An integral part of any business, regardless of its size is printing. In a business environment, where many employees need access to printers, the need for a printing network is obvious. This allows more than one person to use the printer from their own computers or wireless devices. Also, sharing a printer is useful for home use: if you have more than one computers and only one printer, you can share that printer throughout the home network so anyone connected to the network can use it.

In this tutorial we will show you how to setup and manage a network printer for both home use and business. The two have different setups and require different components, and they also work different. Keep in mind that the model for a home printing service can be used in a small business and viceversa and your network should be based on the model that you find to be more cost effective and efficient for your needs. We will start off by discussing some general aspects of printer sharing, afterwards, we will look at the two models.


Basic notions in network printing

Before building your network sharing service, you need to determine the amount of work your printer will handle. If you’ve seen our printer buying guide, you know there are many types of printers, each specialized for a certain task. We’ll recap some of that information to give you a good understanding of how printing networks work.

Printer workload – Remember to factor in the amount of work the printer or printers have to do. If you have a medium or big business with many connected computers to the network, one printer might not handle the amount of printing jobs and so you might need more than one printer connected to the network. Also, for a smaller business, one printer might be enough.

Printer features – Regardless of the size of the network, think of what tasks your printer will have to do. If you are only interested in printing, then there is no use for other features such as copy machine, fax or scanner. Also, choose between color or black and white printers depending on what you will print.

Maintenance – This is where you must pay extra attention. What is the cost of running the printer, taking into account consumables and regular maintenance? Laser printers can keep going a long time, but the consumables are more expensive, on the other hand, ink printers have cheaper consumables but they do not last as long. This is determined by the workload that the printer

Network Type – Your existing network has a big impact on what printer you need. If you run a fast network (100MB/s) but your printer does not reach this speed, it will bottleneck the entire network. Also, if you do not have a wireless network, look for a printer that does not have this feature, you will pay extra for a feature you do not need. If you are planning to expand/upgrade your network, factor this into your calculations also.

Security – Many overlook this aspect, but the security of your network is very important. Printer manufacturers implement security options, like PIN authentication and security protocols. Many hackers use printer servers to gain access to networks, so be very careful regarding this aspect of your network, wireless or otherwise.

Now that we cleared up some of the general aspects of the printing network, let’s take a look at how to create and manage it. For each type of network, the process is different, depending on the server OS or if you will share the printer through a printing server or a wireless router/switch.

How to set up a network printer on Windows XP /Vista/7

After doing some digging, I found two great video tutorials that explain the process of sharing a printer via wireless router in a home network. These tutorials also applies if your network works through a switch or wired router. The steps are easy to follow, and basically, the OS does all the hard work.

After installing the printer on one PC, go into Control Panel -> Printers and Faxes -> Right Click on your Printer and hit “Share”.
Now, remember the name of the computer where the printer is installed (we will call it “server” for now) and the name of the printer (we will name if “printer”). Go in Control Panel -> Printers and Faxes -> Add Printer and follow the wizard. When asked for the name of the printer that you want to add type the name of the server PC and the printer like this: \\server\printer (where “server” and “printer” will be the names of your computer and printer).

Setting up a complex printing network with a printing server

This is where the process gets harder. To set up a complex printing network, the type that most big businesses have, you will need a network printer, capable of connecting to a router or switch. These printers have their own IP addresses, so you can install more than one such printer in your network. Also, for these printers, you have the option to install a specialized printer server that can manage the printing tasks and choose the closest printer to your computer.

The components are more expensive, but they can handle a bigger workload and these printers have higher speeds and more features. Also, you have specialized software to manage the printing network. A few examples of such software are PaperCut, HP Web Jetadmin, ScrewDrivers or Xerox Services Manager. These allow you to overview you connected printers, see print tasks or the level of usage.

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