens you can no longer print to the printer unless you change its IP address either on the printer or in the printer driver settings.
While we’re in the process of admiring our handiwork let’s check to make sure the printer is shared out the way we want. Let’s check the network in Windows Explorer.
- In the left pane of Windows Explorer scroll down and click on “Network.”
- Give the right pane a few seconds to populate all the computer icons and double-click on the computer the USB printer is shared on. My computer’s name is WIN10PROLAP.
- You should see the printer with the share name you gave it during the installation.
You can also type \\computername into the search bar and hit enter.
You’ll remember from the section on printer sharing simply right-clicking and selecting “Connect” will install this printer driver on any computer on your network and allow printing to it as long as the computer it’s connected to is turned on.
You may remember me mentioning earlier that we need two things to install a network printer:
- An IP address.
We’ve already downloaded drivers from the manufactures website so that leaves us with the IP address. The thing to keep in mind with network printers is you set their drivers up by specifying an IP address. If that IP address changes the installation no longer works. That’s why you always want to set up a network printer with a static IP or DHCP reservation.
You can assign a static IP to your printer using its web interface. The problem is without the printer’s current IP address you can’t access the web interface. Unfortunately, most network printers are set up to use DHCP by default. As soon as you plug an Ethernet cable into a network printer and turn it on it will pick up a DHCP address and you’ll have no idea what it is at first. So how do you overcome this?
Many corporate network printers will have a display panel that allows you to go in and manually change IP settings with buttons or a touch screen. This is painful and not recommended. You can also go into the “reports” menu and print out its “network configuration” or “network setup” page. This print-out should list the printer’s “IPv4 address.” That’s the IP address you need to enter into your web browser and reconfigure your printer.
So, what if your printer doesn’t have a display panel? You’ll have to do some detective work. Can you think of something that stores the IP address of all the devices on your network? That’s right – your wireless router!
Simply log onto your router’s web interface and you should find a list of devices that are currently connected to it. On my router, this list is called “Clients.”
- Click on the list to open it and find your printer.
- By process of elimination, you should be able to determine which device is your printer. “NPIF07689” is the name the Windows “Automatic Install” feature gave my printer. The IP address we need to connect to our printer’s web interface is 192.168.1.66.
The next question is what do we want to change it to? Remember DHCP has no idea what static IP address you give a printer and may try to use it on another device later. To avoid the possibility of an IP address conflict it’s best to assign a static IP address that’s outside the DHCP range.
So what is our router’s DHCP range? It’s an easy thing to forget.
- “IP Pool” is a term many routers use to refer to the DHCP IP address range. The word “scope” is another. Our “IP Pool” is .40 to .90. So it’s safe to use anything that’s between 192.168.1.1 and 192.168.1.254 (The outer edges of the network subnet.) and not in that “Pool” of numbers.
- I’m going to use 192.168.1.25 for our printer because it’s outside the “IP Pool” and I can see from the list of other clients it’s not already in use.
So now we know the IP address we need to use to access the printer’s web interface is 192.168.1.66.
- Enter your printer’s IP address into a web browser to access its web interface. To view the printer’s network settings we go to the “Networking” section. Note: Not all printer web interfaces will be the same but they all use the same logic.
We can confirm the current IP address settings are set by DHCP.
- To change the printer’s IP address settings we go to “IPv4 Configuration.”
- Change DHCP to “Manual” so we can enter a static IP.
- Enter a static IP address and hit “Apply” or “Save.”
- We can no longer access the printer’s web interface at its old IP address.
We need to replace the printer’s old IP with its new IP in the web browser.
- Our printer is at its new IP address. Any printer drivers set up automatically by the Windows Operating system using the old IP address will no longer work.
Let’s get started installing our network printer the right way.
Windows 10 added some new ways to get the same Windows 7 utilities so how you start depends on your personal preference. Ultimately you’ll end up in the same place. If you’re comfortable using Windows 7 type control into the search bar to open “Control Panel.”
- Select “Devices and Printers.”
- Click on “Add a printer” to open the printer installation wizard.
- Windows immediately starts scanning for USB and network printers. To avoid the dreaded “automatically installed printers” click on “The printer that I want isn’t listed.”
- The “Add printer” wizard opens.
