Print Driver Management & Universal Print Drivers
Many large organizations have a mixed print fleet. For this mix of printing devices, they typically have a set of print drivers that require ongoing management. Alternatively, organizations can opt to use a universal print driver (often also referred to as global print driver). Both of these approaches have benefits and disadvantages that the organization and its employees must balance in deciding which to employ.
In some cases, however, there may be only one viable option. These situations merit caution, as the printing options can get narrowed when combining different and/or conflicting software solutions that also manage hardware. For instance:
- When an organization already has print management software in place, they may require the use of a universal print driver – especially if their selected solution cannot manage original print drivers. The driver management capabilities of solutions vary, but it is important to verify upfront what the possible limitations are, including the need to use a universal print driver. This may impact the choice of print devices in the future if the UPD limits device functionality to a couple of common print settings.
- Some environments nearly always require a universal print driver. For example, VDI environments that use solutions such as Citrix XenApp or Citrix XenDesktop often deploy the Citrix Universal Print Driver. This driver was specifically designed to optimize remote desktop printing. There are solutions that can offer alternatives for these environments, but the same principle applies as described above. It is best to check for limitations before settling on a strategy.
Print driver management is an essential element of network printer management. The correct deployment of print drivers is required in order to prevent printing delays or failure. When updating drivers, the same accuracy is required. The more heterogeneous your printer fleet, the more print drivers your IT administrators will need to manage. Same goes for the number of print servers. The more servers installed, the more IT administrator time is required for print driver management.
To accurately manage print drivers in a multi-vendor print environment, your organization must:
- Store all drivers in a central repository.
- Upload these drivers to the print server.
- Document configurations for each driver and operating system.
- Test print drivers.
- Push drivers out to end user workstations.
- Repeat for each print server.
Like any software, print drivers are continuously undergoing improvements. This makes print driver updates necessary. Whenever a new driver version is released, it needs to go through all six steps outlined above.
The alternative to native or original print drivers is the universal print driver. The benefits of a UPD include the following:
- Only one driver (or maximum two if PCL and PostScript require different versions) to install, test, and update which greatly reduces IT administrator time.
- The PCL5 / PCL6 driver for universal print
- Can detect printers on any network, making it easy for end users to find new devices to print on (HP and Xerox only)
Let’s look at some of the office equipment manufacturer universal print drivers to see what each one offers and the limitations of each.
The HP universal print driver (PCL5 and PCL6) supports advanced printing features for most HP LaserJet devices. In addition, it offers basic printing capability for other devices from other brands.
The advantage of this universal print driver is the speed in processing print jobs. The challenges with this particular driver include inconsistent output on different printers. In addition, this UPD does not support printing from MAC clients and cannot support PostScript devices, though these (dis)advantages generally apply to any UPD limited to supporting PCL.
The Konica Minolta universal print driver is available for most Konica Minolta devices as well as devices from other manufacturers that support PCL or PostScript printing.
The disadvantage is that there are two different drivers for each type. Thus, despite being called universal, this driver still requires duplicate actions in mixed PCL and PostScript environments.
The Kyocera classic universal print driver is another PCL5/PCL6 driver, which means it offers the same advantages and disadvantages as the HP one.
One key difference is that Kyocera does not offer support other brands of devices. Kyocera also offers a driver with its own version of PostScript.
The Lexmark universal print driver offers support for both PCL and PostScript. There is a total of three drivers available, each limited to Lexmark devices, and each certified by Microsoft.
The same situation applies here as in the case of Konica Minolta; in a mixed PostScript and PCL environment, two (or, in the Lexmark case, three) drivers may be required.
The Ricoh universal print driver also comes in two versions (PCL3 and PostScript).
The distinction between Ricoh's universal print drivers is that the PCL version also supports Citrix environments.
The Xerox global print driver supports both PCL5/PCL6 and PostScript and can handle printing from other brands of printers.
However, not all printers are supported so organizations need to verify compatibility for each device on an ongoing basis.
In addition to the UPDs described above, Microsoft also has its own universal printer driver for non-PostScript printers.
It also uses printer specific minidrivers which are called Unidrv. Each will need to be modified for each printer model to be able to use its unique feature set.
Simplified print driver deployment and updates
Having seen the various options and possible limitations, one may reach the following conclusions:
- Universal print drivers are preferred in a mixed print fleet, if all devices are either PCL or PostScript.
- Universal print drivers are preferred in a single vendor print fleet.
- Native print drivers are preferred in environments with one single brand/model.
- Native print drivers are preferred in all environments because it enables organizations to utilize the full capabilities of each device.
When opting to use native print drivers in environments that have a mixed fleet, it is possible to centralize driver management by using a print management solution. This provides a vendor-agnostic solution that stores all print drivers in a single central repository and avoids the need to repeat the six steps for any modification. LRS solutions do all this and more. To learn how, contact our team of professionals and we will happily explain our approach to simplifying print driver management.