What is a Printer Driver?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A printer driver is a software application which allows programs on a computer to communicate with the printer. When a computer user orders a program to print, the driver acts like an intermediary, converting the information from the program into a format which can be understood by the printer. Printer drivers are printer and operating system specific, and it is important to use the correct driver and to confirm that the driver in use is current to avoid problems.

A multi-function printer.
A multi-function printer.

In addition to converting data into a form which can be used by the printer, the printer driver is also involved in the control of the printer. It sets margins, controls pagination, and performs other tasks to ensure that print jobs are completed as expected. In addition, it can send signals from the printer to the computer, such as warnings about being low on ink or information about errors. Also known as the print processor, the printer driver is like the command center which links the printer and the computer.

Different printers use different languages to communicate, which is why a generic printer driver will not work. Printers from different manufacturers cannot use the same driver, and printers from the same manufacturer may not function properly if a driver for a different printer is used. The printer may fail to print it all, or it may produce pieces which are misregistered, filled with gibberish, or otherwise unusable.

Some operating systems come with a number of default installed drivers from major manufacturers. When someone plugs in a printer, the computer will attempt to recognize it and if it has a driver, the user can start printing right away. If the computer does not recognize the printer, the user will need to install a driver. Many printers come with discs which contain drivers for different operating systems, allowing users to manually install. It is also usually possible to go to a manufacturer's website to download a driver.

When downloading a printer driver, there are a few precautions people should take. It is important to confirm that they are actually on the website maintained by the manufacturer, as otherwise they may download software which contains a virus or other malware which could be harmful. Checking the address bar to confirm that one is on the right website is strongly recommended. It's also important to select a driver for the right model of printer and to confirm that it is for the correct operating system. Websites also provide people with updated drivers which address bugs and other problems.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - Well, I agree it's important to do that now and then but I'm pretty cautious about it. The reason I don't like my system updating itself automatically is because often those updates are flawed and can make your system unstable. It takes a few days for them to realize there's a problem and to fix it.

If you wait a few days you'll almost always be downloading the fixed update rather than the flawed one.


@MrsPramm - I would also suggest if you have a printer that you use all the time that it's a good idea to periodically check for new printer drivers, or updates to the ones you already have.

I don't like automatic updates, so I always turn them off, but I then have to be vigilant about getting the updates on my own time.

If you don't update every now and then you can eventually run into problems with your printer and that can be a real pain, especially if it happens when you're in a hurry.

That goes for everything else that you use as well. Unless you have it set to automatically update, it's up to you to check and make sure there aren't any crucial updates that need to go through.


Often if you go onto the webpage of the relevant company they will have a button that will test for whatever printer is connected to your computer and then they will download the relevant driver for you.

Otherwise, you just have to do a search for the type of printer. If it's, say, a Canon printer driver you're after, go onto the Canon website first and then look for it, otherwise you might end up going to the wrong site and downloading a virus by accident.

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