Connecting Printers to Computers

Image of a row of printers
Laptop recommendations here!

The process of installing the software for a printer that uses a USB cable is contrary to what you might think. The software is installed first, then the printer is attached using the USB cable when prompted. With wireless connections it’s closer to what you would expect – turn on the printer first, then install the software.

Rule number one: If a USB cable is going to be used, DO NOT plug it in. You may plug one end only into the computer or the printer, but not both. I suggest plugging the USB cable into the back of the computer and leaving the end that connects to the printer unplugged at this time.

Connection types

  • USB
  • Wireless
  • Wired
  • Bluetooth ( Another form of wireless )
  • Mobile ( Wireless also, but operated differently on phones and tablets )

Universal Un-boxing Truths

  1. Important: If a USB cable is going to be used, DO NOT plug it in. You may plug one end only into the computer or the printer, but not both. I suggest plugging the USB cable into the back of the computer and leaving the end that connects to the printer unplugged.
  2. The printer is un-boxed. Plastic and tape is removed.
  3. Paper is inserted.
  4. If it’s a laser printer, insert the toner cartridge before power up. For Inkjet, do not insert ink cartridges yet.
  5. The printer is then powered up. It will click and clack longer than normal at first power up.
  6. There may be questions to answer in the on-screen display.
  7. If it’s an inkjet: eventually the printer will ask that the cartridges be installed.
  8. It may ask to “align” the printer, which means that an alignment page will be printed and that page will be placed on the top scanner part ( the glass ). An “OK” button of some sort will be pressed to proceed with the alignment. On Epson printers, you may be asked to enter a number that shows the least amount of lines in a square up to 9 different alignment rows.
  9. More clicking and clacking ensues. Eventually the printer comes to a rest.
  10. Easy, right?

Universal Printer Software Truths

  1. In the old days the printers came with a CD to install. Some computers and a lot of laptops don’t come with a CDRom drive anymore. Because of that, either an external drive must be attached or the software downloaded. I like to search Google with the following example: “HP Deskjet 3120 Driver Download” or some such thing. I find that the item at the top is usually the legitimate website and download location. However, be very aware that junk sites sometime sneak into the top listing on Google.
  2. When the disk is inserted or the file is downloaded and run, “Setup.exe” or some prompt will need to be clicked on to get the process going. You may get an autoplay menu. The goal is to get the installation process started.
  3. Many questions may be asked regarding what you want to install and how it’s installed. We typically don’t customize the install process. Agree to everything or simply click the default settings. HP software will try and sign you up for a monthly ink service. May want to just cancel that.
  4. During the install process, you may be prompted to select what type of connection the printer will be using – wired, wireless, USB. Select appropriately.
  5. It will then start searching for the printer or prompt you to connect the USB cable so it can be found. Light a candle and hope the printer is found.
  6. If found, you are normally in good shape. If not, misery. Light another candle.
  7. That’s it. If it doesn’t work, that’s where we come in.

Wired and Wireless connections


In this case, “wired” means a network cable, not a USB cable. If the printer will be connected with a network cable, connect it to the printer and your router, modem, or switch. Power it up and wait a minute or two. The connection to your modem is supposed to be automatic with wired connections.


Connecting a printer to your wireless can be a big pain and fraught with error. It’s made much worse if the printer does not have a display on it, or a very minimal, non-useful display. The printer must, somehow, be attached (logged in) to your wireless. Ask yourself, how do you enter the password on a printer with no display or “keyboard”?

Some printers will indicate if they are currently connected to a wireless. For example, HP printers have a prominent blue light. If it’s flashing it means it’s NOT connected to a wireless. If it’s solid on, it’s connected to something – hopefully to the same network you use for your Internet, computer(s), laptop, phone, or tablet.

There are three ways to connect the printer to a wireless:

  • Enter the login information directly using the printer’s display.
  • Connect the printer using a normal USB cable, then convert it to wireless. ( For printers with no display )
  • Use something called WPS.

Connecting Your Printer To Wireless

Confirm the printer is “at rest”, meaning it’s powered up, toner, ink, and paper are installed and no error messages or lights are showing or illuminated.

Logging Into the Wireless Using the Printers Display

  1. Stand in front of the printer.
  2. Start by pressing “Setup” or perhaps a wireless icon on the display. The idea is to get to some sort of wireless setup screen.
  3. We want to run the “Wireless Setup Wizard”, which is a process of automatically discovering all wireless networks in the area and selecting your wireless network, not the neighbors.
  4. Entering the password is the worst part. You have to take into account case, numbers, letters, and special characters. You may have to press the same key several times to get the character you want. You may have to press a different button to get the characters into upper or lower case mode. You may have to press yet another button for numbers or special characters. It’s a tedious and miserable process and a test of patience. Many fail.
  5. When completed, press “OK”, “Done”, or something to proceed.
  6. Hopefully it works. It should remember the password from now on, even if the printer loses power.

Logging into the wireless using a USB cable.

  1. The idea is to get the printer working normally using a USB cable first.
  2. The software used to run the printer is also used to convert the printer to wireless.
  3. The USB cable is then disconnected.
  4. We have used this process to install basic HP and Brother printers.
  5. Yes, it’s a pain.

Using a WPS button to connect to the wireless

This is a bit of magic. The idea is to place the printer in a state where it will accept a connection to your router or modem, typically by pressing an icon on the display. The magical “WPS” button is then pressed on the modem or router, then printer and modem communicate and presto – the printer is now connected to your wireless.

Again, the printer’s WPS feature is turned on if it has it. Then, while it’s running in the printer, the WPS switch on the modem or router is pressed and held for a few seconds. The printer to the wireless talk to each other, connect, and all is good with the world.

Sometimes it even works.


Bluetooth, like WPS, can be maddening when it doesn’t work. Fortunately, Bluetooth is not commonly used to connect printers to computers. Like WPS, the printer and computer must both have Bluetooth capabilities and then “paired” together. To do that, both are “turned on” so they can detect each other and live happily ever after.

As with WPS, sometimes it even works.

Mobile Printing

Printing from phones or tablets ranges from bad to really bad. Apple has the best printing setup for printers that are equipped with “Apple AirPrint”. Airprint is built into all Apple products and will connect to any printer also with AirPrint built in – no configuration necessary. It just works. It won’t print from every program, but email and Internet work, among others. If you are using Apple mobile products, open the app you want to print from and select the box with the “up pointing arrow” at the upper right. Find and press the “Print” icon then either search for the printer or, if it’s showing, select it to print.

Again, not all programs allow you to print from them. With the popularity of mobile devices, it’s surprising that printing from them is like going back to the 80’s.

If you are an Apple mobile device user and want to print to a printer, make sure the printer you are using or purchasing comes with “AirPrint” built in. If your printer does not have this capability you may still be able to do it but not easily, to say the least.

For everything else it devolves down to a special app that’s loaded on the mobile device or using a service called “Google Cloud Print”. Whatever is used, it involves “printing” to a service on the Internet, then the service sends the print job to your printer. It’s a round-about way of printing and sometimes it might even work. HP calls their service “HP Mobile Printing”, Epson calls theirs “Epson iPrint”, and so on.

We have to give Apple the nod as the “best of the worst” award for mobile printing. “Google Cloud Print” is the way to go if you have an Android based mobile device. Bonus if you already have a Google account, which you should have when you first set up your Android phone.

Contact us with any questions!

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest