There are many ways to connect your inkjet, label, or Laserjet printer to a wireless network and make your printer wireless. The price ranges from free to $200 depending on what your needs are. Here are the following options that allow wireless printing. Although convenient, one of the top complaints I receive is “I can not get my wireless printer to print”. Setting up and troubleshooting can be teadous when finding out how a wireless printer works, but generally after everything is connected and setup properly, printing wirelessly isn’t so bad. Clicking on any topic will jump down to a more detailed explanation with various tips, product reviews, and recommendations. If you’re looking to purchase a wireless printer that is also AirPrint compatible, please check out our Airprint printer buyers guide.
There are two main types of wireless printing used widely today. First (and most popular) is using a standard wireless network (802.11b/g). The second is by using a technology called bluetooth. Bluetooth is limited in range, which makes it difficult to share among multiple printers. This article is focused on personal wireless networks since they are more common, easier to configure, and cheaper on the budget (most of the time).
1. Sharing a Printer Connected to a Computer on Your Wireless Network
If you’d like to save some money and already have a computer connected to the printer you want to make wireless, this method is the easiest and cheapest. The basic principle is to connect the printer, install the drivers, and share the printer on the network. Other computers connected to your wireless network can print to this device after a proper driver installation. Following the pros and cons, I’ll show you how to setup a printer on a wireless network.
Pros: Sharing a printer on a network is nearly free because most people have all the necessary equipment. Setup is typically easier than other methods.
Cons: Since the printer relies on the computer to connect to the network, if the computer is off, no one can print to that printer using the wireless network.
Mac OS X (10.5) Leopard / (10.6) Snow Leopard Instructions
Setting up a the Printer
Sharing a printer using Mac OS X is a bit easier than windows.
To setup printer sharing on your computer, first go to the “Sharing” control panel.
Check the box next to “Printer Sharing”.
You should see a message indicating that printer sharing has been turned on.
Next, open the “Print and Fax” control panel.
Next to the printer icon, select “Share this printer”.
Installing the Printer on Another Computer
On on the other computer, add the printer by going back into the “Print and Fax” control panel and click on the “+” button.
Then, you should see the newly shared printer in the list of available printers to add to your computer. Click on the printer you wish to add and select, “Add”. You can also add shared printers from a Windows computer here, but that procedure is out of the scope of this article.
Windows XP Instructions
Setting up the Printer on a Computer
Setup on a Windows machine can be complex. The following instructions provide a basic understanding on how to quickly share a printer.
To begin, open the Control Panels and select”Printers and Faxes”
Select the printer that you want to share and right click on the icon. Then select “Properties”.
Go to the “Sharing” tab. You may or may not see this screen. If your sharing tab looks like the representation above, select the option that you understand the risks and you want to share you printer (bottom link on picture).
To keep this tutorial basic, select “Just enable printer sharing”, and press “OK”.
Now you should see the general sharing interface for Windows XP. Select “Share this printer” and give it a meaningful name and press OK. Ignore any MS-DOS naming error message you receive because few computers use MS-DOS anymore.
In the “Printers and Faxes” control panel, you should see your printer with a hand icon over the icon. This means that it is currently being shared over the network (within your workgroup).
Installing the Printer on Another Computer
To start, open the control panels again and click on “Printers and Faxes”. Then select “Add a printer” from the menu on the left.
Then select “A network printer…” to add the shared printer on the other computer, then click “Next”.
Next, select “Browse for a printer” so we can choose the correct printer to install, then click “Next”.
Now you’ll need to find the printer by first selecting the workgroup (in my example, it’s called “WORKGROUP”) and then select the name of the computer, and finally select the printer and click “Next”. You may have a strange named computer, but most networks are small and it should be fairly easy to find out which computer is which. If you don’t see your computer in the list, you may need to check and make sure that all computers within the network are on the same domain. Changing the domain of a computer is outside the scope of this article but many resources are available online.
Now, the computer will attempt to install the drivers from the other machine. If you’re running a different version of Windows, sometimes these drivers are incompatible (ie, Vista). Click on “Yes” to proceed.
Next, make the selection Yes or No if you’d like this new printer to be you default printer in the programs you use in your computer, then click “Next”.
On the last step of the wizard, verify the information is correct and select “Finish”.
