How to Network a Printer

Add a printer to your home network

Traditionally, a printer in someone’s home was connected to one PC and all printing was done from that computer only. Network printing extends this capability to other devices in the home and even remotely via the Internet.

Printers Having Built-In Network Capability

A class of printers, often called network printers, are specifically designed for connecting directly to a computer network. Larger businesses have for a long time integrated these printers into their company networks for their employees to share. However, those are unsuited for homes, being built for heavy use, relatively large and noisy, and generally too expensive for the average household. Network printers for home and small businesses look similar to other types but feature an Ethernet port, while many newer models incorporate built-in Wi-Fi wireless capability. To configure these kinds of printers for networking:

  1. Update the printer’s settings (such as WPA wireless encryption keys or DHCP addressing) as needed to join the local network.

  2. For Ethernet capable printers, connect the printer to a network router using an Ethernet cable.

  3. For Wi-Fi capable printers, associate the printer with a wireless router or another wireless access point.

Network printers typically allow entering configuration data through a small keypad and screen on the front of the unit. The screen also displays error messages helpful in troubleshooting problems.

Add a Network Printer Using Microsoft Windows

All modern versions of Windows include a feature called File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks that allows a printer connected to one PC to be shared with other PCs on a local network. This method requires the printer to be actively connected to the PC, and that computer is running so that other devices can reach the printer through it. To network a printer via this method:

  1. Enable sharing on the computer. From within the Network and Sharing Center of Control Panel, choose Change advanced system settings from the left-hand menu and set the option to Turn on file and printer sharing.

    Screenshot of Advanced Sharing Settings in Windows with the "Turn on file and printer sharing" option highlighted
  2. Close the window and choose the Devices and Printers or Printers and Scanners option on the Start menu.

    A screenshot of Windows' Start menu with the Printers & Scanners option highlighted
  3. Select the Printer properties after right-clicking on the target computer, and check the Share this printer box within the Sharing tab.

    A screenshot of Printer settings in Windows with the Sharing tab and Share checkbox highlighted
  4. Printers can be installed on a PC via Devices and Printers. Some printers when purchased also come with software utilities (either on CD-ROM or downloadable from the Web) intended to help simplify the installation process, but these are generally optional.

Microsoft Windows 7 added a new feature called HomeGroup that includes support for networking a printer as well as sharing files. To use a homegroup for sharing a printer, create one via the HomeGroup option on Control Panel, ensure the Printers setting is enabled (for sharing), and join other PCs to the group appropriately. The feature works only among those Windows PCs joined into a homegroup enabled for printer sharing.

Networking Printers Using Non-Windows Devices

Operating systems other than Windows incorporate slightly different methods to support network printing:

  • Older versions of Mac OS X provided a utility called Print Center for setting up printers connected to Mac computers. Current versions added the ability to automatically detect and add certain kinds of printers, with manual configuration options in the Print & Fax section of System Preferences.
  • Apple AirPrint enables Wi-Fi wireless printing capability on Apple iOS devices including the iPhone and iPad. AirPrint support requires using a specially manufactured printer of the same brand.
  • Different flavors of Unix/Linux each provide generic support for network printing. User interface details differ but most are based on a common Unix printing mechanism called CUPS.

Wireless Print Servers

Many older printers connect to other devices via USB but do not have Ethernet or Wi-Fi support. A wireless print server is a special-purpose gadget that bridges these printers to a wireless home network. To use wireless print servers, plug the printer into the server’s USB port and connect the print server to a wireless router or access point.

Using Bluetooth Printers

Some home printers offer Bluetooth network capability, usually enabled by an attached adapter rather than being built in. Bluetooth printers are designed to support general-purpose printing from cell phones. Because it is a short-range wireless protocol, phones running Bluetooth must be placed in close proximity to the printer for the operation to work.

Printing From the Cloud

Cloud printing provides the ability to wirelessly send jobs from Internet-connected computers and phones to a remote printer. This requires the printer to be networked to the Internet and also involves special-purpose software.

Google Cloud Print is one type of cloud printing system, popular, especially with Android phones. Using Google Cloud Print requires either a specially manufactured Google Cloud Print ready printer, or a computer networked to the network printer running the Google Cloud Print Connector software.