Printers come in a variety of general types with a variety of features available. You must know what your printer can do!
The most common types of printers for home, school, and small business are ink jet and laser printers. Both can produce high quality print-outs. A standard ink jet prints in color. A standard laser printer does not. Color laser printers are no longer very expensive, but ink jet printers are cheaper. The ink or toner for a year may add up to more than the printer cost you!
Of course you expect that the list of printers on your computer will include all printers that are actually connected to your computer. But it may include much more.
Print Dialog: At the top left of the dialog the Name box shows the selected printer. You can open the list to see all of the printers that the computer knows about, including printers that are not actually connected at the moment. You select a printer by clicking its name.
Print Preview: The name of the current printer is actually a button that opens a list of the known printers.
Control Panel has icons for printers. A check mark means that printer is the default printer. A hand or two people symbol mean that the printer is 'shared'. Other computers on the network can use it. A grayed out icon means that the printer is not available. It is no longer connected, turned off, or is connected to a computer that is shut down.
WinXP: Printers and Faxes
Windows 7: Control Panel > Devices and Printers > Printers and Faxes
(Shown with Large Icons)
How to open the Control Panel page of printers:
WinXP: Start > Printers and Faxes
Vista: Start > Printers
Windows 7: Start> Devices & Printers
Windows 8, 8.1: Start screen > Control Panel tile > Devices & Printers
If you do not see the command listed above on your own Start menu, open the Control Panel and look for it there.
The list of printers may include printers that are not actually connected to the computer or the network. Some may not be actual pieces of hardware at all. This can be confusing!
Windows comes with one or more standard icons for printers, like these from Windows 7 , but some printers now install with icons that look more like the actual printer. Unhappily, there does not seem to be an easy way for a user to change the icon that the Control Panel uses. Did you notice in the illustrations earlier? PowerPoint uses the same generic icon for all printers in its drop lists.
Default printer: Marked with a check. This printer is used when you do not pick a specific printer from the list.
Shared printer: A shared printer is available to other computers on the network but is connected to a particular computer. The icon has an additional part that indicates a shared item, which varies with the version of Windows.
Network printer: A network printer is connected directly to the network and not to a computer at all. In some situations the printer icon shows it as a printer or as a 'device' connected to a network cable. In others, the printer icon is the same as if it were connected directly to your computer.
A nice network printer name includes the location, like \\cumbsrv\cumb156p1, which is the name of printer #1 in the computer lab at Roane State Community College, Cumberland County campus, Room 156. Or, it could have a helpful name like 'History Dept workroom'. All too often you will see an unhelpful name like Bluetooth #3, a serial number, or just an IP address like 192.168.1.95.
You can search for network printers as part of the Add Printer dialog sequence or the button/command Find Printer. If you are not connected to a network, you will get an error message.
A large network can have a LOT of printers. One day I counted the printers in the list of printers on the network at Roane State Community College. There were 188 printers on seven campuses scattered around east Tennessee! Be sure to pick a printer that is in a location you can get to!
Unconnected printer: A grayed out printer icon means that the printer is not currently connected to the computer or is turned off.
Printer that is not accessible from your computer: You may have a printer installed that cannot be connected to your system at all. (This seems to be really hard to do with WinXP.)
Why do such a thing?? Your program formats your document for a particular printer. If you are working on a document that was created and formatted on another computer, it may have been formatted for a printer that is not installed on your computer. The document's format will be somewhat different when it is formatted for your own default printer. When you send the document back to the original computer, it will be re-formatted again. You may have unhappy results! Having the same printer installed on both systems keeps everybody happy.
Not-really-a-printer: The list of printers can also include virtual printers, which are not physical devices at all.
Check carefully to be sure you send your print job to the right printer!
Check what media your printer can handle BEFORE you buy greeting card stock, photo paper, transparencies, labels, etc. Find the control with the list of media.
PowerPoint 2007: Print dialog > Properties
PowerPoint 2010, 2013: Print Preview > Printer Properties
Some printers have very long lists with exact brand names while other printers have just general descriptions. Yes, it matters!
Match the media to the type of printer, too. Media marked for laser may not work well with an ink jet printer and vice versa.
Also check what sizes the printer can handle. Some can print on small sizes like envelopes and index cards, but not all.
Examples of Media Lists:
Match printer and paper: You will be happier with your printing if you are careful to use ink/toner and paper made by the same company that made your printer, especially for photos. Test carefully when printing on special media if the printer does not list that type. Transparency film, glossy paper, and card stock respond differently to ink and toner than regular paper does! The heat from a laser printer can melt the wrong transparency sheet and can make ink jet labels stick to the backing.