You should now see a new icon displaying the printer you selected. It should look similar to the picture below.
Windows Vista Instructions
2. Internet Router with a Built-In USB port
There are many Internet routers available today that provide additional functionality such as connecting a usb printer or hard dive. With the increased demand of wireless printing, many electronics manufactures are entering into the market and including USB printing functionality with their routers. The following is a list of available devices out today that provide this functionality. Each one seems to have pros and cons, so there is no specific one that wins hands down.
Pros: Integrated devices, possible savings. Typically easier to setup and the router provides a higher range of service allowing you to move further away from your printer and still have the ability to print.
Cons: Printer must be attached to the router, not as mobile.
Below are some common wireless routers and what I think of them. I’ve provided a link directly to the router on Amazon should you want more technical specifications or to purchase it.
Apple Airport Express
This dual purpose device can act as a print server or an internet router. Although the expansion is somewhat limited, this small white print server packs many features including the ability to connect a usb hub to the usb port and connect a printer along with storage devices to share. The setup is pretty straightforward as long as bonjour is installed. Vista requires an update, but it should work in Windows XP as well.
Apple Airport Extreme
This router from Apple provides very good wireless range and easy USB printer setup support and is often called the catelac of wireless routers. Using a protocol called “Bonjour”, connecting many types of printers to this router is very easy. Connecting a non-Mac supported printer to this router can be difficult but possible. Also, a Windows based computer can connect to a printer connected to this router. Installing Bonjour (free from Apple) makes it very simple to install a new printer. You must be running Windows XP/Visita/7. An alternate method to connect using windows can be found at Mac OS X hints.
Apple Time Capsule
If you’re looking to do more than just wireless printing, Apple’s time capsule provides everything that the Aiport Extreme offers but with built-in storage. The price is considerably higher, but if backing up files is one of your goals, Apple makes it very easy if your running a few Macintosh computers with OS Leopard installed. Wireless printing is also very similar to the Express and Extreme, so installing a wireless printer on a Windows computer requires a more advanced setup. It is also possible to install a printer that does not have native Mac drivers (for example, the HP LaserJet 2100) by using this hint from Mac OS X hints.
ASUS WL-500W Wireless Super Speed N Router
This compact router from ASUS provides a good balance of price and features. It has a built-in USB port like the Apple products, but the cost is a bit cheaper. The reviews of this router indicate that the range isn’t as much as the Aiport Extreme, but the features of gigabit Ethernet, USB storage and printer support, and external antennas are great selling point of this router. One of the best features not commonly found is the compatibility to put Linux firmware on this router which includes DD-WRT and Tomato.
D-Link USB printer and storage technology is called “SharePort”. The DIR-625 is D-Link’s entry level router and provides a fair set of features, one of them being the ability to share a printer wirelessly. This router provides 4 LAN ports, an uplink port, and a USB printer/storage port. It also uses the 802.11n draft making transfers much faster if utilizing the storage feature.
D-Link USB printer and storage technology is called “SharePort”. The DIR-628 is another of D-Link’s entry level routers and provides a fair set of features, one of them being the ability to share a printer wirelessly. This router provides 4 LAN ports, an uplink port, and a USB printer/storage port. It also uses the 802.11n draft making transfers much faster if utilizing the storage feature.
In addition to the feature set of the D-Link DIR-628, the DIR-655 provides gigabit LAN ports for even faster wired connectivity and an additional antenna for extended range. Besides the hardware upgrades, this router has a better software feature set including better firewall protection.
The DIR-825 is a small step up from the DIR-655. It’s main feature besides wireless printer sharing is the fact that this router provides QoS or Quality of Service support. This means that certain types of traffic can be given a high priority over other types of traffic. For example, if you use Vonage, it’s important to give the phone the highest priority for the best call quality.
For those geek enthusiats that require and update on status on demand, the DIR-855 gives you the feature of a large LED screen on the top of the router providing network statistics and current connectivity issues. The price is a little steep, but the cool factor is through the roof with this router.
This frag-fest router is targeted at the gaming market. It’s a little cheaper than the DIR-855, but provides the geek loved LED update screen, printer/storage sharing, and best of all, a way to prioritize your gaming (or other) traffic to reduce lag or quality issues.
