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Can I use a Universal Printer Driver to connect to my printers?

The manufacturer of my printer has recommended installing a universal
printer driver – UPD – that presumably will work with multiple brands and
models of printers. I have a new Windows 8 machine on order, so I’m thinking
about device drivers and possible issues with compatibility with existing laser
and multi-function printers. Does a UPD only work with newer printers that are
compatible? How about with different operating systems like XP, Vista, Windows
7, Windows 8? Is it practical for a typically home or small office user with
several PCs and printers that are one to four years old?

In this excerpt from
Answercast #78
, I look at problems in getting new printer drivers when
upgrading an operating system.

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Universal printer drivers

This one kind of took me by surprise because Universal Printer Driver is actually (from my recollection) a technology that is provided to the printer manufacturers; it’s a way for them to create printer drivers for their printers. It’s basically a framework that they can build on, and it actually solves a lot of the very common issues that printer drivers have to solve and that make the printer driver manufacturers jobs somewhat easier.

The short answer is: a Universal Printer Driver will work with those printers that it works with. I realize that’s very frustrating and not much of an “answer” answer.

The fact is that printer drivers are designed to work with specific printers. They may work with more than one – that’s great. They may work with more than one model from the same manufacturer. For all I know, there are some out there that will work with models from multiple different manufacturers – but the fact is they work with the ones they work with.

Without understanding exactly which ones that particular driver will worth with, there’s really no way to say for certain that it will work with a specific printer you are thinking of getting, or that you already have.

The right answer, in general for printers and printer drivers is to always go to the printer manufacturer’s website and get the download of the printer driver for your specific printer – and for the operating system on which you plan to print from.

Windows 8 printer drivers

Right now, with Windows 8 rolling out, there may not be Windows 8 specific printer drivers available.

It’s very possible that the Windows 7 printer driver for that specific printer will work just fine. But there’s really way to know without actually trying it – or without a statement of some sort from the printer manufacturers themselves.

Older printers have always been a problem because printer driver support tends to fall off, as the operating system gets older. So, a printer that worked and worked well with Windows XP, for example, may not have a driver available at all for Windows 7 or Windows 8.

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a nice, generic solution that will fix that problem no matter where you are or what you are running. So, I’ll just reiterate that the right way to get a printer driver is to get the one that is specific for the printer that you have.

If you have multiple printers, it is certainly fine to install multiple printer drivers – the specific driver for each specific printer that you have. And things should work that way. It is the most reliable, certainly, and my recommended approach to printing in general.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

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