Networking 101: The Network Printer


Just a reprint from DSL Reports dot com.
Networking 101: The Network Printer
by digitaldoc77
Tuesday Nov 15 2016 07:40 EST

While we were promised the utopia of the “Paperless office,” the reality is that there are still plenty of times that we need to print a document or image- the key is to make it easy and convenient. While in the past, a single printer was directly attached to a single computer, first via the venerable parallel port, and then via the ubiquitous USB port, the modern solution is to connect the printer directly to the home network, which allows it to be accessed among all the devices on the network.

A network printer is specifically designed to be directly connected to the network. While this was once a premium feature, these days even the least expensive inkjet model they sell at the local drug store next to the seasonal candy and decorations is often a network printer, so there is no shortage of options, even among the budget offerings.

Most network printers can be connected to the the router through either Ethernet cable, or through Wi-Fi. Some consideration should be taken to which method is chosen as each have their pluses and minuses. On the one hand, with a wired connection, it is inherently more secure, and in my experience it will be more reliable.

However, with a wire, the location of the printer gets limited to how a cable can be run in relation from the router. The alternate is that a wireless connection allows more flexibility into the printer’s positioning, but the printer needs the Wi-Fi password to be connected, which may make it more difficult to change wireless passwords, and to swap out routers.

When purchasing a new printer, just about all of them are network printers, so with the printer designed to be connected to the network, it is generally simple to setup. The challenge becomes with an older USB printer, that is supposed to be directly attached to a single PC. Before this printer gets tossed to the curb, there are some options to make it a network printing device. After all, some of those older laser printers can run for many years and still have more than decent output; for example my Brother HL-2140 is almost a decade old and continues to print without a hitch so it continues to service as a “Backup printer.”

There are plenty of ways to convert a USB printer to a network printer. One of the older options is to configure Windows to function as a print server for the printer. While this is how it was done back in the Windows XP days, in Windows 7, 8.1 and 10, this route involves setting up a Windows Home Group, and then the printer can be shared among devices on the network. The disadvantages of this route is that it can take time to configure, and also the computer functioning as the print server then needs to be continuously to be available to route the printing job.

An out of the box solution is to add a dedicated print server to the network. This is a small box that has both an Ethernet port and a USB port. While this is a simple way to connect the printer, they tend to have issues, and not perform as reliably as they should. One better, although more expensive option in this category is the TP-LINK TL-WPS510U 150Mbps Wireless Print Server, which costs $65. It claims to have compatibility with a majority of printers, and is wireless as well.

There are yet other options to connect the printer as well. An affordable homebrew way to do this is via a RaspberryPi. There are multiple tutorials online, and the RaspberryPi is known for being highly power efficient with its ARM architecture, making it more palatable to have running 24/7 than a PC dedicated as a print server. Another option is some higher end routers with USB ports can run a printer via the port. For example, the Netgear Nighthawk X4S has two USB ports, so one can function with a flash drive for NAS, and the other can serve for print server duties.

Whatever method is chosen, clearly having the printer connected to the network is hard to beat for convenience. What began with workgroups in the office, now has become commonplace in the home. A good strategy can be to have both a laser printer for B&W prints with affordable toner, and a dedicated color printer for photos and projects, with all the computers on the network having access to both printers so the best printer for the job can be chosen as needed. Feel free to share experiences with network printing, and connection methods with older printers.

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A number of years ago I bought a used HP Laserjet 4 for $25 from a friend that went to school sales and such and bought and sold computer stuff.  It had a network card so was easy to put on the home network and so didn't require a particular PC to be on to print.  I did replace some rollers after a few years of use.  Eventually the fuser went out so bought a used HP Laserjet 4000 from a local company that recycles electronics stuff for $50.  They work great and are much more reliable than the newer stuff (IMHO).  We also got a new HP all in one inkjet that is on the network.  We don't use it enough to keep the ink from drying out and the cartridges are EXPENSIVE.  One of the flimsy hinges broke.  I taped the top on and we just use it as a scanner now.  Another problem is the "solution center" software gets confused and looses connection to the all in one when the laptop is taken to another network and then brought back.  And fixing that requires software reinstallation.  We gave up on that and just use the desktop for scanning.  The older stuff is great, the newer stuff not so much.
Yup; here my primary shared printer is an HP 6MP.  No Linux issues with it.
Old secondary was an NEC Superscript 1400 - which I liked a bit more than the HP until it died (after about 10 years of use).
Current secondary is a Samsung Laser printer which works OK after a few years.
Newest MF printer is a Canon Laser MF.  Just got this one working in Linux after a bit of tinkering with drivers.
You guys are bringing back some old printers I used to support! I currently have a networked Canon business class AIW that is used mainly for scanning or copying, but mostly to serve as a place for my kids to get paper to draw or color on!
Personally, I've been saving everything I need to .pdf for the past decade.