Printer Misunderstandings

Xerox WorkCentre 6515 printer

Next to Quarterly Updates, the most popular reasons people log-in to our Remote Technical Support are printer-related issues. During this process, we’ve discovered that there are some pretty common misunderstandings about printers. In this post, I’m going to clear up some of the confusion.

Wired or Wireless?

Just about the first question we ask when someone logs in with a printer problem is, “Is your printer wired or wireless?” What we are really asking is: “What method is used to connect your printer to your device?” Often, people will tell us that their printer is wired yet, after some investigation time, we find out it’s actually wireless. People will sometimes look at their printer and see a wire coming out of it and assume the printer is wired to the computer. Unfortunately, what they are really seeing is the power cord and not a cord to the computer.

To help clear this up, let’s look at the three normal ways a printer connects to a computer.

Wired With An Ethernet Cord

printer connected to a modem

In the case of an Ethernet cord, the printer actually connects to a router or modem and not directly to a computer. This is actually the most secure way to connect a printer and usually allows you to print faster than wireless. Because the printer connects to the router or modem, devices like smartphones and tablets on the same network can print to it.

For the record, not all printers have an Ethernet port so this method can’t be used. Also, just to clear up any questions, an Ethernet cord looks like a phone cord but the ends are a bit wider and contain more terminals.

Blue Ethernet Cord
Ethernet cords aren’t all blue in color. The color doesn’t matter.

Wired With A USB Cord

Computer and printer connected via USB cord.

The second wired method of printer-to-computer connection is accomplished by using a USB cord. Like an Ethernet connection, printing is faster than a wireless connection, normally. However, the downsides of connecting with a USB cord include: having to place the printer within cord-reaching distance from the computer; and, the computer always has to be on if other people on the network want to print.

By the way, if your printer connects via the next method I’ll describe, you should always have a USB cord on hand in case your wireless goes down or the printer drops off of Wi-Fi. Here is what a printer USB cord looks like: (Notice that one end is almost square – that’s the end that fits in the printer – and the other end is a standard USB plug.)

Printer USB cable
Again, the color of the cable doesn’t matter

(Need a printer USB cable? Find one HERE.)


printer and laptop connected wirelessly

If your printer is connected wirelessly, the only cable coming from it will be a power cord. There are three basic ways that a printer can be set up on your Wi-Fi system.

  1. Using the printer software, you can first hook up the printer to a computer using a USB cord. The software will walk you through connecting to the Wi-Fi and, once connected, will have you unplug the USB cord. The software finishes up and the printer will print wirelessly.
  2. Some printer models will include software which allows you to find the printer and connect wirelessly without having to hook up a USB cord. Not all printer models include this ability so it might be a case of “try it and see if it works.”
  3. If the printer has a display screen, you usually can connect to your Wi-Fi using the Tools or Setup menu on the screen. The downside to this method is that, if your password is complicated (which it should be for security reasons), entering the password on the printer screen can be very frustrating. Again, this is another reason to have a USB cord and hook it up first and then convert to wireless.

There are downsides to printing wirelessly. First, as I mentioned above, printing is usually slower over Wi-Fi than wired. Second, it is not uncommon for a wireless printer to drop off the Wi-Fi. Even though most printer manufacturers provide software which is supposed to find the printer again, our experience tells us you have a 50-50 chance of that happening. Another very common issue with wireless printing is that people will get a new modem/router and the installer doesn’t get the printer onto the new system. Once again, a USB cord comes in handy to get the printer onto the changed Wi-Fi.

There are some other misunderstandings about printers and I’ll cover them later this week in another post. (You know I work hard to keep posts brief enough to read in 3-4 minutes!)


4 thoughts on “Printer Misunderstandings

  1. Catherine

    I have an HP $24 printer that prints wirelessly, and it’s the best I’ve ever had, believe it or not. It sits across the room and is so fast that it has already started to print before I get over to it! All my other printers would go off WiFi and irritate me no end! Can you believe, $24 printer is amazing! Have had it a couple years now. But your blog is great!

    1. In all seriousness, you should play the lottery!1 LOL It’s pretty rare for any printer which sells for less than $99 to be worth the trip to the store to pick it up (or to the front door, if shipped). The fact that it’s staying connected to Wi-Fi is a real plus. I love wireless printing but, as you stated about previous printers, keeping one connected wirelessly can be frustrating. ~YYB

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