What is a Universal Printer Driver?

A universal printer driver can be either the savior or the bane of an IT department in any company. Generally used more for older devices, the universal or sometimes called generic printer driver relies more on the standard languages of printers than one that is coded specifically for a particular model of printer. This method of creating print drivers has advantages and disadvantages.

With older machines, as with computer systems that do not use a standard operating system, a universal printer driver may be the only convenient solution with which to get everyone printing quickly. These were mostly developed for use over a network, so can be deployed quickly and easily without having to worry about setting up individual settings for each machine. However, if you run a fairly large network over a virtualization platform, then you might want to try looking into VDI printing to get more customization in print settings.

Universal printer drivers can also come in extremely handy when a company has computers of various ages, especially if they are using different operating systems, as print drivers are often operating system specific with the most modern examples not being compatible with operating systems even three or four years old.

The downside to the universal printer driver, as with pretty much anything else universal or generic, is that many of the printer’s features will not be available for use. If the device has the capability to fax or scan, those functions will not be accessible to any network computer that is using a universal printer driver instead of the driver designed for that specific model. In some cases, where there are compatibility issues, the printer manufacturer may supply a universal driver and have separate drivers for faxing and scanning; but these situations are few and far between. In general, using a universal/generic print driver means that the end user will be able to do nothing but print.

Even just printing can sometimes cause issues with universal print drivers. Many companies did not intend on a universal driver being used with their equipment, so the printers will sometimes produce odd characters in response to formatting that did not translate well from the word processing program, through the universal driver, to the machine. Called artifacts, these can sometimes be nearly impossible to track down, and many printer manufacturers simply leave them and consider them a caveat to the convenience of using a universal driver.

If it does everything your company needs it to do, and does it well, then a universal printer driver may be the best option. If not, however, the only option remaining will be to use the printer manufacturer’s driver.

If you are running a Citrix environment, you may wish to use a Citrix Universal Printer Driver solution, or if you are using another environment than research third-party universal print drivers.