You can print almost anything with Windows: documents, pictures, webpages, or e‑mail.
This article is designed to introduce new computer users to common printers and the basics of printing in Windows.
Printers you encounter on store shelves are usually grouped into three categories. These are the most common types of printers sold for home or office. Each technology has pros and cons.
DPI, or dots per inch, is a measure of a printer's resolution. DPI determines how crisp and detailed your document or picture will appear. It's an important consideration when buying a new printer.
Inkjet printers squirt small dots of ink onto the page to reproduce text and images. Inkjets are popular because they're relatively inexpensive. There are also many models to choose from, including ones designed specifically for printing color photos.
The downside? Inkjet printers are often slower (measured in pages-per-minute) than laser printers and require regular ink cartridge changes.
Laser printers use toner—a fine, powdery substance—to reproduce text and graphics. They can print in black and white or color, although color models are usually pricier. A laser printer that prints only in black and white is sometimes called a monochrome printer.
Laser printers typically have bigger paper trays than inkjet printers, so you don't need to add paper as often. They also print faster (more pages per minute) than most inkjets. In addition, a laser printer's toner cartridge generally lasts longer. Depending on how much printing you do, you might recover the extra cost of a laser printer.
One of the fastest-growing categories of printers are all-in-one (AIO) printers, also sometimes called multifunction (MFP) printers. As the name implies, these are devices that do everything: they can print, scan photos, make photocopies, and even send faxes.
What's the difference between AIOs and MFPs? Often nothing, although some devices sold as multifunction printers are larger and designed more for office use.
Either way, the main selling point of all-in-one and multifunction models is convenience. What used to take three machines now requires one. Another bonus: Some features—photocopying, for example—don't require a connection to a computer.
Printers are designed to connect to a computer running Windows in different ways, depending on the model and whether you're using it at home or work.
Here are the most common connections you'll encounter:
These devices connect using a cable and a port on the computer.
Most home printers have a universal serial bus (USB) connector, although some older models might connect to the parallel or serial ports. On a typical PC, the parallel port is often marked "LPT1" or with a tiny printer-shaped icon.
When you plug in a USB printer, Windows automatically attempts to identify it and install the software (called a driver) needed to make it work with your PC.
Windows is designed to automatically recognize hundreds of printers. However, you should always consult the instructions that came with your printer; with some printers, you'll need to install the manufacturer's software before you plug it in.
If your printer is older or doesn't use USB, you might have to install it manually. For instructions, see Install a printer.
A wireless printer connects to a computer using radio waves by using either Bluetooth or Wi‑Fi technology.
To connect a Bluetooth printer, you might need to need to add a Bluetooth adapter to your computer. Most Bluetooth adapters plug into a USB port.
When you plug in the adapter and turn on the Bluetooth printer, Windows will try to install it automatically, or prompt you to install it. If Windows can't detect the printer, you can add it manually.
A Wi‑Fi printer typically connects directly to a wireless network as a stand-alone device. To learn more, see Install a printer on a home network.
A printer that connects directly to a PC is called a local printer. One that connects directly to a network as a stand-alone device is called, perhaps not surprisingly, a network printer.
Network printers are most often found at the office—although that's quickly changing. A growing number of printer companies now make models with networking capability for the home. These printers typically connect to a network with an Ethernet cable or wireless technologies such sa Wi‑Fi or Bluetooth.
To learn more about connecting to a network printer at home or the office, see Install a printer
and Install a printer on a home network.
For information about sharing your local printer with others, see Share a printer.
Windows offers multiple ways to print. The method you choose depends on what you're trying to print. Here's a list of common printing tasks and articles on how to print them.
Print a document or e‑mail. See Print a document or file.
Print your photos. See Print a picture.
Print the computer screen. See Take a screen capture (print your screen).
Double-sided or single-sided. Monochrome or color. Landscape or portrait orientation. These are just some of the choices you'll have to make when you print.
Most options are located in the Print dialog box, which you can access from the File menu in most programs.
What options you have available—and how you select them in Windows—depend on the printer model and program you're using. For specifics, check the documentation that came with your printer or software application. (To access some options, you might need to click a "Preferences," "Properties," or "Advanced Options" link or button within the Print dialog box.)