If you’re more comfortable with Windows 10 you can start in “Printers & Scanners.”
- Enter printers into the search bar.
- Click on “Printers & Scanners.”
- Click on the “+” sign to add a printer.
- Once again Windows starts trying to automatically install printers for us. Select “The printer that I want isn’t listed.” Whenever we’re given the choice of “manual” or “automatic” it’s usually best to choose manual. Not because we like doing things the hard way but because the manual way usually gives us more control.
Here we are back at the same “Add printer” wizard used by Windows 7.
- Select “Add a local printer or network printer with manual settings.” This is the same selection we made with our USB printer.
- Instead of “Use an existing port:” as we did with our USB printer select “Create a new port.”
- Use the drop-down menu to select “Standard TCP/IP Port.”
- Configure the port by adding our network printer’s IP address to it.
- We already have drivers so we don’t need to use the automatic query.
- You may find the list of available Windows drivers a bit lacking. If so you can update the driver store by clicking on the “Windows Update” button.
- After a few minutes, the list is overflowing with more drivers to choose from.
- Use the scroll bar to select your printer manufacturer in the left pane.
- Select your printer model in the right pane.
- Click “Next” to install the driver.
- If your printer is not on the list you can use “Have Disk…” to find your drivers.
- Click “Have Disk.”
- Click on “Browse” to find your files.
- Browse to the driver folder you downloaded. You’ll usually find this in the “Downloads” folder unless you specified somewhere else to download them.
- You may not know what you’re looking for but the wizard does. It automatically limits its search to the special “.inf” files to help you find you find your drivers. By the way “Autorun.inf” doesn’t count as a driver file. Let’s try the first one and hope we get lucky again.
- Shazzam! There’s our printer. Click “Next.”
- If there was a problem with the original driver select “Replace the current driver” for a clean start.
- Click “Next.”
- Change the name of the printer to help identify it.
- We shared the USB printer for obvious reasons. I can’t think of a single reason to share a network printer.
- Print a test page the make sure everything is working.
Once a printer is installed you can send test pages to any printer at any time.
- Type printers in the search bar.
- Click on “Printers & scanners.”
- Select the printer you want to send a test page to and click on “Manage.”
- Click on “Print a test page” to test your printer.
When using Plug and Play to install a wireless printer we’re at the mercy of the ability of the Windows Operating System to detect and identify a printer across the airwaves. As you might imagine this doesn’t always work perfectly. Some printers are not as easily identified by Windows as others. Generally speaking, you’ll have more success with newer printers.
If all else fails it’s best to use the USB cable and CD method. The installation utility that comes with a printer will usually do a better job of detecting and configuring it because it’s designed for that specific printer.
Pro Tip: To increase your chances of success with a wireless printer installation try installing it as a wired network or USB printer first and then removing the Ethernet cable. This way the exact drivers for the printer are already in the driver store when Windows scans for the printer.
OK let’s get started with our wireless printer installation.
Important: You want to make sure your printer has a static IP or DHCP reservation set before installing the drivers just like you did with the wired printer. You don’t need separate IPs for a wired and wireless installation on the same printer.
You’ve already seen most of this in our USB and wired network printer installations. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only be covering the most important differences here.
- In “Control Panel” click on “Add a printer.”
- Interrupts Windows scanning routine by clicking on “The printer that I want isn’t listed.”
- This time we’ll be selecting “Add a Bluetooth, wireless or network discoverable printer.”
- Click “Next.”
- Contrary to everything I’ve said in previous installations we want the dreaded “auto-install” feature to do its thing in this instance. We made the selection for it to search for “wireless or network discoverable printers” only so that’s what we’re going to let it do. When the scanning stops click “Next.”
- If all goes well it should find your printer. Since we already set up its IP address there’s no further configuration needed. Print a test page and you’re done!
If you don’t like the old-school “Control Panel” holdover from Windows 7 you can use the more modern “Printers & Scanners” method in Windows 10 to install your wireless printer.
- Enter printers in the search bar, go to “Printers & Scanners” and click on the “+” to add a printer.
- When the scan stops select the printer you want to install.
- Select “Add device” to install the printer drivers.
- The driver installation begins.
- The printer is installed when it says “Ready.”
- To send a test page to the printer click on “Manage.”
