Printer Drivers FAQ

A printer driver is software that lets your PC talk to printers. The driver interprets standard operating system commands to the specific needs of the printer. The same principles apply whether you use Windows 95/98/2K/ME/NT/XP or any other PC operating system.

Driver software is written specifically for each printer. It knows the capabilities of the printer and lets Windows know just what the printer can actually do. Suppose Windows issues a high-level command to the printer such as "Draw a rectangle 100 by 60 pixels starting 23 pixels from the top of the screen and 39 from the left." Every printer has its own particular way of drawing this rectangle, and it’s the software driver’s job to translate Windows’s instructions for a particular printer.

But drivers are also software, so they can be as buggy as anything else. Sometimes the driver just doesn’t work very well, and sometimes it doesn’t work with some other piece of software. Either way, the usual solution for any hardware conflict or problem is to try an updated driver. If the problem is a common one, chances are that the manufacturer has already rewritten the driver.

The result is that there are often many different versions of a particular driver, and you may need to try several of them to find the one that works. Manufacturers are constantly releasing new drivers and making them available on Web sites for downloading

Control Panel – Printers Dialog

Drivers are critical for keeping your PC running. Whenever you upgrade any hardware, you’ll need to know how to find out what drivers are running on your system. Fortunately, you can find all of the printer drivers on your system in one place, and you can usually find our exactly what versions they are. Open up the control panel from Settings on the Start menu. All of your printer drivers can be found from the Printer icon.

Since most people end up printing to one of several different printers, you’ll usually find several printer drivers. You can find out the specific printer driver by right-clicking its icon and selecting Properties. A tabbed dialog box will pop up, and you can find out which driver is running from the information on the main panel or from an About button on either the Paper tab or Details tab.

Adjusting Driver Settings

Sometimes solving a problem doesn’t require a whole new driver: maybe all you need is to change some settings that don’t actually match your hardware or software. It won’t be possible to tweak every driver this way, but you should at least take a look before going to the trouble of throwing out your existing driver in favor of a newer model. Here’s how to look at the settings of a particular driver:

  1. From the Start menu, select Settings, Printers.
  2. Right-click the appropriate printer icon and select Properties. You’ll get a tabbed dialog box of all the settings available for the printer and its driver.
  3. Step through the tabs and make sure the settings are correct as far as you know. Make any obvious corrections. If there’s nothing to change or the changes don’t work, then you probably need a new driver.

Even if everything is working correctly, you can sometimes get more performance out of your system by checking the settings.

The point of all this is that you can sometimes solve your problem without changing drivers.

Driver Updates

More often than you’d like, you’ll find that your problem really does require a new driver. Usually the best solution is to go to the manufacturer’s Web site, find the drivers section (usually in tech support), and look for a driver that’s been written to solve your problem. Failing that, look for the most recent set of drivers, even if it doesn’t promise to solve your problem.

Drivers are updated very frequently, so it is more than likely that there is a newer driver than the one you have, even if you just bought the printer that the driver goes with. Obviously, if your printer or PC is still under warranty, then make use of tech support and have them find the right replacement driver and explain the installation process to you. But even if you’re on your own, you can usually find a driver fix at the manufacturer’s Web site.

Once you’ve found the most up-to-date driver or the specific driver for your problem, download it. Typically there are instructions for installing the driver in a readme or help file accompanying the driver. You’ll have to copy the file into a particular folder on your hard drive, or unzip a bunch of files, and then run an install. At best, the manufacturer will have packaged everything into a self-installing package. At worst, you’ll have to copy some files onto your hard drive and then follow these steps:

  1. Go back to the Settings, Printers dialog box.
  2. Double-click the Add New Printer icon. A wizard pops up to guide you through the process.
  3. When you get to the dialog box listing all the printer types, push the Have Disk button instead of picking a printer. Even if your printer is listed, you want to install the new driver you just got rather than the one that came with Windows.
  4. Complete the installation with the wizard guide.


No matter how carefully you proceed, every now and then you and your driver will hit a pothole. Your PC and the software running it are a complex mix of cooperating and interacting entities. Like an interpreter, the driver’s job is to help its piece of hardware talk to the rest of the systems. But sometimes something gets lost in the translation. Worse, the functions of different pieces of hardware can overlap, and then their drivers can start to interfere with one another. Resolving operating systems and driver conflicts requires skill, patience and unlimited access to technical support.

The first tactic is to enlist the help of technical support from your printer vendor, your PC vendor, and, if applicable, your software application vendor. They’ll all tend to blame each other: don’t let them. In the worst case scenario you will actually need an update from them all. You might need a BIOS update from your PC vendor, a driver update from the printer vendor, and a software patch from the application vendor. You may also need to reconfigure the drivers for other pieces of hardware that are interfering with the printer you just tried to install. This is particularly true if you are trying to install a second printer when you already have on like it installed.

Try each possible combination of new drivers and printer settings. Even though this can take a long time, it is often the easiest way to resolve conflicts. If all else fails, reinstall Windows, making sure that you clean out all the old .DLL and system files before reinstalling. This will remove extraneous files that may be causing the conflicts or preventing new software from running correctly. But this is a long process that will require you to reinstall all your nonstandard peripherals and software and restore all your settings. Manufacturers commonly recommend this when providing tech support because it guarantees removing all the oddities they might not know about. However, they don’t have to deal with the inconvenience to you, so make sure you’ve tried all the other roads to resolution first.

If this doesn’t work you can either give up or try again from the beginning. Surprisingly this sometimes works, even though it seems like you already tried everything.