Here are the most common print options you'll encounter and what they mean:
Printer selection. The list of available printers. Sometimes you can also choose to send documents as a fax, or save them as an XPS document. (See Print to the Microsoft XPS Document Writer.)
Page range. Use commas or hyphens to select specific pages or a range of pages. For example, typing 1, 4, 20-23 prints pages 1, 4, 20, 21, 22, and 23.
The Selection option prints only the selected text or graphics in a document. Current Page prints only the currently displayed page.
Number of copies. Print more than one copy of a document, picture, or file. Select the Collate check box to print a document in its entirety before moving to the next copy.
Page orientation. Also called page layout. Choose between a tall page (Portrait) or wide page (Landscape).
Paper size. Select different size paper.
Output or paper source. Also called output destination or paper tray. Choose a paper tray to use—handy especially if you load each tray with different sizes of paper.
Double-sided printing. Also called duplex or two-sided printing. Choose this to print on both sides of a sheet.
Print color. Choose between black-and-white and color prints.
When you print something, it goes to the print queue, where you can view, pause, or cancel printing, and carry out other management tasks. The print queue shows you what's printing or waiting to print. It also displays handy information such as print status, who's printing what, and how many pages remain.
For instructions and more information, see View, pause, or cancel printing.
As with any technology, sometimes printers don't always do what you expect. If your model doesn't work when you plug it into your PC, or your printed pages start to look faded or funny, you'll have to figure out what's wrong.
Solving the problem might be as simple as replacing the toner cartridge. Other times, you might have to download and install a new driver.
Either way, the best source for assistance is the manual that came with your printer or the manufacturer's website. For more information, see Find and install printer drivers for Windows 7 and Why can't I print?
You can print almost any document, picture, webpage, or file that you can view on your computer. If you're new to printing, this article can help you understand printer types, how to connect a printer to your computer, and common print options.
Printers are categorized by the way that they reproduce text and graphics on paper. Each type of printer offers different advantages.
Inkjet printers print by placing small dots of ink on a page to reproduce text or graphics. Inkjet printers can print in color or black ink. Although ink cartridges must be periodically replaced, inkjet printers are often purchased for home use because they can be relatively inexpensive. Some inkjet printers can reproduce high-quality pictures and detailed graphics.
Laser printers use toner, which is a fine, powdery substance, to reproduce text and graphics on paper. Laser printers can print in color or black ink, although color laser printers are usually more expensive. A laser printer that can print using only black ink is sometimes referred to as a monochrome printer.
Laser printers typically have high–capacity paper trays, so you don't need to add paper as often as you would for an inkjet printer. They also can print more pages per minute than most inkjet printers and can print more pages per cartridge. If you print in large volumes, this means that a laser printer can cost less for each page that you print.
Inkjet or laser printers that also allow you to fax, photocopy, or scan documents are referred to as multifunction printers. A single multifunction printer can more convenient to connect to your computer than multiple devices. You might also be able to use some features of a multifunction printer without turning on your computer.
Some printers allow you to print without using your computer—for example, to print photos directly from a digital camera's memory card. However, connecting a printer to your computer allows you to print documents, files, pictures, webpages, and more. For more information about how to connect a printer, see Add or remove a printer.
When you add a printer, Windows will automatically install the software that allows it to work with your computer. You can add a printer using either a wired or wireless connection.
DPI, or dots per inch, is a measure of a printer's resolution. DPI determines how clear and detailed your print results will be compared to what you see on the screen.
A wired printer is any printer that connects to a computer using a cable and a port on the computer. Most printers use a universal serial bus (USB) cable. When you connect a wired printer to your computer and power it on, Windows will automatically try to install the printer for you. If Windows can't detect the printer, you can find and add the printer manually.
A wireless printer is any printer that connects to a computer using either Bluetooth or another wireless technology, such as 802.11a, 802.11b, or 802.11g.
Bluetooth technology uses radio transmissions to enable a printer to communicate with your computer over a short distance. To connect a Bluetooth printer, you need to add a Bluetooth adapter to your computer. Most Bluetooth adapters plug into a USB port on your computer. When you plug in the adapter and turn on the Bluetooth printer, Windows will try to install it automatically, or prompt you to install it. If Windows can't detect the printer, you can find and add it manually.
