How To Network Your Printer To Print From Multiple Computers At Once (In Layman's Terms!)

Jul 23, 2008

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The Bottom Line Setting up your printer to print from a different computer is easy and very useful!

This is the third installment of In Layman's Terms, which are various How To editorials that are focused on computer topics that sound very complicated, but once you understand them, really aren't (hopefully these will expand to topics other then computers, but for now that’s where I’m focused). So here we go:

How To Network Your Printer To Print From Multiple Computers At Once

We all know how to use a printer - your 15 year-old set it up for you and you either hit ctrl-p or file/print. The point of In Layman's Terms is to teach you how to hook up multiple computers to one printer - that way you don't have to buy one printer per machine, or waste time unplugging the printer from one machine and connecting it to another every time you want to use it.

Before we kick this off, you need to have a home network set up. If you don't, please go and read How To Set Up A Wireless or Wired Home Network, where I walk you through exactly what it sounds like: how to set up a home network.

What We Want To Do
There are two things you may be looking to figure out here. The first is that you have multiple PCs at home and you want to allow other computers to print to the printer you already have set up. The second is that you have multiple PCs at home, and you want to have the printer on your network, but not physically connected (e.g. you have the perfect place for you printer, but it's on the other side of the room and you don't want to have to run unsightly cable to it). I will explain how to set both of these up below.

Allowing Other PCs To Print From Your Already Set Up Printer
This could, quite possibly, be one of the easiest things to do that could make you seem like such a techie to all of your unknowing friends.

Step 1 - On the computer that you have the printer already hooked up to, right click on the printer that you want others to be able to print on (which you can find in Start/Settings/Printers and Faxes/Your Printer), and select Sharing… from the dropdown that appears.

Step 2 - This will bring you to the Sharing tab within the printer's properties menu (alternatively, you could have selected Properties from the right click dropdown and then selected the Sharing tab yourself). Within this tab you will see two options - Do not share this printer (which should currently be selected), and Share this printer (which is what you want to select now). When you click Share this printer, you will have the ability to create a shared name - the default is the current printer name. Once you have a name for your printer, click ok.

Step 3 - On the computer that is not hooked up to the printer, go into the printer menu (Start/Settings/Printers and Faxes) and click Add A Printer

Step 4 - Within the Add Printer Wizard, select the option A network printer, or a printer attached to another computer. Here you will have three options: Find a printer in the directory, Connect to this printer (or to browse for a printer, select this option and click Next):, and Connect to a printer on the Internet or on a home or office network. You want select Option 2.

Step 5 - You should see your printer on this list. If you don't, go back and make sure that you properly shared your printer in steps 1 and 2, and that your computer that you are currently using is actually connected to your home network. Double-click on your printer and print a test page - you should be able to use this printer now.

Downsides To This Method - There really is only one major downside to connecting your printer to your network this way - your PC always has to be turned on for other computers to access it. If you don't mind constantly having your computer running or turning on that specific computer whenever you want to use the printer, you will be all set! If this is something that you can foresee bothering you, then I would suggest looking into Print Server.

Setting Up Your Printer Directly On Your Home Network

So you've decided that you don't want to have to leave your other PC turned on constantly, or that you want to be able to position your printer somewhere hidden. You now have two options to decide from: Wired or Wireless. Fortunately for you, the process is basically the same for both. Unfortunately for you, the process can be pretty expensive if you don't have a network ready printer.

Which is better - Wired or Wireless? - In my opinion, wireless is definitely the way to go - you have the ability to position your printer virtually anywhere. It can be very difficult to keep your place looking neat and classy when you have wires running all over the place - with wireless, you can put the printer anywhere you want!

So You Said Something About More Expensive? - Unfortunately, if you do not have a network ready printer (meaning it does not have an RJ45 port in the back (a place for you to plug in your Ethernet cable - I define all of these terms and more in How To Set Up A Wireless or Wired Home Network), then you are out of luck and going to have to buy additional hardware. A lot of the newer printer models are coming with network connections built it, or they at least have the option to buy them with it.

So My Printer Has A Network Port, Now What? - Good for you! All you have to do is plug your printer into your network, install the network software that came with your printer, and you are good to go! If you want to make it wireless, you are going to have to buy a wireless access point to connect to your network - easy enough, right?

My Printer Does Not Have A Network Port, Now What? - Unfortunately, you need to buy a print server to hook your printer directly into your network - this is going to cost you anywhere from $45 to $100. You can pick up the Netgear PS101 Mini Print Server for $65 or the IOGear USB 2.0 Print Server for $45. Different print servers have different capabilities - some have wireless capabilities while others are wired. It’s really up to you for what you want.

Downsides To This Method - The first downside is that it is a little less straightforward, which leaves more room for error. The second downside is that is can be more expensive since you may have to buy additional hardware.

My recommendation is, if you don’t mind leaving your default computer on, using the first method. It’s a lot easier to set up and troubleshoot. However, if you do not want to leave your computer on, you should invest in a printer that has a network port in it already.

Other In Layman’s Terms - This is the third installment of In Layman’s Terms, which are How To editorials that I have been writing about computer hardware (for now). If you enjoyed this, please check out some of the others that I have written:

Part 1. How to Set Up Multiple Monitors on Desktops and Laptops
Part 2. How To Set Up A Wireless or Wired Home Network

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