Few working professionals truly understand the plight of the sysadmin. You have one job… technically. However, that one job requires you to wear so many hats.
Sure, you need to manage systems. But you’ll also be asked to manage virtualized environments, servers, networks, and devices of all shapes and sizes. We also know, for a fact, that sysadmins will also be tasked with jobs like setting up desks and fixing faulty office dishwashers. And if one of those things doesn’t work (yes, even the dishwasher) you’re expected to know everything about all of it.
We also know, that of all those things you manage and administrate, there’s one piece of technology that causes constant headaches: printers. Whether you’re troubleshooting issues with compatibility, driver updates, or connectivity, we’re willing to bet that printers are amongst your least favorite tasks. And that’s putting it politely.
Well, you’re in luck. If there’s one thing PaperCut Software knows, it’s printers. It also happens that many of our staff, from technical support engineers to software developers, were once system administrators.
So we understand the struggle of the sysadmin. And with that in mind, we’ve assembled our top 11 printing workarounds to make your lives a little easier. Because making sysadmin’s lives easier gets us out of bed in the morning.
First, turn it off and on again… Just kidding. Kind of… More on that later…
1. Universal print drivers
One of the biggest pains of dealing with printers is the constant need to install and update drivers for each device. This can be especially challenging if you have a large number of printers or if you work in an environment where new printers are frequently added.
A solution to this problem can be to use Universal Print Drivers (UPD). These drivers are designed to work with a wide range of printers and are often provided by printer manufacturers themselves. By using UPDs, you can avoid the need to constantly install and update drivers for each printer in your environment, simplifying the management process.
2. Manufacturer GENERIC printer drivers
While we’re on drivers, if UPDs aren’t working, keep it simple and use generic printer drivers. If they’re available, of course. They’re simplified versions of full printer class drivers, but typically have the pretty pictures and features hardly anybody actually uses removed.
Most importantly, they’re typically significantly smaller (as in driver package file sizes), than the full driver for any given printer. So driver deployment via Microsoft Point and Print won’t bog down crappy VPN connections. Oh, but ah, if you’re unaware of the new rules around Microsoft Point and Print, i.e. Print Nightmare, read our explainer on the Windows Spooler exploit.
3. MS generic MS publisher color printer driver
When all else fails, simplify everything.
Use this workaround as an example. Find an old driver, that has been around forever, is basic, and conforms to print standards. If that works, slowly expand and try different settings, ports, and protocols to identify where the issue is.
You may find that the protocol you are using is not supported by the device. Using an old driver that is PCL5 compliant should work for most functions on any device.
4. Windows printer installer wizard
Yep, still on drivers. They’re where most printer problems start. This sounds obvious, but that’s why it works. Always install just the driver through the normal Windows printer installer wizard. Do not use the .exe file from the manufacturer that installs 42 other things, pops up every time you print, and tries to sell you toner and other information.
Some manufacturers overdo it on bidi (bidirectional communication) and actually check the printer every time you do anything, slowing it down in the process. You should only need bidi once. To get finishing options and trays installed. After that, turn them off in driver settings.
Never ever*,* ever ever (in Andre 3000 voice) use the driver Windows auto-installs for you. Unless it’s 1998 and you have an HP Laserjet 4100. If a driver downloads as a .exe file, extract it to a temp folder. Then run the windows drive wizard separately. Or unzip the .exe with a zip tool to get the actual drivers.
With all that in mind. A word of caution. If the PC has print management.msc installed, use that to install drivers and printers, and don’t use the printer wizard.
5. Virtual printers
Moving on from drivers. They won’t be a problem if you’re using virtual printers - i.e. any software application that converts documents into a printable format. By using a virtual printer, you can avoid the need to install and manage physical printers.
Virtual printers can be especially useful in situations where you need to create PDF documents or other electronic files that can be easily shared or distributed. Additionally, virtual printers can help to reduce paper waste and lower printing costs.
6. Printer access control
Beyond getting the actual printing happening, printers can present security risks if not properly managed. To reduce the risk of unauthorized access, it is important to set up printer access control. This can be done by requiring users to enter a username and password before they are allowed to print.
Additionally, you can set up access control policies that restrict who can print to specific printers, helping to ensure that only authorized users have access to sensitive documents.
7. Up-to-date printer firmware
Just like any other piece of technology, printers require regular updates to ensure that they are working correctly. It is important to keep printer firmware up to date to ensure that printers are operating efficiently and securely. By regularly updating printer firmware, you can reduce the risk of security vulnerabilities and improve printing performance.
8. VLAN (Virtual Local Area Network)
Another security hack here. Pun intended. To give your print environment a little security boost, put your printers on a VLAN. VLANs provide a logical separation of devices on a network and help to minimize the risk of unauthorized access or network breaches.
By placing printers on a separate VLAN, you can limit access to these devices to only authorized users or devices. This helps to prevent unauthorized access or attacks that could exploit vulnerabilities in printer firmware or software. Additionally, by placing printers on a separate VLAN, you can control network traffic and prioritize printing tasks for better performance.
In a nutshell: only authorized servers can access your devices. This reduces the attack surface area of your network, especially against direct attacks, it also reduces unauthorized printing/waste.
9. Printer driver defaults
This tip is small, but with large benefits. With all the above in mind: understand the difference between setting printer driver defaults for the current user versus for all users on your print server.
Printer driver defaults are the settings that are used by the printer driver when printing a document. These settings can include options such as paper size, orientation, quality, and duplex mode. Setting the right printer driver defaults can help to improve printing performance and reduce waste.
So, you can see how setting defaults for all users unintentionally could be more harmful than helpful.
10. No spaces in share names
If you have spaces in your share names, Windows clients handle them okay. But if you have Mac or Linux clients using SMB to print through your Windows Print Server, spaces in share names create unnecessary angst with compatibility and functionality. This can lead to errors or difficulties when trying to access or use the shared resource.
Additionally, spaces in share names can make it difficult to type or remember the share name, especially if the share name is long or complex. So keep it short and efficient and you’ll be a happy camper.
11. Print management software
Okay. You got me. But you’re on the PaperCut Software blog after all. Print management software is a proven invaluable tool for sysadmins managing a large environment of printers and copiers.
Print management software can provide monitoring functionality that provides real-time status updates on printer performance, including ink levels, paper supplies, and error messages.
By using printer monitoring features, you can quickly identify and troubleshoot printer issues before they become a larger problem.
Need help fixing printer issues?
I know I finished with a shameless plug, but honestly, if you need help with setting up access control, and managing and administering your print environment from a centralized console… use PaperCut software to manage your printing.
And if all else fails, make like Maurice Moss and try forcing an unexpected reboot aka… turn it off and on again… see, told you it’d be back.