To connect a printer using a wireless technology other than Bluetooth, both your computer and the printer must first be connected to a wireless network. Check the information that came with your printer to see if it has a wireless network adapter. If not, you need to add one before you can connect the printer to your wireless network. To prevent interference between a wireless printer and your computer, try not to locate cordless phones or other wireless appliances near the printer. For more information, see Wireless networking: frequently asked questions.
To find out if your printer or a printer you plan to buy is compatible with Windows Vista, go to the Windows Vista Compatibility Center website. This website contains a comprehensive list of printers and other hardware devices that have been tested to work with Windows Vista.
After you've added a printer, it's a good idea to print a test page to make sure that the printer is working correctly. A test page prints sample text and graphics in color or in black and white, depending on what type of printer you're using. It might also print information about the printer, such as the printer driver name and version, that can help you troubleshoot problems if the printer is not working correctly. For more information, see these topics:
Print a test page
Troubleshoot printer problems
Check ink levels on a printer
If you add one printer only, it becomes your default printer. This means the printer will be selected automatically when you print a document or file. If you add more than one printer, you can choose which printer to use by default. Choose the printer that you will use most often. See Change your default printer.
The quickest way to print a document or file is to print using Windows. You don’t need to open the file, choose print options, or change printer settings. Windows will print the document to your default printer.
Open Documents by clicking the Start button , and then clicking Documents.
Locate the file that you want to print.
Right-click the file, and then click Print. Windows will print it using your default printer settings.
To print using a program, open the document, picture, or file that you want to print. After you open the document in a program, you can choose print options.
Most print options are located in the Print dialog box, which you can access from the File menu in a program. The options that are available to you will depend on the program and the printer that you're using. To access some options, you might need to click a "Preferences," "Properties," or "Advanced Options" link or button within the Print dialog box.
Common print options for a program include:
Printer selection. Allows you to choose a printer from a list of printers that are connected to your computer.
Page range. Allows you to print specific pages or sections of a document. To select individual pages or a sequence (range) of pages, you can typically type the page numbers separated by commas or hyphens. For example, if you type 1,4,5-7, only pages 1 and 4, and then pages 5 through 7, will be printed.
The Selection option allows you to print only the text or graphics that you have selected in the document. The Current Page option allows you to print only the currently displayed page.
Number of copies and Collate. Allows you to print more than one copy of a document, picture, or file at a time. Use the collate option to print all pages in a document at once, in order, before printing more copies of the document.
Page orientation. Also referred to as the paper layout, this option allows you to print content as a tall page (Portrait) or wide page (Landscape).
Paper size. If your printer can print on more than one size of paper, this option allows you to select the paper size that you have loaded in the printer.
Output or paper source. Also referred to as output destination or paper tray, this option allows you to specify which paper tray the printer should use. That way, you can load and store different paper sizes in each tray.
Double-sided printing. Also referred to as duplex or two-sided printing, this option allows you to print on both sides of a sheet of paper. This option is only available if your printer supports it.
Print in color or black in. This option is only available if your printer supports it.
To see what the print copy will look like before you print it, open the document in a program that offers a print preview. Print preview is typically located on the File menu for a program. You should be able to preview each page of the document. In some programs, you can choose print options in the preview mode, and then print directly from the preview. In other programs, you might have to close the preview, change the document or your printer settings, and then print it.
If you preview or print a document and it doesn't look the way you intended, you might need to edit the document or change your print options. For example, if only part of your document fits on the printed page, you might need to reduce the font size, decrease the margins, or change the page layout, and then try printing it again.
When you send a document or any other type of file to a printer, it becomes a print job. Some printers have a screen that will display a warning if a problem such as low ink or a paper jam occurs. Many printers display a message in the notification area on your computer. To troubleshoot problems, you can review any information displayed on your printer screen, refer to the information that came with the printer, or go to the printer manufacturer's website.
Using Windows, you can view the print queue to keep track of your print jobs. The print queue displays information about documents that are waiting to print, such as the printing status, document owner, and number of pages to print. You can use the print queue to view, pause, resume, restart, and cancel print jobs.
Open Printers by clicking the Start button , clicking Control Panel, clicking Hardware and Sound, and then clicking Printers.
To open the print queue, double-click the printer that you're using.
For more information about managing print jobs, see Pause or resume printing and Cancel printing.
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See what devices are compatible with Windows 7 at the Compatibility Center.