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.

Understanding printer types and technologies

Printers are categorized by the way that they reproduce text and graphics on paper. Each type of printer offers different advantages.

Inkjet printers

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.

Illustration of an inkjet printer
Inkjet printer

Laser printers

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.

Illustration of a laser printer
Laser printer

Multifunction printers

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.

Illustration of a multifunction printer
Multifunction printer

Connecting a printer

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.

Wired printers

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.

Wireless printers

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.

Note

  • 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.

Making sure your printer is ready to print

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:

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.

Print using Windows

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.

  1. Open Documents by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Documents.

  2. Locate the file that you want to print.

  3. Right-click the file, and then click Print. Windows will print it using your default printer settings.

Print using a program

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.

Common 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.

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

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.

Use print preview

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.

Picture of a document in WordPad print preview
Print preview in WordPad

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.

Keeping track of your print jobs

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.

Picture of a print queue
The print queue

To view the print queue

  1. Open Printers by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Hardware and Sound, and then clicking Printers.

  2. To open the print queue, double-click the printer that you're using.

Tip

  • If your print jobs are currently printing, you can open the print queue by double-clicking the printer icon Picture of the printer icon in the notification area in the notification area.

For more information about managing print jobs, see Pause or resume printing and Cancel printing.