As office equipment goes, printing is supposed to be easy. While wireless printing may not be as simple as plug it in, power it on, and print, it's still a pretty straightforward process.
When you have one computer, you just put the printer next to the computer and connect the two directly. But what if you have a laptop, or several, and don't really want to get up to connect to a printer whenever you need to print? There is no need to buy a printer for every computer, or to create a print station from which everyone has to print. Set up the printer to connect to your existing Wi-Fi network, and as long as you are on the same network, you will be able to print.
Printers have come a long way over the years. Some use Bluetooth, others have infrared (irDA). Some have built-in Ethernet ports, others have built-in wireless adapters. Even printers that don't have any default networking capabilities can be connected to the network. If you are in the market for a printer, check out our printer roundups to figure out which one best suits your needs.
The specific steps vary by manufacturer and model, but we will go over the general steps for connecting a printer to a Wi-Fi network. For specific steps for your printer, check the manual, or better yet, the printer's support website.
The Easy:Printer Has Wi-FiWireless networks are typically set up to use DHCP, where the network router automatically assigns an IP address to computers and other devices. This makes setting up a wireless printer really simple. Just power it on and scroll through the menu interface to make sure Wi-Fi is turned on. Select the correct wireless network, enter the password if prompted, and the printer will grab an IP address from the network.
Easy, right? Well, not quite. Not all printers will let you select a specific network or enter a password. Check to see if the printer came with setup software—that will be the easiest way to get the printer on to the correct network. You connect the computer (temporarily!) to the printer and run the installation software, which will find the wireless network, prompt you for the network password, and finish the setup.
At this point, any computer on the network can potentially print to this printer, provided you set up the drivers. You can do so through the setup software or via the computer's Printer control panel. On Windows 7, it's under the Start menu as Devices and Printers, or Printer under the main Control Panel. Mac OS X has its own Add Printer menu. Step through the Add Printer wizard to find the printer on the network and intall the drivers.
You will have to do this for every computer from which you want to print.
The Less Easy: Printer Has an Ethernet PortIf your printer is not wireless enabled, but it has a built-in Ethernet port, you can set up the printer somewhere near your wireless router or switch. This automatically puts your printer on the network. When you try to set up the printer on each computer, it should find the printer and let you install the drivers seamlessly.
If you are trying to set up the printer and your computer can't find it on the network, there is a workaround by adding the printer as a local (USB) printer. On Windows machines, when you are prompted for the port, select a TCP/IP port so that you can enter the printer's IP address. In OS X, you add the printer as an IP Printer and manually enter the IP address. You get the printer's IP address by printing out a test page or looking on the printer display.
The Not Easy: Printer Has Only USBPerhaps you didn't buy a printer with a network adapter. Perhaps this is the same printer you've been using for years and since it works just fine, why bother replacing it? Well, that's okay, because you can still get the printer on the network for everyone else to use.
For Mac users with AirPort Time Capsule, AirPort Extreme, or AirPort Express, you can plug in a regular USB printer and share it over the Wi-Fi network. Some network-attached-storage (NAS) boxes also offer printer sharing, which means you just connect the printer to the box's USB port. The printer is set up through the NAS administrator interface.
Very Easy: Google Cloud PrintThe above steps talk about setting up wireless printing the traditional way. Then there is Google Cloud Print, which connects your printers to the Web. That may sound appealing to some people—don't forget, if you have an Internet outage, Cloud Print won't work—because wireless printing becomes as simple as signing up for a Google Cloud Print account.
You need Google Chrome on your computer to sign up. From the menu button, go into Settings, and then Show Advanced Settings. There is a Google Cloud Print section here which lets you Add Printers. If you have a Cloud Ready printer—supported by a range of manufacturers including Brother, HP, Canon, Epson, Oki, Samsung, and Dell, to name a few—and it's powered on, you'll see your printer listed. You can also click on Classic Printer to associate your regular printer to your account. And that's it—Google handles everything else.
Take the LeapNetwork printing used to be about complex networking setup, long cables snaking across the floor, keeping one machine turned on so that everyone can connect to the printer through it. Not anymore. Network printing is easy, and wireless printing is as easy as hopping onto the network. Whether you use the Wi-Fi network or Google Cloud Print, cut the cord and print!
For more, check out File Sharing 101 and Cutting the Phone Cord.
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