I’m just going to come out and say it: printers are the most unfairly maligned technology in modern history.
Despite all the patronizing they get, printers do a lot of things right, especially compared to other tech gear. They don’t shout for your attention so they can serve you targeted ads. They’re not showcased at press events where slick executives come up with barely-upgraded versions of what you already have. They are not rendered obsolete by the march of annual software updates.
Instead, printers keep a low profile, only humming and springing into action to copy a document, scan a form, or, in my case, at least spit out an ever-growing pile of Pokemon coloring pages for kids. children. When this happens, the delicate dance of the machinery involved feels like a technological marvel, especially when you realize how allergic most electronics manufacturers have become to moving parts.
Of course, we’ve all had our share of paper jams and clogged nozzles, and some vendors have gotten too greedy with DRM toner. But can you honestly say that your smartphone or computer never causes you inexplicable grief? And how often do you replace your printer anyway? Every five years? Ten years? Try using a ten-year-old smartphone today and see how well everything goes. Replacing a problematic printer isn’t even that expensive. A cracked iPhone screen alone would cost more to repair.
Now that I’ve gotten rid of my printer rant, I’m going to fulfill my duty journalism obligations with some tips to make your printing experience even better. Maybe they will also help you appreciate your own printer.
Uninstall manufacturer bloatware
Many years ago the only way to get a printer to work was to install a software package from the manufacturer, but this bloatware is probably no longer necessary.
On Windows, head to Settings > Devices > Printers & Scanners, then select “Add a printer or scanner”. The system should then automatically detect all Wi-Fi printers on your network and install only the bare minimum of drivers. For scanning, download Microsoft’s free Windows Scan app or use the open source NAPS2 if you need more options.
Want to help your Mac-loving friends and family? On MacOS, go to System Preferences > Printers & Scanners, then press the + button. Select your Wi-Fi printer from the list and Apple will configure it automatically. You can then double-click your printer to open the print menu, where you’ll also find a scan icon in the top-right corner. For faster access to this menu in the future, simply drag the printer icon to your dock.
Optimize pages for printing
You no longer have to waste paper on poorly optimized web pages. When you want to print a page, just copy and paste the URL into a free website called PrintFriendly, and it will generate a plain-text version with no sidebars, links, or other clutter. You can also resize text, click on unwanted images or blocks of text to remove them, and send the results to your print menu with a click.
Alternatively, the Printliminator bookmarklet allows you to remove page elements for printing without having to copy and paste first. Just drag the Printliminator from this page to your browser’s favorites bar and you can activate it with just one click.
Print from your phone
While it’s not the kind of feature that would make headlines for an Apple or Google keynote, printing support has quietly made its way into iOS and Android.
While viewing a webpage, tap the Share button and look for the print icon. You will also find print functions in the menus of some applications, such as Word and Google Docs. Your phone should then automatically find any printer on the same Wi-Fi network, allowing you to print wirelessly. (Options on iOS are particularly robust, even letting you choose print quality and paper type.)
Don’t overlook the paper settings
When printing photos, you’ll get much better results when the printer knows you’re using photo paper. Unfortunately, the location of this setting may depend on the app you’re using.
In Windows, you can always find this setting by selecting “Print using system dialog” from the print menu, pressing “Preferences”, then using the “Media type” drop-down menu. On a Mac, you’ll usually need to click “Show details” in the print menu, then click the drop-down menu that shows the name of the app you’re currently using. You should see a “Media Type” option there.
Print now to avoid problems later
If you have an inkjet printer, long periods of neglect can lead to more clogging as the nozzles dry out, so print a color image every two weeks or so to reduce the risk of problems when you really need it. turn on your printer. (The aforementioned volume of Pokémon coloring pages requested by my kids may explain why my Canon inkjet seems to be in great shape.)
This story first appeared in To advise, Jared’s weekly newsletter for handy tech tips. Sign up here to learn a new tech tip every week.