- Print a test page to test your new wireless printer!
Most network printers have a web interface that allows you to configure its network settings. Usually, there is a wireless section that allows you to configure the printer for your wireless network.
At this point, we already know our printer’s IP so we can simply enter that into a web browser.
- Enter your printer’s IP address into a web browser and go to the “Networking” section.
- Look for a section to configure the printer’s wireless connection.
Not all printer web interfaces are the same but having set up your wireless router and multiple other network devices already you should be able to get the gist of what needs to be done here in short order.
This printer’s web interface provides access to the following settings:
- Turn the Wi-Fi connectivity on or off.
- The choice of joining the wireless network using a standard username and passphrase or using WPS which is a push-button method of adding devices to a wireless network. WPS has known security flaws and should be avoided unless you need it for some reason.
- The choice of the 2.4GHz band, the 5GHz band, or both.
- Select the wireless network you want your printer to connect to.
- Enter a network that may be hidden or is not on the list.
- Enter your wireless network’s security passphrase.
In the case of this printer, I never had to enter these settings manually. They were set already as a result of running the installation CD while connected to a USB cable. That’s a testament to how good the CD software is at configuring a printer.
Wi-FI Direct printing is very close to becoming a standard feature on wireless printers yet I feel it’s unappreciated and underutilized. Wi-Fi Direct printing allows you to print from a phone, tablet, or laptop with no connection to the wired or wireless network.
Say you have a guest who would like to show you a hard copy of a document they have stored on their phone. It’s not necessary to go through all the hassle of connecting them to your home wireless network. Simply give them your printer’s Wi-Fi Direct password and they’ll be able to print directly to your printer.
Wi-Fi Direct printing provides no access to the Internet or other computers on your network so there is no security risk. The password can be something simple like “12345678.” Once Wi-Fi Direct is enabled on your printer it’s a simple matter of finding its Direct Wi-Fi connection, connecting to it, and printing your document.
The first thing you want to do is make sure Wi-Fi Direct is enabled on your printer. You can easily do this with the web interface. Enter your printer’s IP address like we did before and go to the “Networking” section.
- Click on “Wi-Fi Direct Setup” to enable it.
- Use the drop-down to enable Wi-Fi Direct.
- You can use this field to edit the name of your printer. This will be shown on your list of Wi-Fi connections.
- Since we’re using the “Automatic” connection method we can stick with “12345678” as the password. You can experiment with other connection methods but for this demonstration, we’re trying to keep things simple.
Now that Wi-Fi Direct printing has been enabled and we know the SSID and password to our printer it’s time to hop on a phone or tablet to test it out. This demonstration is on an Android phone. The principle is the same on IPhones and IPads. You go to your Wi-Fi connections utility, find your Wi-Fi Direct printer SSID, enter the password and you’re all set to print.
- From “Settings” on your phone go to “Connections.
- Make sure Wi-Fi is enabled and click to access your settings.
Find and connect to your Wi-Fi Direct printer.
- “Wi-Fi Direct” indicates your mobile device supports Wifi-Direct printing. So far so good. No need to click that now.
- You’re currently connected to your home wireless network.
- Locate your Wi-Fi Direct printer and click on it just as if you were connecting to a wireless network.
- Enter the Wi-Fi Direct password you set in your printer’s web interface.
- Click “Connect.”
Your wireless connection is now dedicated to the Wi-Fi Direct printer. You can only have one Wi-Fi connection at a time so your usual wireless network has been disconnected. Notice it says “Internet may not be available.” That’s because this is a direct connection to the printer and nothing else.
Now that we’re connected to the printer let’s try printing to it.
- Select a document you’d like to print and open it. This may look different depending on the application you’re in.
- Go through the drop-down and make sure our Wi-Fi Direct printer is selected. In this example, the IP address (192.168.223.1) serves as a clue that it’s not a printer on our usual wireless network so it must be our Wi-Fi Direct printer.
- Click “Print.”
To keep this demonstration as generic as possible it was done without any special utilities that many printer manufacturers offer. These user-friendly utilities can be downloaded to your mobile device and make the process of Wi-Fi Direct printing easy and intuitive.
Last update on 2023-12-11 at 01:04 Affiliate links and Images from Amazon Product Advertising API