One of the advantages of networks is that it is possible to share resources such as printers. Just one in the home or office can be used by everyone. Setting it up for network use is quick and easy. We show you how.

We print less than we used to thanks to PDFs, online documents and forms, emailed receipts from stores, online photo albums and so on, but sometimes we really need to print a hard copy. It doesn’t make sense to buy a printer for each computer or tablet in the home or office and it is much better to have one that everyone can share. Not only does this reduce the number of printers needed, you can also buy a better one while spending less. See also: How to print from an iPhone or iPad

A printer can be shared on a network and any computer, tablet or smartphone can access them to print documents, photos and more. There are two ways to network a printer so it can be shared and it can either be plugged into a computer and the computer shares it, or it can be connected directly to the network. Any computer can share the printer that is plugged in to its USB port and providing the computer is switched on, a limitation which can be irritating, any other computer on the network can connect to it and print. The network can be wireless or wired and printers can be shared using traditional Windows file and printer sharing or using Windows 7/8’s Homegroups.

See also: How to create a HomeGroup network in Windows 7 and Windows 8

Connecting a printer directly to the network has the advantage of not requiring a computer. All you need is a network connection and this can be wired or wireless. Wi-Fi in printers is increasingly common and it’s even found in budget models. They do need to be configured though and you need to know the SSID (network name) and WPA security key.

Many home routers and printers support WPS (Wireless Protected Setup). Press the WPS button on router, select WPS on the printer’s LCD menu, and the device is automatically configured for network use. Then just install the printer software on the PC. If WPS isn’t available, either the printer’s LCD menu is used to input the network info, or you plug it into a PC’s USB port and install it like a USB printer. During installation it is configured for Wi-Fi and the USB cable is then unplugged.

A few printers, mainly those for office use, have a network port for a wired Ethernet connection. You just connect the printer to your router directly, or use some powerline networking adapters if your router is in a different room. Then, you need to  install the printer driver on each computer.

It also is possible to add a network connection to a printer that doesn’t have Wi-Fi or a LAN interface, but it adds to the cost and if you are buying a new printer, go for one with Wi-Fi or Ethernet. Search for ‘print server’ and you’ll find devices such as TP-Link’s Single USB 2.0 Port Fast Ethernet Print Server. Plug in a USB printer and LAN cable to the router and the device is on the network, all for around £20. Print servers with Wi-Fi, sockets for multiple printers and even more features are available.

To print directly to a wireless printer from Android tablets and smartphones you need an app from Epson, Canon, HP or Samsung and a Wi-Fi printer. Google Cloud Print prints to any supported printer attached to a computer. Support for iPhones and iPads is more limited and require printers that support AirPrint. Alternatively, you can buy a box such as Lantronix’s xPrintServer Home Edition, which costs around £80 and lets you print to virtually any printer from your iPad or iPhone.

How to share a printer on your networkInstall and share a network printer

Step 1. Whether you have a wireless or USB printer, the first step is to install the driver. The CDs supplied with printers are not always bang up to date and it’s best to download the latest printer software from the manufacturer’s website.

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Step 2. The software for printers varies and this is just one example from HP. As the software is installed, it stops at this point and asks if you have a wireless or USB printer. Select Wi-Fi and you’re done, but we will continue with a USB printer.

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Step 3. After installing the printer, open Control Panel, Network and Sharing Center, Advanced Sharing settings. Turn on network discovery, file and printer sharing, and public folder sharing. Scroll down and turn off password protected sharing for simplicity.

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Step 4. Open the Control Panel, Devices and Printers. Right click the printer you just installed and select Properties. On the Sharing tab, tick Share this printer. The printer name is inserted automatically, but you can change it, for example, Bob’s Shared Printer.

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Step 5. Switching to a Windows 8 PC, let’s add that shared printer. Open Control Panel, Devices and printers and click Add a printer. It found a wireless printer, but let’s see what to do if one isn’t found, click The printer that I wanted isn’t listed.

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Step 6. Choose Select a share printer by name. Click the Browse button at the right and all the computers on the network are listed. Click the computer with the printer and select the printer. The rest is easy and the printer is automatically installed.