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How to set up and connect a wireless printer

Connecting a wired printer is easy. Pick the right cable, then plug it into the printer on one end and into a computer or network on the other. Connecting a wireless printer, on the other hand, is ... well... not as easy. Even when everything goes smoothly, as it usually does, it's still more complicated than plugging in a cable.

One issue to keep in mind is that there's more than one type of wireless printing. Bluetooth-enabled printers, for example, are wireless printers, and so are printers that offer infrared (IrDA) connections. However, when most people talk about wireless printers, what they mean is Wi-Fi printers, which is what I'll focus on here using a Wi-Fi access point on a network.

The computer you're installing the driver on should already be connected to the network, so setting up the printer consists of just two steps: establishing the Wi-Fi connection between the printer and network and installing the driver so it knows how to send print jobs to the printer.

How you establish the Wi-Fi connection depends on the printer. In some cases you'll find a setup wizard in the printer menus to walk you through each setting, asking you to enter the network SSID, for example. In others, you'll find separate menu options that you'll have to choose and fill in individually. In still others, the driver installation program on the disc that came with the printer will take care of entering the information in the printer, typically telling you to connect by USB cable to send the settings to the printer.

Check your printer's setup guides to find out which approach to use. If you've lost your original documentation, you should be able to download copies from the manufacturer's web site. Regardless of the approach, once you enter the information the printer needs, it should establish the connection. If it doesn't, it's time to take a close look at any changes you made to settings in the access point.

Write down the current settings, change them all back to the defaults, and try connecting again. If the connection works, you'll have to take a brute force approach, changing one or more settings back to the way you had them, and trying to reconnect again, until you track down which one is preventing the connection. Note that once you've tracked down the problem setting and changed it so the printer will work, you may have to change settings for the other Wi-Fi devices on your network as well.

With the Wi-Fi connection working, everything else is easy. If you connected the printer using the installation program, simply continue on to install the driver. If you used the printer menus to set up the connection, run the installation program and pick Wi-Fi as the connection option. Note that even if you already have the driver installed, so it prints using, say, a USB cable, reinstalling it from the disc that came with the printer is usually the easiest way to set it to print over the Wi-Fi connection.

Once you've set up your wireless wonder, you may want to start printing some high quality photos. Here's our guide to doing so.