3. Independent Wireless Print Server
This is probably the most popular way of connecting a USB only printer to a wireless network. Many manufactures have come out with wireless connectivity devices. These small devices are called (or supposed to be called) a wireless print server or a wireless bridge for printers. The following devices can be used as a wireless print server.
Pros: Generally inexpensive compared to a wireless router or buying a printer with built-in wireless capabilities. Utilizes equipment that you already have. Most of the wireless print servers available today are cross platform (works for Mac and PC).
Cons: Can be hard to configure due to the wireless nature of the print server. May not be compatible with all printers that use USB. Some adapters don’t have the best wireless range which can cause problems getting everything setup.
Apple Airport Express
Linksys Wireless-G PrintServer with Multifunction Printer Support
This moderately priced print server from Linksys offers a great list of compatible devices and allows you to print, scan, fax, copy and more. Linksys has been know as a brand that is most compatible with a fairly easy setup process.
NETGEAR WGPS606 54 Mbps Wireless Print Server with 4-port Switch
If you’re looking to print wirelessly and want to connect other wired devices such as a computer, additional printers, or storage devices, the NetGear WGPS606 is an ideal way to connect all your equipment wirelessly. The downside to this method of connecting devices to your wireless network is that sometimes there is a bottleneck in network traffic. Speeds are also maxed out at 54 Mbps.
D-Link DPR-1260 RangeBooster G Multifunction Print Server
D-Link competes with Linksys with their DPR-1260 which provides all the main features of its rival with an added bonus, increased range. You’ll need a compatible D-Link wireless router (any that include rangeboost). This gives you additional freedom in choosing where to place your printer.
HP Wireless G Print Server
HP recently came out with a wireless printer kit of its own. It’s only officially compatible with HP printers (most of which are of the LaserJet series). The price is competitive, but the limited compatibility makes this wireless router harder to use for devices that are not HP branded. If you have a recent LaserJet printer though, this is probably one of the easiest to setup and configure.
More devices coming soon!
4. Purchasing a Printer with Wireless Built-In
Many consumers wonder how to setup a wireless printer. There are many different companies today that are offering printers with built-in wireless connectivity. When shopping for a new printer, be sure to look for “802.11” or “WiFi Enabled”. There are many names when it comes to wireless printing. Here are some examples of some good recommend wireless printers. If requested, in a future update, I’ll talk about how to install a wireless printer.
Lexmark X4550 Wireless All-in-One Photo Printing/Scan/Copy/Print
Lexmark has been making printers for quite some time now. In the past, their business model relied on the fact that the printers would be cheap and the ink cartridges expensive. This model has been changed nowadays due to the decreasing demand for inkjet printers. This all in one printer really has a lot of great features built-in including scanning, faxing, copying, and of course printing. Add built-in wireless into the mix and you’ve got a solid printer. Beware of the ink costs though.
Epson WorkForce 600 Wireless All-in-One Printer (Black)
Epson has also come out with a line of wireless inkjet printers of its own. This all-in-one has the same basic set of features as the Lexmark, but the ink costs a bit cheaper in general. The black color tends to also look a little better since ink can generally get anywhere and everywhere.
Canon MP620 Wireless All-in-One Photo Printer
Canon is also in the game with yet another similar printer with built-in wireless printing. The color ful (yet small) lcd screen provies a quick and easy way to print right from a camera or other device. The cartridge costs tend to be on the higher end, but the quality is very good.
Brother HL-2170w 23ppm Laser Printer with Wireless and Wired Network Interfaces
Brother has recently come into the laser printer market (compared to how long HP has been it in) and provided a unique solution. The HL-2170w provides both wired and wireless connectivity. This is nice for an office that wants wireless, but needs a good backup solution in case the WiFi network goes down or their’s interferience. As a recommendation, if you have the choice of wired or wireless and it doesn’t matter to you, always go with wired. It’s much faster and more reliable.
HP LaserJet 1102w Wireless Monochrome Laser Printer
Whenever you see a “w” on the end of an HP LaserJet series printer, you know it’s got wireless built-in. Although HP wasn’t the first manufacturer to include wireless as an option for its printers, the setup seems to go a lot smoother with HP branded machines. You will pay a bit more for wireless functionality up front, but the savings in repair and toner costs will save you money down the road. So far, this has been the best wireless printer for a Mac.
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