... sharing printers on your network

What is a Print Server ?

Print servers are hardware devices which allow you to share a printer between multiple computers on your network.

Many printer manufacturers such as HP , Epson and Canon have printer models which come with an in built print server, the good news is if you have a printer which is not currently network capable there are plenty of 3rd party external print servers which will allow you to connect your parallel or USB printer directly to your network allowing it to be shared amongst multiple computers on your network.

Many of you may be sharing printers connected directly to the back of a PC, the downside of this approach is that it requires the PC to be switched on for other users to be able to send jobs to the printer. A much better approach is to purchase a print server box which you will plug your printer into and which then plugs into your network meaning you don't rely on a PC to be left on to enable other users to print to your shared printer.

Wired or Wireless ?

Your print server will need to be connected to your existing network, this can be either wired by being plugged into a spare network port on your router or network switch or if you are running a wireless network you can purchase wireless print servers for installation where you want the flexibility of being able to position the printer where you like without having to run unsightly network cables to the printer.

In a buisness environment it is probably likely that you already have network cabling in place, I would recommend that you use a wired print server wherever possible as they offer a more reliable and faster network connection than that offered by current wireless technologies.

Internal or External Print Server

Some manufactures provide expansion slots on their printers into which you can install an internal print server card, although these cards can provide a neat solution as they are installed within the printer and do not need a seperate power supply they tend to be more expensive than a 3rd party external print server also if you opt for a vendor specific internal print server when you come to replace your printer you will almost certainly need to purchase a new one as they don't tend to be interchangable between printer models let alone printer manufacturers.

Which model to buy

Make sure the print server you purchase is going to be able to connect to your printer, your printer will either have a parallel, USB or both types of interface, make sure the print server you buy has the same type of interface.

If you wish to network more than one printer there are models of print servers available which have connections for multiple printers such as 3 parallel ports or 2 parallel ports plus a USB port. It can be more cost effective purchasing one of these multiple port print servers over buying an individual print server for each printer, however, be aware that if you want to connect multiple printers they will need to be located in close proximity due to the limitation in cable lenghth of parallel and USB cables.

To ensure you print server is going to be compataible with your computers OS i would recommend choosing one that supports the industry standard raw device support, this may be described as supporting printing to TCP port 9100 . Always check the manufacturers site before purchasing to make sure your computers OS is supported with the device.

Some of the big manufacturers of print servers are:

HP - D-Link - Netgear - Belkin - Linksys

Click on the links above to see print servers from the relevant manufacturer.

Configuring the Print Server

This actual configuration of the print server will depend on the manufacturer so always read the manual. You may need to install some software on your computer to be able to configure the print server or more commonly the print servers have a web based control panel where you can configure the various settings.

The majority of print servers will automatically obtain an IP address once connected to your network, it is best practive though to assign a static IP address to your print server, this can be done using wither the software provided with the print server or via it's web based control panel. The image below shows the web based configuration screen of a HP JetDirect print server.