Sometimes the operating system will save you the hassle and choose the print driver itself. If it doesn’t or you’re curious what the difference is, here’s a basic explanation of the various print drivers.
Page Description Language
Most printers will support more than one page description language (PDL) aka print driver. PCL is probably the most well known driver out there. PS and XPS are also popular. Then there are some are proprietary ones like KPDL or UFRII. Installing all the versions your printer supports is a good practice. Some documents may print better from one print driver than another. Taking the steps to add another print driver will save some headaches down the road.
Printer Command Language
PCL is probably the most common and compatible. It originated from HP and has been around a long time. When it comes to Black and White printing PCL5e was the fastest most reliable. PCL6 (or PCL5c) supports color printing. In my experience it works well with office type files, web pages, and some PDF’s. Some may prefer true PS for color, but most PS emulators are based on PCL6. If the vivid or enhanced color settings in PCL6 doesn’t get the color output you’re looking for then I’d try PS.
Post Script is made by adobe, the same company that created the PDF format. Naturally this would be the most reliable way to print PDF’s. Post Script works well with PDF’s and most color image files. Not all printers have a license for true Adobe PS and only emulate PS. If a printer is licensed for Adobe PS it will have the logo or say in the documentation. The true PS driver allows for more in depth manipulation of printing color images, especially when coupled with an advanced RIP like a Fiery or Creo. A PS driver doesn’t guarantee better color printing, it only puts the tools in the hands of the user.
XPS, being made by Microsoft, is pretty fast and reliable with office type documents. XPS hasn’t been around as long as PCL or PS but if your printer supports it and you have office I would recommend using this print driver. XPS is also a print ready file type, meaning many printers can print the file from a usb drive.
A universal driver is typically based on a PCL driver that has all the advanced features removed to make it ‘universally’ compatible with any application or printer that accepts PCL. Typically used with Citrix, Thin Client, Cloud or DOS based programs. Although it has never been my default driver, it can sometimes print a document correctly where other drivers have failed.
These print drivers are the opposite of universal and only work with a specific manufacturer. Canon makes UFRII, a print driver that only work with Canon equipment. KDPL and KX are print drivers made by Kyocera-Mita that only work with their equipment. They have features available only with that particular driver. Canon’s UFRII has a built-in page composer which allows you to rearrange pages or add pages from other applications.
For the Mac users out there this driver has been a lifesaver for printers that don’t support Post Script or as an alternative to PPD’s. Prior to OS X this was a popular driver because many printers didn’t support PS. Now many printers emulate PS and PPD”s eliminate the need for a print driver. This print driver is still an alternative to PPD’s for UNIX based print systems.
This driver allows documents to be faxed right from your computer. Print a document with this driver and a fax interface will come up to ask where it is to be faxed. A good fax driver will also have an address book feature to save common contacts and time stamp feature to date the faxes being sent.
That’s a quick rundown on the various print drivers available for your printer. I tend to use PCL the most since it has an intuitive easy to use interface and the most features available. PCL usually has a scaling setting, as well as advanced features like page numbering or adding a watermark. If you’re given the option during a set-up program to add the other drivers I would recommend adding them. Even if you have to add them manually I would recommend adding every driver your printer supports. If there’s ever an issue with your default print driver, you’ll be glad you have more than one driver to choose from.