Mastering Your Printer Driver: How to Become a Printing Pro

Crash Course on Printer Drivers

Sure, pressing Ctrl-P to print a simple document is the quickest way (or Command-P for you Mac users). However, spending a few minutes investigating your printer driver can reveal an entirely new level of control over your printing processes. In a nutshell, a printer driver is a program that enables your computer to communicate with a printer and allows you to control a variety of print-related operations. Although you can modify a few parameters when printing from a Windows application, the driver interface allows you to access a number of higher-level functionalities. You may even discover printing choices that you were previously unaware of.

Drivers are either included on the setup disc that came with your printer, or you may download them as part of the setup procedure from the manufacturer’s website. One of the driver’s primary responsibilities is to convert files sent from a computer into printer language. As a result, certain high-end printers may contain multiple printer drivers, one for each printer language, the most prevalent of which being PCL and PostScript. The manufacturer’s suggested driver is usually installed as the default driver, and you may have to click a box to install any extra drivers during the setup process. PCL—a versatile printer language created by HP—is preferred for most business printing because it allows for faster printing while consuming less memory.

Adobe’s printer language is PostScript, and Adobe programs like Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat are designed to work with it. As a result, graphic designers frequently employ it. Although PostScript is more commonly associated with Macs, it is also compatible with PCs. You’re better off sticking with PCL unless you need to print out graphical files (or a lot of PDFs). If necessary, you can always swap between the two.

Getting to Know Your Printer Driver

In Windows 10, type Control Panel in the search area in your toolbar and press Enter to get to your printer driver’s interface. You can view the page by Category, Large Icons, or Small Icons using a pull-down option in the upper right corner of the Control Panel screen. You must switch to either of the icon views if you are in Category view. Click Devices and Printers from there, and you should get a screen like the one below, with a series of icons marking printers for which you have installed drivers, as well as the default printer marked with a green checkmark.

A menu will appear when you right-click on the icon for the printer you wish to use. Printing Preferences and Printer Properties are the two options under that menu that contain the majority of the driver’s functions. Printing Preferences—by far the most important of the two for everyday use—includes a wealth of settings for layout, print quality, profile presets, and more. Printer Properties lets you choose ports and control security features, while Printing Preferences—by far the most important of the two for everyday use—includes a wealth of settings for layout, print quality, profile presets, and more.

As you prepare to print, you may also access your driver’s settings from within several Windows programs. The Print screen appears when you select File from the upper left corner of the screen and then Print from the pull-down menu. It contains a few basic settings such as the number of copies, paper size, one-sided or two-sided printing, and so on. Some programs, such as Word, offer a link to Printing Preferences on this page; others, such as Chrome, do not.

So, what exactly does it do?

Almost any printer function that you could want to change can be changed using the driver. And, given the large range of printers available today, they can vary significantly depending on the printer’s intended use. A driver for a professional photo printer, for example, will be very different from one for a monochrome laser printer in an office.

They do, however, share some similarities. The leftmost tab—often named Layout or Setup—includes information like the number of copies to be printed, one-sided or two-sided printing (if your printer supports auto-duplexing), paper type, and printing mode presets when you open the driver (such as Photo Printing, Business Document, and Vivid Color). Many basic consumer printers have only a few tabs that consolidate the most critical printing capabilities, but higher-end business models may have a half-dozen or more tabs, highlighting functionality you may not be aware of.

My business printer’s Lexmark Universal v2 driver, for example, contains a tab labeled Watermark that I had never noticed before. Tap the tab to open a dialog box where you may add a watermark to one or all of the pages you’re printing (such as Confidential, Draft, or a timestamp). Print and Hold is another tab on the Lexmark driver, as well as drivers for other printers that offer password-protected printing. It allows you to enter a PIN number for a print job and then send it to the printer; the intended receiver must enter the PIN on the printer’s keypad in order for the work to be printed.

Is it Possible to Use a Universal Driver?

Most major printer manufacturers, such as Brother, Canon, Epson, HP, Lexmark, and OKI, provide what are known as universal printer drivers. They’re not universal, as you might expect—they usually only work with printers from that brand, and some will only function with non-PostScript or monochrome printing, for example. If you have a networked fleet of Brother monochrome printers, for example, you won’t have to install a different driver for each new printer you add. For non-PostScript printers, Microsoft offers a universal printer driver, albeit installation might be time-consuming. In most circumstances, using the manufacturer’s model-specific driver is preferable to using a universal driver.

Using a Mac to Change Printer Settings

When printing from individual programs, Macs provide a more streamlined and consistent printing interface than Windows systems, and you have greater control. In addition, the Printers & Scanners dialog box on your Mac allows you to view basic printer information and change your default printer. Go to System Preferences in the Applications folder on a Mac running High Sierra or other recent versions of macOS and select Printers & Scanners. (The setting is named Print & Fax in prior versions of macOS.) This brings up a screen with a list of installed printers, with the default printer highlighted (unless you specify a different printer). You may check the print queue, see a list of available printers, share your printer across a network, adjust the paper size, and see a list of available printers. When you press the Options & Supplies button, a dialog box with a Driver tab appears, allowing you to adjust a limited number of parameters.

When you print from a software, though, the real action begins. When you choose Print from the File menu, a Print dialog box appears, with some basic options (number of copies and media type, for example), as well as a Presets button that opens a drop-down menu with a variety of layout, color, paper handling, print quality, and duplex printing options. You can use them as they are, or you can alter and save them.

What Are the Advantages of Multifunction Printers?

Multifunction printers (MFPs), often known as all-in-ones or AIOs, are machines that do more than just print. They condense what used to take three or four devices into a single machine. They almost all scan and copy in addition to printing, and some even have fax capabilities. All of them have a printer driver, and many of them also have a fax driver, but MFPs rarely offer a separate scanner driver interface.

Scanner functions are often managed by manufacturers’ scan utilities, which have user-friendly interfaces, or the MFP’s display, whether it has a touch screen or a non-touch screen with scanning function buttons. You must walk up to a scanner to load the original, unlike printing, where you can start a print job from the comfort of your desk. As a result, most scanning functions are controlled from within the MFP, which can scan to a USB flash drive or memory card without needing to be linked to a computer.

Increase the number of options you have.

Many users will be perfectly content to work with the printing interface in a specific application and its set of options. These options, however, are frequently limited. Accessing the printer driver through an application’s “Printer Properties” or a similarly titled link, or from your control panel’s Devices and Printers, will give you a considerably greater range of options. A comprehensive examination of the driver settings may reveal capabilities that you were previously unaware of.


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