How to Share Printers on a Network

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Connecting Standard Printers With a Dedicated Print Server

These days, most printers that don't have a built-in networking capability are holdover printers from years past, multifunction devices like the Canon Pixma MX7600, or high-quality photo printers like the Epson Stylus Pro 7900.

A print server makes a non-network-capable printer accessible from any computer on the network. The printer connects to either a parallel port or a USB port on the server; another port on the server connects to the network. Network print servers range from simple, single-USB devices that cost less than $100 to multiport, multifunction systems that cost $1000 or more.

Typical low-end, print servers are the NetGear WGPS606 and the D-Link DPR-1260; representative high-end models include the HP JetDirect EW2500 and the Edimax PS-3103P. In addition, Iomega sells network-attached storage (NAS) devices that include print functions.

The proper way to set up the server depends on the device's complexity and on the particular functions that the manufacturer built into it. But all setups have a common result: After the print server is set up, the printer will be visible to workstations just as if it were a network-capable printer.

Print servers offer a low-cost way to expand access to an existing printer. If your workplace doesn't require advanced features such as print-job logging and first-page divider printing on jobs, a simple, inexpensive print server is probably all you need. If your office would benefit from more-sophisticated accounting and user-customizable features, you'll have to weigh the cost of a higher-end print server against the value of those additional capabilities.

For Linux users, the process for sharing a printer or attaching it to a network printer will vary depending on the Linux distribution in question, but it should be a simple wizard-driven process for Ubuntu and Red Hat users.

Standard Printers Shared From a Network-Connected Computer

The third way to make a printer available via an office network is to make a printer connected to a specific computer available for other users to share. To set this up on the computer directly attached to the printer, first go to the Windows Network and Sharing Center. Next, confirm that the workgroup name is correct (unless the computer is part of an Active Directory domain, in which case the Active Directory server will handle naming details), and choose Printer Sharing. Click the down arrow next to the label, and then click Enable Printer Sharing and Accept.

To gain access to a printer shared from a computer, open the Network view in Windows and double-click the icon for the computer that hosts the printer. You should see an icon for the printer that is set up for sharing; right-click the printer and choose Connect. Now you're ready to use the hosted printer.

On a Mac system, go to System Preferences, select Print and Fax, and click the plus sign at the bottom of the printer list to add a printer. Check the box for Share this printer across the network to activate printer sharing. If you want to share a printer between Windows and Mac computers on a network, you must first make sure the two types of computers can see one another.

The advantage of this third method of sharing a printer is that it can make an existing device far more accessible than before. The disadvantage is that the printer ceases to be available if the host computer is turned off or away from the office. If your organization has older surplus laptops or workstation computers, you can use them as dedicated print servers--a very low-cost way to maximize printer access.

At the simplest level, you can attach a printer to a computer, share the printer on your network, and never turn the computer off. It does nothing but share the printer. If you want more control and greater functionality, you can use software such as HSLab Print Logger SBE ($190) to maintain records of which users print how many pages, to limit accounts, and to do many other things.

Network printer sharing isn't the answer for every printer or every office. Some work functions, such as accounting and human resources, may require a dedicated printer that's unavailable to the rest of the organization. For most job functions, though, a shared network printer can make more-advanced printing available at lower cost to a wider range of employees. That's a bottom-line win for everyone.

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