What are printer drivers and why are they important to your printer’s daily operation?
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t know what a printer driver is and what role they play in the functioning of a printer/copier.
But printer drivers do play an essential role in the performance of your office machine and could end up being the root of the problem if your printer is malfunctioning.
There are different types of printer drivers you can get, and most will require updates at certain points to keep up with the machine’s software.
These are some of the most important things to know about printer drivers because as a print vendor that has been in the industry for almost 40 years, we know how frustrating it can be to deal with a service issue caused by an outdated print driver.
That is why we have used our industry expertise to compile the most relevant information you need to know about printer drivers, including what they are, the different types of drivers, which one is right for you and how to update them.
What Are Printer Drivers?
A printer driver, also known as a print driver, is a piece of software on a computer that converts data to be printed in a format that a printer can understand.
Its main purpose is to allow applications to print without being aware of the technical details of each printer model.
Printers can technically function with a generic driver, but it is a complicated process that involves a USB connection and an in-depth understanding of computer logistics.
Sometimes an additional installation is required for the computer to obtain the most appropriate selection of a driver.
Here is an example of a specific printer driver from Xerox that you would have to install on your computer to utilize all the features of your device:
The 2 Different Types of Printer Drivers
There are two main types of printer drivers: Printer Command Language (PCL), and PostScript (PS).
Let’s break these down in a little more detail:
Printer Command Language (PCL)
The PCL printer driver is considered an industry standard for print drivers, and it was developed by the popular printer brand HP in the 1980s.
It is most often used for everyday text printing, including legacy applications, mainframe printing, and some vector graphics.
PCL is supported by many different operating systems and is device dependent; meaning that the “drivers for this language utilize the printer hardware for creating some of the printed data, usually graphics data such as fill areas, underlines or fonts,” according to Xerox.
The PCL print driver has fast print processing and can operate in many different print environments, but the quality of the graphics is dependent on the device itself, and it is not supported in Macintosh environments.
The same print job on two different devices may also yield a slightly different result with the PCL print driver.
The PostScript, or PS, printer driver is another common printing language used by many different printer manufacturers.
PS is used primarily for publishing applications, color graphs, complex graphics, clipart, and PostScript file types.
It contrasts with PCL because it is device independent, which means the PostScript language “creates all of the print data and does not rely on the printer for print data,”: according to Xerox.
The pros to using the PostScript printer driver are that graphical objects will oftentimes be more detailed than on a driver like PCL.
You can also expect the same print file to look identical when completed on two or more devices, which is especially helpful for companies that print a draft of print that they want to send out to a printing company for production,
However, the PS driver can have slow print processing speeds and it is not found on as many platforms as PCL is. The print file size and memory requirements are typically larger with PostScript, as well.
Which Printer Driver Is Right for You?
Printer drivers are traditionally designed and developed for use by specific brands, meaning that they might not be interchangeable.
For example, if you have an HP printer driver installed on your computer, and you try to print on a Xerox machine, they might not be compatible, and chances are they won’t be able to communicate with one another. This means that things such as DPI (dots per inch), clarity and contrasts can’t be adjusted or changed.
However, there are some “universal” print drivers, such as Xerox’s Global Print Driver which supports not only Xerox machines, but non-Xerox machines, PCL, and PostScript.
HP offers a similar driver, the HP Universal Print Driver. This can be beneficial for end-users because it eliminates the hassle of downloading individual print drivers for each machine in their office.
However, be aware that universal print drivers will not offer you all of the features that your specific brand’s print driver would.
If the manufacturer of your printer makes a driver and you want to use every feature, you need to use their specific driver and not a universal one. If you use a universal driver, you may not get all of the features--like booklet-making and other finishing options-- associated with the printer you have.
Because of this, it’s often best to use the printer driver that comes with your machine or product line that you’re utilizing. This becomes significantly more convenient when all of your office technology comes from the same brand, which is important to maintaining uniformity with your machines.
Example of HP’s Universal Print Driver:
How Do You Update Your Printer Driver?
Once you have the printer driver you’re going to use, you need to be aware that there could be updates you need to download for the driver.
Failing to update your printer driver can result in issues with your prints, such as font compatibility and graphical elements.
For example, if you make a print with a font that the driver doesn’t interpret, it will mess with the contents of the print. This is something that can be fixed by updating your printer driver.
If your printer driver is the cause of your problems, you will typically see some type of error message that will alert you to the driver problem—i.e. a PostScript error message.
To help avoid these error messages, you need to update your driver, which can be done by doing a Google search or by going to your manufacturer’s website and downloading the latest update for your printer driver.
It’s usually a simple process and it doesn’t cost any money to do. Furthermore, it ensures that you won’t have to deal with issues related to the compatibility problems of an old driver with new software.
If you have any questions about how to update your driver, reach out to your print vendor or contact your manufacturer’s support team for further assistance.
Have a Printer Driver Problem?
While it's likely that once your printer driver is installed, you won't have to directly interact with it again, it's important to understand the software behind your machine.
As mentioned previously, the printer driver could be the source of frustrating issues with your printer, which means it’s crucial to have the right one for your machine and to periodically monitor it for updates.
We’ve seen multiple customers have printer driver issues during our four decades in the industry, and our service team is well-versed in fixing any kind of driver problem that might be affecting your machine.
If you’re having problems caused by a printer driver, or you need any type of maintenance work done on your machine, use this link to request service and our team of trained technicians will get back to you shortly with solutions to fix your problem.