Getting started with printing

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.

To watch a video, see Picture of a Play buttonVideo: Printing with Windows 7.

Buying a printer

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.

Inkjet printers

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.

Illustration of an inkjet printer
Inkjet printer

Laser printers

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.

Illustration of a laser printer
Laser printer

All-in-one printers

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.

Illustration of a multifunction printer
Multifunction printer

Connecting your printer

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:

Wired printers

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.

Wireless printers

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.

Local vs. network printers

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.

Printing in Windows

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.

Choosing print options

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.

Picture of the Print dialog box in WordPad
The Print dialog box in WordPad

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.

Managing documents waiting to be printed

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.

Picture of a print queue
The print queue

For instructions and more information, see View, pause, or cancel printing.

Solving printing problems

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?